Midway to the US, the Avianca steward officially made his airline the best in the hemisphere. My iPhone and laptop recharged merrily away in their respective jacks; my juice from some crazy Colombian fruit rested peacefully in its foldout cup holder. At that moment, the steward appeared with his cardboard spin-the-arrow game and gaily announced a seat raffle. The prize: free tickets to Curacao.
Add all of the above to things-that-won’t-happen-on-my-flight-next-week-to-Liberia.
As I entered the plane, though, I passed the same sight I see on every flight to and fro a developing country: a business class full of World Bank and (senior) UN peeps. (Add that to things I will certainly see on my flight to Liberia.)
I seldom fly business myself, even on Bank and UN consultancies, mostly to conserve my project funds for research assistants and survey expenses. My incentives are just right: money I spend on me comes out of money I’d spend making my research projects just a little better. Not so the rest of the agency?
I also hold back from business for another reason: $6000 for a single ticket? When the purpose of your trip is to contribute (however little) to ending poverty, something about that price tag just doesn’t seem right.
The Bankers and UNers have a good response: I’m only there for a week, and I’m much more productive if I can sleep on the plane.
To which I reply: your productivity for a 0.5% of your time is worth 4% of your annual salary?
In some cases, I might add: what development assistance exactly is achieved in a week?
In an age of diminishing aid and global belt-tightening, now seems an opportune time to change this little practice. Mr. Zoellick? Mr. Ki-Moon?
If you Bankers and UNers out there disagree, please comment. I could be convinced. But let me make one final argument. Five years ago, deciding not to stay in the Bank’s preferred five-star hotel in Nairobi, I roughed it in a nearby four star guesthouse (principled, I know). If I hadn’t, I never would have met that cute aid worker, dusty from southern Sudan, at the Internet cafe down the street.
Jeannie and I married 18 months ago.
So remember this in your business class comfort: the hot humanitarian workers fly coach.