On his way home from Europe last Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry didn’t go directly to Washington. He routed his government plane to Boston’s Logan Airport, which was battling a major snowstorm.
The plane circled for a half-hour before landing, and was then on the tarmac for about an hour-and-a-half. Kerry’s staff and journalists traveling with him remained on board, while the secretary got off to meet his newborn granddaughter. When Kerry got back on board, the plane then proceeded to Washington.
Mixing business with family life is a perennial issue for secretaries of state and other senior government officials who are frequently traveling. The personal side trips are permitted, though they sometimes raise eyebrows and questions of cost.
When Leon Panetta was the defense secretary, he traveled most weekends on his specially equipped Pentagon plane to and from his home in California.
Last March, Kerry’s plane full of U.S. government employees and journalists made a “refueling stop” in New York on the way to Ukraine, so that he could see another newborn grandchild.
A couple months before that, his plane met him in New York on the way to Paris to pick him up after he dropped the puck at the start of a Yale-Harvard hockey game at Madison Square Garden.
The State Department said the ceremonial puck drop was Kerry at work in his official capacity. The stopovers in Boston on the tail end of trips are “in keeping with precedent.”
“The secretary works in Washington and overseas, but his home is in Boston,” spokesperson Jen Psaki noted. “It’s certainly not uncommon and far from without precedent for secretaries of state or other Cabinet officials to return to their hometowns when they have been traveling or working overseas for some time.”
When she was secretary of state, Hillary Clinton was dropped off in New York on the way home from a few of her trips. A journalist who covered former Secretary of State George Schultz remembers dropping him in Palo Alto, Calif., on the way home from Asia so that he could spend time with his wife and play some tennis.
Kerry has done that too, taking advantage of a needed refueling and crew rest stop to join his family on a ski trip.
“He does pay fair market value for some travel,” according to one official, who asked not to be named. The official was not sure how much it cost to re-fuel and de-ice the plane in Sunday’s stopover in snowy Boston.
A spokesperson for MassPort, which runs Logan Airport, said there are no landing fees for U.S. government aircraft.