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Flying Southwest Does Not Make You One of the People

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Flying Southwest Does Not Make You One of the People

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California's political blogs are full of upbeat coverage of Gov. Jerry Brown's decision to fly from Sacramento to Burbank this morning on Southwest Airlines. To read this account or this one, you would think that Brown's choice of flights makes him a man of the people.

A reality check is needed. A round trip flight today from Sacramento to Burbank is hardly cheap: $320, according to the airline's website. That wouldn't break the bank of middle-class Californians but it would be a significant expense (the median household income is just over $61,000, according to Census bureau figures). Southwest also has so many more flights between Northern and Southern California that the airline remains the best option -- unless you have a private jet.

And yes, that's the point -- Brown is flying commercial while his unpopular predecessor used a private jet. It's a nice comparison, but also a phony one. The previous governor flew privately for a number of very practical reasons, including his international celebrity (which can be disruptive), security (an understandable concern given that he's a member of a family that has paid a very high price for its involvement in American politics), and family (he had 4 kids in LA and wanted to get back to them as fast as he could).

Here's the reality: rich, non-movie-star elitists fly Southwest, too. Meg Whitman used Southwest (she also used private jets during her campaign). On a recent flight between San Francisco and LA, the man in the middle seat next to mine was the baseball super-agent Scott Boras. As someone who flies Southwest as often as I can afford it, sightings of the rich and famous are routine.

And you don't see the truly poor on board. Those are the people, by the way, who are being hurt by the state's never-ending budget crisis. Brown's own budget proposal would cut the maximum cash benefit for a family of three under the state's welfare program from $694 to $604 per month. One Southwest round trip would cost more than half the maximum monthly payment.

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