By Brian Maass
DENVER (CBS4)- Denver Mayor Michael Hancock's recent week-long economic development trip to Paris carried a hefty price tag- nearly $13,000 per person. More than 30 people attended. The group included the mayor and some members of his contingent for five nights and six days, including upgraded flights for the mayor and his group.
"Costs in Denver are not costs in Paris," said Stacey Stegman, a spokesperson for Denver International Airport. "It's much more expensive in Paris."
Hancock led a group earlier this month on an economic development and trade and tourism mission to Paris and other areas of France. Public dollars paid for the mayor and a dozen other city and airport officials, some of whom received flight upgrades both on the way to Paris and on the return trip.
On the way over April 9, the group flew on the inaugural Norwegian Air flight between Denver and Paris. Records obtained under a Colorado Open Records Act request show the mayor, and a half dozen DIA officials including a DIA executive office manager, a DIA government and community affairs official, and DIA's travel administrator upgraded to Norwegian's "premium" class of service for the nine hour flight. For the return flight from Frankfurt to Denver, the group flew on Lufthansa and upgraded to business class according to Stegman.
"Every time we fly international we fly business," said Stegman, who was one of the city travelers whose flights were upgraded at a cost. "Usually we are hitting the ground running and going straight to meetings."
She said airport personnel are allowed to upgrade to business class on international flights over five hours in length, excluding Mexico and Canada. She said the practice had been in place since 2010 and is similar to policies governing administrators at most other major U.S. airports.
However, records also show that two Denver police detectives assigned to protect the mayor during the trip were not afforded the same benefit and were relegated to economy class on the long haul flights.
The federal government generally prohibits its employees from upgrading to business or a higher class of service unless flights are longer than 14 hours.
According to the CBS4 open records request, for city and airport officials, the estimated cost of the entire five night, six day trip was $12,500 per person if they flew an upgraded class of air service. The cost includes hotel, airfare and "delegate fees" to cover most meals. For those who flew economy, the estimated trip cost was $6,600.
According to a trip itinerary, while in Paris, the group received economic, technology and business briefings, and attended a reception for Norwegian Air. Part of the delegation, including the mayor, traveled to Brest – Denver's sister city in France- to commemorate the 70-year sister city relationship with Denver and an "Official Reception in Honor of Mayor Michael B. Hancock."
On Saturday April 14, the group departed for Normandy and Omaha beach. They returned to Denver Sunday, April 15 on a 10-hour Lufthansa flight.
Stegman said on the return flight from Frankfurt to Denver, DIA's executive office manager and travel administrator gave their business class seats to a 94-year-old Tuskegee airman and his daughter, who were traveling with the group.
Costs for city officials are being paid for by Denver International Airport funds and in part through the city's general fund. But Stegman says the costs are insignificant when compared to the economic benefits. She said the new non-stop Norwegian Air flight between Denver and Paris is expected to create 350 new jobs and $40 million in annual economic impacts for Colorado.
"The airport has to support our airlines and non-stop flights. We will fly and spend more on our flights on our airlines," said Stegman.
She went on to say it's critical to sell Denver in other parts of the world.
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