Traveling is stressful. First there's the traffic, then the hassle, and finally the crowds. Lorraine Beauparlant can't even and so she prefers instead to fly out of a little rural airport. "That's what I like about [Hagerstown Regional Airport]," she told the Washington Post recently. "I can avoid all of that."
Taxpayers from Tulsa to Sacramento to Tallahassee, however, can't avoid the cost of Lorraine's ticket. The federal government heavily subsidizes her travels and millions of her fellow passengers through a program called Essential Air Services.
It's a complete waste.
No offense to those like Lorraine. But while EAS was designed in 1978 to connect rural airports to larger hubs, to keep time from forgetting little out of the way aerodromes, the program essentially fuels boutique airliners for the rich and retired.
The program is so expensive that it would literally be cheaper just for Uncle Sam to call Lorraine a cab. Seriously.
Little Hagerstown qualifies for the big subsidy, according to federal regulations, because it is more than 70 miles away from a medium- to large-size airport. In this case, either Washington Dulles International (77 miles away) or Baltimore-Washington International (88 miles).
Each time a passenger flies out of Hagerstown, according to the Department of Transportation, the taxpayer shells out $296. That money would be better spent not on planes or trains, but on automobiles. An Uber X from Hagerstown to Dulles currently costs $116 and to Baltimore, $127. Uber Pool would be even cheaper!
Of course, that wouldn't be glamorous. Passengers would lose the closest thing to a subsidized private jet and it'd cost them about an hour of driving time. But if Essential Air Service was grounded, as the Trump administration has proposed, taxpayers would save nearly $175 million annually.
Fiscal hawks have trained their sights on the program in the past only to be outgunned by bipartisan waves of lawmakers. Turns out congressmen like giving their constituents a local airport, even if it's not needed. And while the program is expensive, the cost is dispersed.
Luckily for travelers like Lorraine, that means that the Essential Air Services won't be grounded anytime soon. The taxpayers will continue to rescue the rural passenger from the inconvenience of travel.
Philip Wegmann is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.