The Civilian Board of Contract Appeals (CBCA) is an independent tribunal housed within the General Services Administration. The CBCA presides over various disputes involving Federal executive branch agencies. Its primary responsibility is to resolve contract disputes between government contractors and agencies under the Contract Disputes Act. In addition to contract disputes, the Board also adjudicates cases related to travel and relocation.
The following case relates to a Department of State employee assigned overseas who requested reimbursement of travel expenses for extended economy seating (EES) which was authorized on his orders. The agency denied his request after determining that the circumstances of his travel did not meet the agency’s requirements for reimbursement. The Board granted the claim.
This was a claim from a few years ago, but we were tickled by the 0.3 inches wider economy seat argument. Given what we’re seeing these days, my gosh!
Via CBCA 5686-RELO
Claimant is a foreign service officer currently assigned to Vietnam. On August 15, 2016, claimant and his spouse traveled twenty-three hours from Washington, D.C. to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam pursuant to permanent change of station (PCS) orders. Claimant’s orders authorized extended economy seating at the rate of $300 per person. Although the trip was booked on American Airlines,1 the leg from Boston, Massachusetts to Tokyo, Japan was operated by Japan Airlines (JAL). At the ticket counter in Boston, claimant inquired about upgrading his seats to extended economy, consistent with his authorization. The agent confirmed that such seats were available and reassured claimant that the seats were located in economy class. Claimant upgraded his seats for the sum of $600. His request for reimbursement of the cost of extended economy seating was denied.
I understand that you were authorized extended economy seating on your [travel orders], however, per guidance set forth by TTM-A/LM Transportation Branch and the guidance cable you have attached, not all airlines have economy seating available. In addition, TTM informed us that “premium” economy [programs] are not reimbursable as we are not reporting this under the Department’s mandatory annual Premium Class Travel Report. Based on our research on the Japan Airlines website and the seat guru site, Japan Airlines offers “premium” economy with extra services . . . and the seat guru showed that all Japan Airlines aircraft have [a] distinct premium economy cabin.
In response to the denial, Claimant requested a review of the decision, stating:
JAL Extended Economy is still Economy Class seating in [an] economy cabin with additional leg room, and seems to fit within [the] definition . . . My travel was over 14 hours at the allowable cost, and I did not take a rest stop or purchase business lounge [access]. . . The claim reviewer has only stated her reason [for denial] as JAL providing additional entertainment services in extended economy. Nowhere does the [Foreign Affairs Manual] or guidance mention entertainment services as something to preclude use of extended economy seating.