That temporary duty assignment in the United Kingdom might cost the government a lot less money these days.

Thanks to a software upgrade earlier this summer, SatoTravel — which processes TDY and official business trips for almost all military commands in Europe — can now book seats for those trips on discount airlines.

Until recently, Sato didn’t have the ability to arrange business trips on airlines such as Ryanair or EasyJet.

“This is very good news as far as I’m concerned,” said Tyler Nemchick, a traffic management specialist with Installation Management Agency-Europe. “People have had a legitimate issue with not being able to use low-cost airlines to save the government money.”

Even with the change, there is still a handful of considerations that might prohibit such a move. Among them is a restriction that reservations must be made with a U.S. airline if that carrier flies the route.

Airlines also need to meet government standards, which not all of those flying in Europe do, Nemchick said.

The biggest problem, he said, might be a loss of flexibility.

“You don’t want to take a restricted ticket if there’s a chance you’re going to change your flight or miss your flight,” he said, because discount carriers generally don’t provide refunds.

Still, the government could end up saving millions of dollars.

Nemchick estimates that official travel by Army commands around Europe costs $70 million annually. Because of a number of factors — including availability of seats on discount flights and not being able to use restricted tickets in certain cases — only time would tell how much money the Army saves, he said.

“I don’t know if there’s a way for anyone to estimate how much money they’ll save,” he said, referring to the various commands and agencies around Europe.

The potential is there, though.

For instance, a visit Wednesday afternoon to Web sites for Lufthansa — commonly used for bookings by Sato — and discount leader Ryanair showed a dramatic price difference on flights between Venice and Frankfurt. A three-day stay booked two weeks in advance for flights leaving late morning or afternoon costs about 370 euros more with Lufthansa. The differences tend to narrow the further in advance bookings are made.

A flight on Ryanair would involve leaving from Treviso and landing at Hahn, a longer drive away from most bases in Germany than Frankfurt. But a similar trip to the United Kingdom would involve landing at Stanstead, which is much closer to RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall than other London airports.

Nemchick said it’s likely at least some passengers would like to stick with the convenience of carriers that they’re used to taking. Either way, all bookings are still to be made via Sato and not by individual passengers.

“It’s now a choice,” he said. “SatoTravel is now capable of booking almost anything that’s out there.”

author picture
Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.

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