How UN consultants get laid

Chris Blattman, a political scientist who moonlights as a UN consultant and blogger, is worried by the way international officials insist on flying business class:

I seldom fly business myself, even on Bank and UN consultancies, mostly to conserve my project funds for research assistants and survey expenses. My incentives are just right: money I spend on me comes out of money I’d spend making my research projects just a little better. Not so the rest of the agency?

I also hold back from business for another reason: $6000 for a single ticket? When the purpose of your trip is to contribute (however little) to ending poverty, something about that price tag just doesn’t seem right.

In an age of diminishing aid and global belt-tightening, now seems an opportune time to change this little practice. Mr. Zoellick? Mr. Ki-Moon? [That’s Mr. Ban to you.]

If you Bankers and UNers out there disagree, please comment. I could be convinced. But let me make one final argument. Five years ago, deciding not to stay in the Bank’s preferred five-star hotel in Nairobi, I roughed it in a nearby four star guesthouse (principled, I know). If I hadn’t, I never would have met that cute aid worker, dusty from southern Sudan, at the Internet cafe down the street.

Jeannie and I married 18 months ago.

So remember this in your business class comfort: the hot humanitarian workers fly coach.

That last sentence doesn’t follow logically from the evidence. Perhaps the hot humanitarians are in internet cafes trying to get upgrades online. You can’t be sure.

What you can be sure about, however, is that a post like this is bound to draw irate, self-justifying comments from the business class lovers. To select from one of 40-odd comments Blattman received at random, here are some really cutting-edge thoughts:

A better way to save money (and reduce carbon emissions) would be to increase the use of video and teleconferencing for cases where face to face meetings are not essential.

But what about the hot humanitarian aid workers? Nobody’s going to get dusty in a teleconference!

At the UN, policy is that flights are now economy class for travel times of about 7 hours or less, if I recall correctly. The cost differential between business and economy should also factor in the extra night or two of accommodation and DSA that travelers would need to rest and adjust to the time difference.

Hm, do you happen to be a UN spokesperson in disguise?

Better still: airlines should offer a more modestly priced section with seats that allow for a decent night’s sleep without all the other perks of business class. I think many development professionals would be happy with that compromise (or could be guilted into accepting it).

Ooh yes, that’s a good idea. Why not have a specialized “UN Class” on every plane, with only Hotel Rwanda as a video option and free copies of the Human Development Report instead of in-flight magazines?  All the seats could be painted white, and have a little “UN” stencil on the side…