The Air Force’s review of airmen’s lodging choices while stopping overnight at the Prestwick Airport in Scotland found that air crews stayed at President Donald Trump’s Turnberry golf resort approximately 40 times over the past five years.
In an email Thursday, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said that a review of “the vast majority” of the 659 overnight stays between 2015 and 2019 showed about 6 percent of crews stayed at Trump Turnberry near Glasgow.
“As a practice, we generally send aircrews to the closest, most suitable accommodations within the government hotel rate,” Stefanek said.
Stefanek said that about 75 percent of crews found lodging in the immediate vicinity of Prestwick, and 18 percent stayed in Glasgow.
Politico last week reported that an aircrew from an Air National Guard C-17 stayed at Turnberry overnight in March while en route from Alaska to Kuwait, which sparked a controversy over whether it is appropriate for the military to spend taxpayer money at the president’s hotel properties. The House Oversight Committee is reviewing the March C-17 stop as part of a broader investigation into the military’s spending.
The Air Force on Monday ordered Air Mobility Command to review its guidance on how airports and lodging accommodations are selected during international travel, though the service’s public affairs director, Brig. Gen. Ed Thomas, insisted the review was not focused on Trump properties.
Since at least 2015, the Air Force has increasingly used Prestwick as a way station for air crews to rest and refuel while on long trips to the Middle East and Europe — although there was a marked increase after Trump became president. The Air Force said its Prestwick stops, including those where aircrews did not stay overnight, increased from 95 in 2015 to 145 in 2016, and then to 180 in 2017. But in 2018, it jumped to 257, and with four months left in 2019, Air Force crews had already stopped at Prestwick 259 times.
Overnight stays at Prestwick drastically increased by nearly 80 percent in 2018. Air crews stopped overnight at Prestwick 116 times in 2017, and 208 times in 2018.
The Air Force said earlier this week that it stops at civil airports such as Prestwick for a variety of reasons. The Air Force can’t always count on finding room at military airports for deployed aircraft — particularly very large air frames such as the Globemaster III — to stop and refuel, so it contracts with civil airports geographically located along its standard routes. Part of that contracting process includes negotiating favorable fuel prices, the Air Force said.
When air crews stay overnight at such locations, they are required to find suitable rooms reasonably near the airport that do not exceed per diem cost limits. During the March Turnberry stay that has become so controversial, the Air Force paid a nightly rate of $136. That was less than the maximum per diem rate of $166, and less than the $161 nightly rate the same air crew spent at a Marriott near Prestwick on the return leg of their trip.
Trump posted a tweet Monday in which he denied any knowledge of the Globemaster crew’s stop at Prestwick, while adding their decision to stay at Turnberry shows “they have good taste!”
Stephen Losey covers leadership and personnel issues as the senior reporter for Air Force Times. He comes from an Air Force family, and his investigative reports have won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover Air Force operations against the Islamic State.