I-Team: What is 'essential travel?'

July 14, 2010 (CHICAGO) ABC7 investigative reporter Chuck Goudie has been going through the expense records of aviation Cmsr. Rosemarie Andolino and shares what he and the I-Team found.

The I-Team has examined Ms. Andolino's travel itineraries since she was appointed aviation commissioner by Mayor Daley almost a year and a half ago.

Not only does Andolino manage Midway, O'Hare and run O'Hare expansion, she also looks to be city hall's most accomplished globetrotter.

"I pretty much sleep with my Blackberry," Andolino told ABC7.

That is the essence of how she manages to keep two of the world's busiest airports running while she is traveling herself.

The I-Team interviewed Andolino about the binder full of her expense reports and receipts that ABC7 obtained under freedom of information laws.

The official records show details of her frequent trips to New York and Washington for meetings, conferences and making presentations, as well as other trips to Philadelphia and San Antonio, Houston, Austin and Atlanta.

"Any idea how many days you were out of town?" Goudie asked Andolino.

"Total days? No, because some of those days include my weekends, holidays and furlough days, as well. I do travel on personal days for work, as well," she said.

According to the travel records, Commissioner Andolino was out of town-- away from O'Hare and Midway-- more than one-quarter of her regular work time the past 17 months.

"When we are at the table encouraging how policy will be set and how it will impact us as a major airport in the U.S., we need to be aggressive about it. We need to be at the table when its discussed. We aren't immune from competition. We are O'Hare and Midway airports, but there is completion in the U.S. that we compete for aggressively nationally and locally," Andolino said.

Many times, that takes Andolino to far-away time zones: twice to Abu Dhabi in the Middle East and to Doha, Qatar, separate trips to London, Seoul, South Korea, Milan, Italy and eight days in Maui during mid-January of last year.

"I'm always sensitive and look to shorten the duration of the trips as best as possible. We always look to multi-layer the trip to make sure that we're getting the best results, as well," Andolino said.

"Who is in charge when you are gone?" Goudie asked.

"At the end of the day, I'm in charge, but I work closely with all of my key staff members. I'm well aware of what is going on," Andolino said.

One of Andolino's closest deputies, Chris Arman, just left his job as chief of Chicago airport operations. Arman was hired by the Abu Dhabi airport, just a few months after he and Andolino traveled to Abu Dhabi to discuss the construction project Arman now runs.

The airport management business is a fairly small fraternity.

"Do you have a feel for whether your competitors travel as much as you do?" said Goudie.

"Absolutely," Andolino said. "I see most of them."

But not as often as she might believe.

Travel records the I-Team obtained for Andolino's counterparts at several other top 10 American airports reveal far fewer days away from home and one with no foreign trips at all.

Ms. Andolino suggested the I-Team look specifically at Dallas Fortworth and its CEO Jeffrey Fegan, whom she said traveled as much as she did. But according to his DFW expense records, since January of 2009, Mr. Fegan spent 35 days out of town.

During the very same period, Chicago records show Andolino was out of town at least 118 days.

"I work very hard at what I do and have throughout my career. I work holidays, weekends, evenings. I'm pretty much on 24/7," Andolino said.

Andolino's travel expenses are paid by the city aviation department, but she is quick to point out that aviation is the only self-sufficient city department, operating on airline and passenger fees, not on Chicago or state tax money.

Sometimes, Andolino's travel is paid by professional organizations and conference sponsors, but she says those arrangements would be vetted first through city ethics officials.

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