There’s little in life that I’m certain of, but two things I know for sure.
Number one, if you have to fly and don’t have access to private aircraft -- I don’t care how small your carbon footprint is or how many times you voted for Barack Obama last November – you are green with envy. If the topic comes up and you’re unwilling to admit your jealousy, you might say, “Corporate aircraft are a symbol of the gross wage and class disparity between wealthy CEOs and the average working American, they’re gas-guzzling environmental abominations tearing a hole in the ozone, and there’s no legitimate need for anyone to use them.” Plenty of people would say they agree with you, but they’re lying. They’re jealous.
Number two, if you do have the ability to fly corporate, you’d sooner give up a kidney (maybe both) than choose to fly commercial airlines. To anyone who doesn’t fly corporate, you might say, “it’s an important business tool that allows me to remain highly productive when traveling for the company. Plus, my board and security personnel require me to use it.” All true. For any company that needs to move executives and
employees between distant offices and remote manufacturing sites, they’re incredible time savers and productivity enhancers. I’ve worked for companies and clients that utilize corporate jets and helicopters (how is one supposed to get to the jet?), and a tremendous amount of work gets done on these things. But what’s equally compelling is that flying commercial sucks.
Secure in my certain knowledge of the aforementioned, I’m always amused by controversies over who’s using a private jet for what and on whose tab.
Today it’s the popular business blog Footnoted.org “uncovering” that Michael Dell flies corporate (gasp!) and that his eponymous computer company reimburses him for business use of the plane he owns (double gasp!). Last week, it was the president and first lady trading down to a G5 from the usual 747 to catch dinner and a Broadway show (their way of getting outside the Beltway to stay in touch with the heartland, no doubt). Last fall it was auto execs flying their jets to Washington for Congressional hearings to ask for a taxpayer bailout (http://tinyurl.com/cuzcbw). Of course, Buffalonians remember revelations about using a corporate jet to deliver a Christmas tree in the Adelphia Communications corporate fraud trial of founder John Rigas and his sons. And so on.
For public companies, annual meeting season is in full swing, and it’s time for the rite of spring where executives are asked to justify the prior year’s use of corporate aircraft, as disclosed in their companies’ proxy statements.
It’s the time of year that I get to remind clients who fall into category number one (see above) that any investor or reporter asking them about the jet falls into category number two (see above) … unless it’s a hedge fund manager calling to unload his Dassault Falcon or Geraldo Rivera asking whether the CEO recommends napa leather or burr walnut for the bulkhead of a Citation X.