In the fairly recent past, Americans were in an uproar. Some would argue we still are. As one fat-cat bailout after another rubs salt deeper into our already sensitive wounds, it doesn’t take too much to really bend us the wrong way these days. Particularly as we face foreclosures and the same credit squeeze our banks and automakers are whining about without anybody offering us the same help.
While record earnings and obscene bonuses paid to those who narrowly escaped failure thanks entirely to bailouts funded by us, the taxpayers, are frustrating enough, the real cake was taken when a gaggle of automaker-executives traveled to Washington, hands outstretched, in private chartered or corporate jets. Man, the outrage came hard, fast and ferocious. Our political leaders, their fingers ever on the pulse of public sentiment when their jobs are on the line, were quick to second our outrage only to subsequently give those automakers bailouts anyway.
Whatever your political leanings (I fail to see how anybody can find fault or credibility in either party at this stage without holding the other equally accountable) this article isn’t written with the intent of changing your mind on the benefit or downside of the bailout. I do, however, find it interesting that all of this uproar took root in the fact that those executives flew on private jets to do their begging. It is, in my opinion, an example of a knee-jerk reactionary response married to a rational point that subsequently ended up accomplishing, well, little or nothing for the American taxpayer.
I did a little math, something my former educators would find shocking, which led me to some interesting conclusions. Granted, what I’m about to explain requires some assumptions, but I’d like to think the explanation is grounded in logic. Read it honestly and without political bias and see if you agree.
Assume you wanted to take a flight from Washington to Miami. You’re an important person in this scenario so further assume you are deciding between a first class flight on a commercial airline or chartering a private jet. As an important person, further assume that you have a very busy schedule and a high billable rate. With these things in mind, let’s see if those executives really made the wrong choice when they flew on private jets.
I checked on the cost of this hypothetical flight a month out. Flying commercial and first class, non-stop and round trip with a week stay in my chosen destination, the flight would set me back $ 900. Now that’s big money for some of us but, for a high-power executive like you, that only represents a couple hours work. The same flight on a chartered private light jet would run roughly $ 1800-$ 3100. Ouch, right? But, as I’ve seen time and again, examining only the bottom line leads to a hell of a lot of wrong assumptions.
I couldn’t find a commercial flight within two hours of when I wanted to depart. In fact, if you were the executive we’re pretending you are, you would have had to give up either meetings in Washington in the morning or meetings in Miami in the afternoon due to flight schedules. Furthermore, you would have had to do the usual and arrive at the airport 2-3 hours in advance of your flight. You would have wasted most of that time waiting in line, then even more time waiting for your baggage at your destination. If you were lucky, you might have found time to get work done on the plane providing there weren’t crying babies, talkative neighbors or kids kicking the back of your seat. Finally, flying a larger commercial aircraft, your airport would have been limited to one able to accommodate large aircraft.
Switching over to a chartered private jet, you could comfortably have arrived within 15-20 minutes of your flight and not had to deal with lines. There would be no chance of lost luggage. You could land at virtually any airport and, without question, could have continued conducting business with no interruptions or distractions the entire flight. You could have also continued your very private business conversations without fear of damaging your company or giving away corporate secrets to the people sitting near you.
Now this next part might be a little tough to swallow if you are your average middle-class American but I think we often fail to realize just how much these high-powered executives get paid. For them time truly is money, and it isn’t at all outside the realm of reason for them to pull in a whopping $ 400-500 per hour for their time. Every minute they are stuck in a line, waiting for a bag, taking their shoes off to satisfy the TSA’s foot fetish or commuting extra miles is money a company is simply throwing away. So with that in mind…
After factoring in lost time due to lines, early arrivals, check-in, baggage claim, commuting from a potentially distant airport and potentially limited productivity due to in-flight regulations and distractions, it turned out that the private flier actually saved anywhere from $ 400-$ 1500 by electing to fly on a private chartered jet rather than taking a comparable first-class commercial flight.
The lesson here, if there is one, is that we should temper our irrational responses with a bit of research before we fly (private or commercial) off the handle. Even if we are ultimately right or our cause just, we still lose. Those executives didn’t learn anything except how to better pull the wool over our eyes in the future. Our political leaders didn’t learn anything either, other than to continue distracting us with their left hand while their right hand gave away our money. In the end, perhaps, a rational argument framed in facts rather than a volatile dive for the nearest convenient talking point on the Daily Show may have accomplished more than simply confirming what we already knew; it isn’t the private charter jet industry that’s killing this country. It’s corporate greed and political corruption as always.