Top execs rely on corporate transport

PRAGUE — With the onset of summer, I find myself doing what seemingly everyone else in the world is doing — traveling. Do the airports seem crowded? Not if you spend most of your life in places like Disneyland or the New York subway at rush hour. Do security lines move slowly? Not if you’ve had to wait in line for the State Department to issue your passport (it’s now a five-month delay, folks).

So I’ll admit something up front: This is the time of year when I suffer from a condition known as plane envy (yes, it’s worse than the other kind of envy). I often think about those lucky bastards riding around in their corporate jets and looking downright smug about it.

Consider the following:

  • There will be 1,000 new business jets built this year alone, to be sold for some $16.4 billion.

  • A supersonic business jet is being developed by Robert M. Bass, the Texan who feels executives are bored with their ordinary planes and need something more sprightly.

  • One businessman recently bought himself an A380 superjumbo for $300 million (his new private jet normally could seat 525).

  • The French company Dassault Aviation reports it has some 160 orders for its boring old Falcon 7X, an eight-seater selling for only $41 million.

High-flying execs in the U.S. used to account for most of the business jet trade, but now orders are coming in from Russia (10 orders on hold), India and even China. According to the New York Times, manufacturers of business jets have doubled their output in the last five years alone.

So is jet travel a desirable corporate perk? Hollywood has always shown its enthusiasm. Some studio heads spend more time on their jets than in their offices. In the heyday of the late Steve Ross, Warner Bros. had a substantial fleet that ferried all its execs and stars around the globe, with frequent stops in Acapulco, Aspen and other spots where serious work could be accomplished. The company has since become somewhat more Spartan.

The CEO of one entertainment company placed such a high value on his corporate jet that his contract stipulated the airplane would stay in the family if he was fired or died.

The deal didn’t hold up. One week after his death, his wife tried to book the corporate jet and was abruptly told to try United. So much for inherited perks.

Jets also play a pivotal role in the film festival circuit. When fest directors start their star wrangling, the first demand put on the table is for a guaranteed jet. (That counts for a lot more than those lifetime achievement statues.)

Now I’ll acknowledge I’ve freeloaded on enough corporate jets to vouch for their positive attributes. They take off when you want them to and there are no security lines or passport inspections. The interiors are often lavish — elegant living rooms with occasional glimpses of serious art. The food is delicious and the flight attendants remind you of TWA circa 1960.

So little wonder why CEOs look distinctly smug and privileged, especially during the summer travel nightmares facing those of us in the underclass. Their L.A.-to-N.Y. trip may take all of four hours, door-to-door. And if Bob Bass has his way, his needle-nosed jet, flying twice as fast as the Falcon 7X, will deliver them from New York to London where they can hold a four-hour meeting and still make it back for beddy-bye time in Gotham.

Think about that next time you spend 12 hours plodding from Los Angeles to New York.

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