The Right Coast

August 03, 2004
Get your SUV and feel fine
By Tom Smith

I still want my SUV:

In the new Atlantic Monthly, Eric Alterman notes that Laurie David, wife of Larry David--among Hollywood's wealth elite owing to "Seinfeld" royalties--has become an influential environmental crusader, but herself travels in chartered Gulfstream jets. Laurie David has organized numerous celebrity save-the-environment events and "reviles the owners of SUVs as terrorist enablers, yet gives herself a pass when it comes to chartering one of the most wasteful uses of fossil-based fuels imaginable," a private jet, Alterman writes. I did a few quick calculations. The mid-sized Gulfstream G200 model can carry about 2,100 gallons of jet fuel, which is made from petroleum, and would burn around 1,200 to 1,500 gallons flying from New York to Los Angeles, depending on wind speed and how many passengers were aboard. A Hummer driven 15,000 miles, the average put on a car per year, would burn around 1,250 gallons of gasoline. So for Laurie David to take one cross-country flight in a Gulfstream is the same, in terms of Persian-Gulf dependence and greenhouse-gas emissions, as if she drove a Hummer for an entire year. But then, conservation is what other people should do.

Politicians and celebrities use private jets a lot. And not just left wing hypocrites either. Scalia and Cheney flew down to kill geese or whatever bird it was in the swamplands in Air Force 2. It's mainly ego, and it's expensive. Also steward persons would treat us better if they couldn't be sure anybody who was anybody would be on private wings. (via instapundit.)

Update: Interesting response from a reader:

I do not think I will win any friends, but I grew up with private air
travel. My father ran a large private company with several planes,
including a small jet. I have to tell you that it is not just mainly ego
that drives people to have private planes, but I do agree that it is
incredibly expensive.
As for the first point, if you have never travelled privately, you do not
know what you are missing. No lines, no inane questions, the plane always
has what you want to eat or drink because you made sure it was stocked
before you left. You leave when you want and the departure is when you need
it to be. If there is a delay (mechanical/weather), you just go to a
restaurant or somewhere else and they call you when they can leave, then it
is up to you when you actually leave. That is not ego, it is convenience.
If you travel quite a bit on business (I am a lawyer and not I don't get to
travel privately anymore) then the description I posted above sounds like
heaven. Air travel, even before Sept. 11, was worse than being on a
cross-town bus, much worse. Even first class isn't really that much
different. For that reason alone, if you travel quite a bit, the
convenience factor becomes more and more important. So, while it may seem
like an ego thing it really isn't. To paraphrase, people who get an ego
trip out of flying in a private jet don't travel in circles where it is
common (i.e., their friends won't look up to them because they have access
to a jet). Everyone I know who has access to a jet (friends of my parents)
certainly don't think about private air travel as something that makes them
better than everybody else (I know I never thought about it that way growing
up). Private air travel just meant that you were lucky enough to go where
you needed to go while avoiding a whole lot of misery. I know I don't speak
for everybody, but the whole ego thing I think is a bit of transference on
the part of the author of the original article.
The second point is more important. Executives have many, many time
constraints. No matter what they do, there is still only so much time that
they have. Many executives have to be in several places in a single day.
If so, commercial air travel is out of the question. The delays, lack of
privacy on the flight (for work, conferences, etc.), and the ability to
delay departures, etc. just make it impossible to travel by regular
airlines. Also, if a company values an executive's time (every hour he
works is worth on average $X for the company), then, even if it costs
thousands of dollars extra to fly, it can still be cheaper if it allows the
executive to put in more actual work time as opposed to getting to the
airport, waiting in lines, check-in, boarding, delays, etc. I am an
American lawyer based in London, at today's exchange rate my hourly rate is
around $900 an hour. If you start counting my travel time to the airport,
waiting in line, checking baggage, departure delays, etc., it can quickly
add up. I usually travel business class to the continent if I am staying
overnight even if a client frowns on it because the difference in check-in
and the ability to carry everything with me and not have to wait on baggage
actually makes it cheaper for the client if I fly business class.
The third point is security. I am actually pretty happy that the
Vice-President of the United States doesn't fly commercial. Think of all of
the security risks for him and for the other passengers. Maybe celebrities
have some of the same problems, but just with people bugging them while they
can't go anywhere on the plane. For the average wealthy person or
executive, that isn't a concern, but definitely for high value targets such
as the Vice-President, I think it would be stupid for them to put
themselves, and others, at risk so that some people can feel happy that
everyone has to endure the same misery. On the other hand, I am highly in
favour of Norm Mineta and others (especially Congress) flying commercial
because I want them to go through the same problems we do when we fly.
Unfortunately, they get around most of the hassle factor. I want that to
end so that they have to endure what we endure. I also want Norm Mineta to
have to fly the riskiest flights as much as possible because I want him to
think long and hard about his profiling rules, etc. and how that stupidity
endangers people.
Finally, after September 11, if you were flying with your family wouldn't
you want to be on a flight where you know for certain that no jihadi will be
trying to kill you? If I had access to a private jet now I would never let
my family fly commercial. I don't want to be like Ted Olsen and receive a
phone call from my wife minutes before the plane crashes into the pentagon.
I do agree that it is good to point out the hypocrisy of the anti-SUV
celebrity crowd. However, other than that, the arguments are just classist
silliness. Just because everybody can't afford the benefits of private air
travel doesn't mean it should be demonised as an expensive ego trip.