“I was sitting at the back of a triangular conference room. My CEO was holding court at the apex of the room, where the panes of glass met to form a perfect point. Behind him was the endless blue of the Persian Gulf, broken only by dozens of oil tankers chugging to and from the Strait of Hormuz. To his right was the CEO of another company. Both men had just arrived from America in their own private planes.
'I’m still waiting on my wife,’ complained the second CEO. ‘She didn’t fly in with you?’ asked the first.
‘No. Since the Tyco scandal, she’s been flying commercial, mostly using air miles.’
After their meeting adjourned, my CEO pulled me aside and asked, ‘What are airline miles?’ I explained to him how airlines have loyalty programs pursuant to which members receive points based on how far they fly each year. These ‘air miles’ can then be redeemed for free tickets. ‘Fascinating system,’ he said. ‘I haven’t flown commercially since the 1970s. There were no air miles back then.’
Just as suburban dads might compare the automatic sliding doors on their minivans, so do CEOs brag about their planes. These babies are not just little Lear jets, but rather Boeing Business Jets, or BBJs—customized 737s, 767s, or 777s. They are outfitted with queen size beds, hot showers, and extra fuel tanks to extend their range to the farthest corners of the world.
Yet I was not allowed on my CEO’s BBJ. Even when we traveled together, he would board his BBJ, and I would be relegated to one of the company’s smaller Gulfstream jets. The two planes would take off together, one after another, and then fly the same route. It was all such a waste.
That night, the Sheikh hosted everyone for dinner at his palace. At the event’s conclusion, he invited the CEOs to join him on a falcon hunting trip in Pakistan. I thought nothing of it until my boss’s secretary knocked on my hotel room door.
‘We have a problem,’ she said. ‘The boss does not have enough underwear for the hunting trip.’