Stefan Stern: Gulfstreams are neither big nor clever. So why bother with them?

Beware, you chief executives! The lure of the private jet

may lead to your undoing

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I'll say one thing for those terrible passport queues at Heathrow: at least you get to meet people. There is solidarity in the suffering. And, if you're lucky, some gallows humour to help pass the time. But for those executives who would rather avoid hoi polloi, there is good news, too. A new company called Victor promises to put exclusive luxury travel within the reach of many more. A promotional magazine fell out of the Financial Times last Saturday. On its cover, stood the remarkable words: "If you think private jet travel is out of the question... THINK AGAIN."

With Victor, you can book your slot on a six-seater plane at a less extravagant rate by chartering the whole aircraft and selling on spare seats to other travellers. As its founder Clive Jackson says: "There's a smarter way of flying private jets." Anyone not using his approach is "missing out".

One potential customer Mr Jackson probably need not bother approaching is Joyce Banda, the new president of Malawi. She has just announced she will be selling off (or leasing) her predecessor's £8m jet and his 60 Mercedes cars. She said that she was "already used to hitchhiking" and had no need to keep a private jet, which required annual maintenance costing another £220,000. She will fly on ordinary commercial airliners and inevitably come face to face with ordinary people.

Corporate executives should look and learn from President Banda (and Richard Desmond, who last year cancelled his order for a £36m Gulfstream after his media company's profits dropped 80 per cent). She is keeping it real. For some reason, she feels no need to boast that "mine is bigger/more expensive than yours".

By staying in touch with normal human beings, President Banda gives herself a chance of not becoming too isolated from her fellow citizens and their concerns. How dangerous it is when cabinet ministers no longer need a raincoat or have to carry an umbrella. How harmful not to experience the indignities of public transport during rush hour. What explains the Mayor of London's insouciance about the state of the underground? Stop him as he rides by on his bike and ask him.

When the chairman of RBS, Sir Philip Hampton, conceded a few months ago that his board had been startled by the public's reaction to CEO Stephen Hester's bonus, he spoke for that cadre of executives who know only the business-class lounges and the comfort of first-class travel. At No 10 and in the RBS boardroom, the feeling was that a sub £1m bonus – it was going to be a mere £963,000 – would not prove too provocative to members of the public. That sort of money was chickenfeed, after all. Pause for hollow and disbelieving laughter.

So beware, you presidents, prime ministers and chief executives! The lure of the private jet may ultimately lead to your undoing. If you want to stay in touch with the real world, think of Joyce, and join the queue.

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