A recent outcry about Xcel Energy, a leading utility company that operates in eight states, reminded the American public of the day back in November 2008 when the executives of the Big 3 auto companies flew private jets to Washington, D.C., to request an immense taxpayer bailout.
Xcel Energy just asked for a $142 million rate increase from its Colorado customers. Of that, $1.1 million is to pay for the leased corporate jets (two Bombardier Learjet 45s). Xcel Energy services 1.4 million electric customers in Colorado. While $1.1 million for private jet expenditures sounds like a lot of money, when it is divided by the 1.4 million electric customers, each one would pay $0.78, or $0.07 per month.
People don’t usually get this worked up about $0.78. You can’t even buy something from a vending machine for that price. But private jet travel tends to cause a knee-jerk reaction from many individuals — assuming unbridled greed and luxury on the part of corporate executives. Nearly every news outlet in Colorado is covering the story. (You could argue that the only bigger story is whether Peyton Manning will be wearing a Broncos jersey next year!)
Certainly Xcel Energy has figured out that leasing two private jets is an economical choice for its travel needs. The problem here is that the public utility hasn’t explained the use of the jets in a way that makes sense to people. The only explanation that the news media give is that executives must commute between Denver and Minneapolis, and that seems ridiculous to most readers. After all, most workers don’t get paid for commuting time or compensated for fuel.
Surely Xcel Energy’s public relations department can do a better job of explaining the use of the jets. Private jets save time, and time is money. This public perception that private jets are extravagant luxuries hurts the entire private jet market, from pre-owned jet sales to orders for new ones. Many companies feel they shouldn’t have to justify their private jet use, but crafting a message that improves the common perception benefits everyone.