““[Bill Gates] has been historically one of my best supporters…One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me…I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve ever suggested. Please proceed.’” ”
When you board a private jet, where should you sit? The question may seem silly, until you pick the wrong seat someday. No, I’m not talking about being “safer near the tail,” or any of the other nuggets of flying safety wisdom that have passed through the ages. It has more to do with making a prudent choice based on etiquette–social or corporate. For those of you who are new to business jet travel, here’s some guidance.
The usual procedure calls for the group of passengers to collect at the private terminal, or the passenger lounge at the corporate flight department hangar. When all the noses are accounted for, the crew will escort everyone to the airplane and you’ll file in, one at a time. After you do comes the potential for awkward moments.
You won’t be carrying a boarding pass marked Seat 12B. Most corporate and private jet interiors have arrangements of individual or club seating. There could be anywhere from three to 19 seats in this configuration. The good news is you won’t be jockeying with someone’s grandmother for overhead bin space. The bad news is it might not be clear where you ought to plunk yourself down. Should you take one of the four club seats surrounding a table? Or choose one in the rear, close to the baggage compartment?
Your best bet is simply to ask, starting with a peer who has ridden on the airplane before. If no one at your pay grade has a clue, then work your way up the chain of command until you find someone who’ll take charge.
If it’s up to you to run the show, here are some things to consider. If this is to be a working flight, review the agenda and try to arrange seating accordingly. Have team members sit closest to the person they’ll most likely be conversing with. Don’t assume people will be able to stroll from seat to seat as you can in an airliner. Most business jets are much smaller, and in some you’ll be no more mobile than you’d be in a stretch limo. Maybe you could crab-walk around the cabin, but not without sacrificing a modicum of dignity. And on some flights, turbulence might dictate that you’ll spend most of the en route time with your seat belt fastened, anyway. People familiar with business jets get a chuckle out of Hollywood movies in which the actors are shown on a ramp boarding one of those small jets from central casting, and then the film cuts to the “interior” (obviously shot on a soundstage), revealing a Boeing-size layout with people walking around as if they were in an office complex.
I remember writing an article on one high-flying executive who had no problem knowing exactly where he was going to sit on the airplane. He and his basketball-team-size entourage arrived at the airport minutes before takeoff, launching a flurry of slamming car doors and a bucket brigade of baggage. He strapped into the Alpha Seat in the middle of the corporate turboprop as though he were suiting up for a day at the office. Surrounded by his aides, he dove into his monthly reports and spread out his spreadsheets on a desk he unfolded expertly, as if it were a Swiss Army knife. Before the wheels were up after takeoff, he was already deep into planning sessions.
Most of the passengers on that flight were familiar with this protocol, but I asked the one first-timer whether he’d been briefed on where to sit before he arrived. He said, “No. But I’ll tell you one thing: I sure knew where not to sit!”