Weighing the Intangibles

From the dictionary: "intangible:...that which cannot be easily defined, formulated or grasped." When it comes to assessing much of the value in flying privately, that term is dead on. True, there are software programs like Travel$ense from the National Business Aviation Association that can help make a strong financial case for business aviation. But much of the time, the ultimate yea-or-nay decision to fly charter, buy into a fractional program or purchase a whole aircraft comes down to elusive, personal elements that truly "cannot be easily defined, formulated or grasped."

Some get an almost palpable kick out of the simple miracle of flight. That's a sensation the airlines have all but eliminated with their gargantuan aircraft, into which they funnel passengers through opaque tubes like lab mice. For other business jet travelers, there's a satisfaction from knowing they've made a sound investment in dollars that yields immeasurable returns in that much more finite commodity: quality time. And let's face it, some people simply enjoy the luxury of descending the airstair of a private jet and striding across the tarmac to a waiting limo or convertible.

For many looking in from the outside, it's the luxury aspect of private flying that first springs to mind-lounging on fine leather, sipping cognac and enjoying a foot massage at 41,000 feet. But in reality, what many private fliers care more about is that the business aircraft cabin can serve as an efficient, Internet-connected mobile office. For many business teams, the flight to a critical meeting represents valuable "face time" to finalize strategy. The return trip can offer a key opportunity to debrief in private and discuss the next move.

For personal travel, the flight represents a chance to rest, chat and anticipate the leisure activities to come-or to laugh and relive a vacation's high points on the way home. For many families, gathering in the cabin of a private aircraft for a few hours becomes a priceless opportunity for togetherness that is largely missing in their hectic day-to-day lives.

And how do you measure the value of the time you save? An hour's flight might replace a six-hour-plus road trip to a business meeting. Rather than two grueling travel days sandwiching a third working day, you could be out and back in one-home in time to coach a Little League team. Getting to your small local airport and boarding a business jet can take minutes, but it can take hours to drive to the airline airport, park, check bags and equipment and endure the security check-in lines. Flying privately, you can accomplish in a few days what would take weeks on an airline schedule.

How much is that saved time worth? Go ahead and run the spreadsheets to see how many leisure or productive work hours you can save. Then use your own judgment to attach a dollar value to that time. But in the end, let your heart have a voice in the decision. After all, that's what "defines, formulates and grasps" the true meaning of life.

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