“The very rich are different from you and me.” This quote from Scott Fitzgerald’s, The Great Gatsby I’ve used before, yet always find it revealing when I do. (Blog 4/19/13) This time it came to me after reading, “Unfriendly Skies,” by Peter Greenberg in February’s Town&Country. (pgs. 126-129 & 151) The article gives an account of how jetsetters travel from one exotic destination to another, taking risks that would make a bald man’s hair curl. Having money seems to make some people believe they’re exempt, not only from the laws of man but also from those of nature. As one pilot mused, “People forget that having money and power does not guarantee you a safe-landing.” (Ibid. pg. 128)
Take, for example, the tragic crash of a twin-engine Gulfstream III that missed the runway near Aspen, Colorado, killing18 people. The follow-up investigation concluded the pilot erred. He was distracted by the multi-millionaire who chartered the flight and insisted upon sitting in the cockpit though it was against aeronautical rules. Unfortunately, the pilot relented and the millionaire got a first class view of the final moments of his life. (Ibid pg. 128) In another case, an impatient customer overruled the aviator’s suggestion that they divert the plane’s landing to an alternate airport to avoid dangerous weather conditions. His haste cost him his life and that of the crew. Another celebrity made a last minute decision to add three passengers to his flight. The pilot objected. Extra passengers would make the plane too heavy, he warned. The celebrity refused to listen and the trip ended in another disaster. (Ibid. pg. 152.)
Because many getaways for the rich and famous are in remote areas where air strips are short, the region mountainous, or where the weather changes rapidly, there is a danger in landing at the best of times. Nonetheless, too many self-important people push pilots to take risks. An aviator can ignore those demands, of course, but fearing the loss of future business, some do their best to comply.
Ordinary folks haven’t the clout to override a pilot’s judgment so their common sense is never tested. But the very rich are different from you and me. As one pilot said when he refused to honor a patron’s demand: “Just because you have money doesn’t mean you have brains.” (Ibid. pg. 152)
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