Everything in moderation: fly coach

Last month, the chiefs of the big three automakers flew to Washington in three different private jets to make the case before Congress that their companies could not continue to exist without government assistance. In the annals of “let them eat cake” executive hubris, I’m not sure I know of an example that ranks higher.

So, having been handed their… hats and told, “go away and come back with a plan, not a plea,” one auto chief will make that second trip from Detroit to Washington by driving himself in a hybrid.

Pardon me for being rude, but this is just stupid.

Why is it stupid?  It shines a big, shiny spotlight on the executive’s former egregious act by indulging in a theatrical bit of penance.  It reminds me of the old saying we had when I was waiting tables: If you screw up, apologize once.  If you apologize once, they remember the apology.  If you apologize multiple times, they remember what you did that required an apology. This is silly enough that it rivals Monty Python’s “Restaurant Sketch:”

It also makes any even vaguely colorable reasons the executive might have had for indulging in the private jet in the first place all the more laughable.  Your time is so valuable that you just had to take the G4?  That notion is pretty much shot if you spend almost nine hours behind the wheel (actually, probably more – watch 66 at rush hour. It’s a bear) ostentatiously flagellating yourself in an all-too obvious PR stunt.

The executives in question were called out for acting out of touch with reality, for not understanding the consequences of their actions. In communications terms, the Great Hybrid Drive comes across as reactionary and petulant – and illustrates a continued lack of understanding of what is at stake and why people cringe when executive perqs are preserved at the same time as real people, not numbers like “fifty thousand” lose their jobs.

Here’s a bit of free advice: next time you are called to be humble, do it for real. Fly coach, cope with crying babies and nervous seatmates, and when someone asks you how your flight was, say, “Uneventful. The best kind.”

It’s what real real people do.

ETA: Now they’re all doing it. And they’re also proving my point: the articles that talk about their big drives are also talking about the jets, further cementing the auto chiefs’ earlier stupidity in the public’s memory.

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