America’s most powerful CEOs love to fly, and not exactly on commercial jets. In 2022, corporate spending on private jet flights again hit a 10-year high among the companies that make up the S&P 500 index.

That’s a not insignificant $41.3 million in spending, representing a 22% jump over 2021, a year that also broke record figures for the past decade, the Financial Times reported.

Meta, the most profligate

Mark Zuckerberg, and his wife, Priscilla Chan, in San Francisco

Mark Zuckerberg, and his wife, Priscilla Chan, in San Francisco

Data compiled by ISS Corporate Solutions, an investment advisory firm, further indicates that more than 5% of that total was spent by a single company – Meta.

Mark Zuckerberg, owner of Facebook and Instagram, spent US$ 2.3 million of the company’s money on private jet flights in 2022. So far, he is the S&P 500 CEO who has spent the most on these trips, but he is not the only executive that Meta treats to exclusive aircraft.

The company that same year paid more than $4 million on private flights for Sheryl Sandberg, then Meta’s chief operating officer, according to the company’s annual report. The expenses included millions in personal security for both Zuckerberg and Sandberg.

Zuckerberg, with a net worth of US$101 billion according to Forbes, is among the ten richest people in the world today. But despite his mogul status, the 38-year-old entrepreneur leads a relatively austere lifestyle with his wife, Priscilla Chan, and their two young daughters.

He’s not known to travel much for pleasure, but when he does for work, it’s Meta who pays the bill: in 2020, security for Zuckerberg and his family cost the company US$23 million, the company reported, cited by Business Insider in another report this month.

Netflix and its luxury flight attendants

Three other S&P 500 companies spent more than US$ 1 million on private jets. They went to the CEOs of multinational aerospace and military company Lockheed Martin, tourism and casino conglomerate Las Vegas Sands, and entertainment company Netflix.

Netflix uses private jets for its VIP associates, including executives and talent. It is not known how many jets it owns, but it allows executives “and their family members and guests to use our corporate aircraft for personal use,” its website says.

In January, the streaming giant made headlines when it announced it was looking to hire a flight attendant for US$385,000 for its Super Midsize Jets, an aircraft that costs between US$7 million and US$12 million and will add to the company’s Gulfstream G550 jet, which can cost up to US$62 million

But Netflix can’t compare to Meta, which is among seven companies that virtually single-handedly drive the S&P 500’s positive performance in 2023, according to financial analysis firm S&P Global.

According to S&P Global, investors are most attracted to the technology sector “and selling almost everything else.” Those stocks belong to Apple, Alphabet, Meta Platforms, Microsoft, NVIDIA, Amazon and Tesla.

Gulfstream G550 lands at Barcelona airport in Barcelona on February 17, 2023

Gulfstream G550 lands at Barcelona airport in Barcelona on February 17, 2023

The collective gains of that group have kept the S&P 500 in positive territory this year, with the overall index up about 7% since January.

Without those seven stocks, which account for nearly 26% of the large-cap index’s total weight, the S&P 500 would fall 0.8%. Meta Platforms, which lost more than 64% in 2022, had risen nearly 98.5% in mid-May.

Private aviation boom

Private aviation spending surged during the pandemic and does not appear to be a temporary practice. As commercial airlines cut routes, executives first turned to charter companies, but when the latter were also hit by delays and staff shortages, several companies decided to invest in their own aircraft.

While they have been at the center of political debate, private jets re-emerged in recent months as an undisputed symbol of wealth. In December, Elon Musk vetoed a Twitter account that tracked the movements of his private jet, arguing that it was akin to sharing “coordinates for an assassination.”

Tesla’s CEO is the most active user of private jets in the US, according to a May report by the Institute for Policy Studies and Patriotic Millionaires. In July 2022, he paid nearly US$80 million on Gulfstream’s new flagship luxury jet, the G700.

Meanwhile, environmental activists blame private jets for contributing to climate change with their carbon emissions. In May, a hundred activists stormed Europe’s largest private jet fair and warned that these aircraft would “kill our planet” and “fuel inequality.”

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