The High Flier

“So if it takes seven hours to fly West to San Francisco, you have to take off say an hour and half for a snack, a stretch, a bathroom visit, then there are the times at takeoff and landing where you cannot really work very well as a practical matter, so make that a net of say five hours you can actually work. Make that four hours coming back so the round trip creates nine real working hours. At say $750 an hour, what a big law firm partner makes an hour at the least, you are talking $6750 of income, right?”

My partner had a yellow legal pad in his lap, calculating as he worked.

”So, let’s say that’s right, tell me where we are going with this.”

“Just give me a minute and you’ll see. Now we have to be careful, we need confidentiality, you really do sort of need a first class seat, right? Let’s say you fly in the daytime so you’re fresh and fly first class round trip. You’re talking say $1800 or so. A lot of money, call that two and a half hours, so your net profit is what, about five grand, right?”

“What’s your point? You could sit at your desk and make the full $6750. “

“Well, no you can’t. What percentage of your labor do you pay your law firm to give you that desk? The answer is, it costs you about $1200 dollars a day for your overhead. Call 9 hours a work day, that means that to sit at your desk earns you only about $5550. And we are not done. It costs you maybe $30 a day to drive in and park in the building. And when you fly you can get by with a sweat suit while if you go to the office you need a nice suit, shirt, stuff like that. Call that what, ten bucks? And you have to buy lunch, right? Call it a ten-spot easy. Look where you end up, net. Five grand a day profit. Same as on an airplane. But it gets even worse. After the firm takes off your overhead you still don’t get the full amount, right? It just doesn’t work that way, it is not direct and linear. And also, on the ground you’re paying income tax, right; State tax takes at least five percent, in some places more. But you save that also.”

“How’s that?”

“Well, you aren’t anywhere. You’re in the sky! What, is Nebraska going to say ‘you spent 20 minutes in my airspace so you owe me the tax on $250?’ No way. So you are saving 5% of $5000 which may not be much but look, now you are $250 each day better off by working on an airplane! If you work only 220 days you pick up maybe another 50K.”

I looked him straight in the eye; I was beginning to have fun with this.

“Ya know, Tommy, you may be onto something here. You wouldn’t even need all sorts of stuff you pay for now. Like a condo for one thing. And maybe a car. If you had a good sturdy suitcase I bet you get your fixed costs down to maybe a quarter what you pay now. Less if you red-eye, those flights are cheap and you can sleep because who the hell can work on those red-eyes anyway.”

In fact, now he is digging into his jacket pocket, and produces a small packet of papers, and he flips to the back, looks up and says, “I figure I can double what I earn just by working and living on airplanes all the time.”

Certain he was kidding, I speculated he could ditch his wife, his two children, his dog and his club membership and put away maybe a million two working only 9 hours a day on weekdays and still take four weeks vacation and holidays of all known religions, and then you could monetize your frequent flier miles and probably improve on that number also. “Betcha you could net a million two easy,” I said.

He looked at the bottom of the back page and then looked up with a small smile of triumph. “Would you believe working 9 hours a day five days a week and clearing $1, 496,327.48?”

I was about to rally some more, big smile on my face, when I looked at Tommy and saw that he was not smiling. He was sweating. His eyes were bulged. He was grabbing his small stack of papers so hard that they were crumpled and sweat-soaked. He leaned forward in his seat and hissed at me: “Do you know what this means?”

If it were a joke I would have said something like “yes, you need to be locked up and sedated,” which in the circumstances actually seemed to be the right answer for Tommy, but somehow I did not think that would be a helpful reply.

“Uh, Tom, what say we go downstairs and have a couple of tall ones and talk some more about your—uh, idea?”

“Not an idea, Jimmy. It’s a full-fledged fucking plan!”

“Uh, okay. Uh—have you talked about this with Judy by any chance?”

He blinked, then sat back and thought a moment.

“Ya know, now that I think about it, no not really but—well do you think I should? After all she isn’t even part of the plan, ya know. Say, have you been listening to a word I’ve been saying?”

“Oh, no Tommy. I mean yeah, I been listening and I want to talk to you more about it. Like right now. Unless you have any work you need to finish first….”

“Dammit, Jim, you have NOT been listening. I don’t work here anymore. I only practice law on airplanes, goddammit.”

* * * * *

“So that’s how it happened, doc. Right out of the blue. I mean, he just all of a sudden showed up with this pack of papers and this cockamaimie idea of his, and there was no talking to him. I called his wife, right there, and she didn’t believe me, thought it was a joke, but when he didn’t come home for three days and she called the bank and found all the airfare charges, well, I guess that’s when she called you folks, yes?”

“I want to thank you, James, for your time. I really cannot discuss a patient’s condition or history but I want to assure you, as his friend, that we will do everything in our power to, well, reorient you buddy’s – uh, perceptions.” He stood up and so did I. He pumped my hand a couple of times limply and I found myself standing outside his office at 2:45 in the afternoon. What was I to do now, middle of the work day? I called an Uber and went back to the office….