NANTUCKET, Mass. This former whaling island is now the mailing address of some of America’s most spectactular vacation homes, a fact that rankles long-time residents but warms the heart of Chuck Brznarik, executive director of the National Association of Private Plane Owners (NAPPO), a trade group that lobbies for low landing fees and access to major airports on behalf of its upscale members.
Nantucket Memorial Airport: Ain’t that quaint.
“Private jets aren’t just for greedy Republican businessmen,” Brznarik tells this reporter as he exits the taxi that has ferried him from the local airport made famous in the TV series “Wings” to Whales ‘n Pails Summer Camp. “Fat cat union leaders, Democratic Party ‘bundlers’ and billionaire rock stars with their groupies performing daredevil acts of oral sex at 30,000 feet,” he says ticking off the diversity of NAPPO’s members. “Private jets are as American as French fries.”
But that’s not the image of luxury aviation in many people’s minds, so Brznarik is on a public relations mission to change the way ordinary folk think about those who fly the affluent skies, and he’s starting young with a children’s book about “Skippy the Private Jet.”
“Then Skippy cuts off a commercial flight from Boston . . .”
“Skippy’s a plucky little Learjet 40,” Brznarik says by way of explanation. “The big commercial jets bully him, so he takes off on an unapproved flight plan of his own.”
Brznarik is introduced to the day campers at Whales ‘n Pails by Cynthia Smercomish, who has been persuaded to allow NAPPO to give a presentation to her charges in exchange for a free copy of “Skippy” and two dozen bags of pretzels that were rejected as stale by a hedge fund that chartered a Gulfstream IV business jet.
“Kids, listen up,” Smercomish says as she hands out the pretzels. “This nice man is Mr. Brznarik, and he’s going to read our story for the day.”
“Is he a politician?” Nell Adamik, a red-headed 9-year-old in pig tails, asks.
“No,” the counselor answers. “I know you were all getting tired of being used as props in phony-baloney campaign ads.”
There is an audible sigh of relief from the group of seated toddlers, Brznarik says “Hi!” in a cheery voice, and then begins the story of Skippy.
“Oh how I love to go up in the air, up in the air so blue,” he begins. “And you know what makes it pleasanter still?” he says, then pauses to create a sense of anticipation before he turns the page. “I don’t have to go . . . with you!”
Brznarik goes on to detail the hassles and inconveniences of commercial air travel, beginning with annoying pat-downs by surly security personnel. “Is there anybody here whose mommy or daddy is an Islamofascist terrorist?” he asks. The group is silent, so Brznarik calls on Sanjay Kapoor, the son of a software entrepreneur. “How about you little fella?” Brznarik says with a smile. “You look kinda suspicious.”
“His family’s Hindu,” Smercomish says.
“Same difference to the TSA,” Brznarik explains. “If you had a private jet, you wouldn’t have to put with ethno-racial profiling.”
The kids are quiet and Brznarik senses he may have flown over their heads, so he returns to his text and describes the many indignities that travelers who use public airports suffer. “Skippy’s friend Grungy landed at Bradley ‘International’ Airport in Hartford,” he reads. “And guess what–there wasn’t any t.p. in the rest rooms!”
Bradley International Airport: Be prepared.
The punch line causes the boys in the group to break out in laughter, while a collective “Ew!” emerges from the girls. “But Skippy doesn’t have to worry about that. He ‘skips’ ahead of Grungy and gets where he’s going refreshed, clean and relaxed,” Brznarik says, then it’s time for some Q&A. “You know how your mommies are always telling you to wash your hands in the airport?” he asks, and several children nod in agreement. “Can anybody tell me some unhealthy things you see when you fly with the public?”
A boy in the back shoots his hand up.
“Yes?” Brznarik asks.
“My little brother picked his nose and rubbed it under the counter at Debbie’s Pretzel Shoppe,” he says helpfully.
“Good one!” Brznarik says, then returns to “Skippy” to bring the story to a close with a cautionary tale about the risks of trusting your life to somebody in a commercial cockpit who may have stayed up too late playing with his stewardess friends.
“If your pilot goes crazy and starts running around,” Brznarik says in a somber tone, “A farmer and his cows won’t be the only ones hurt . . . when you hit the ground.”