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How the celebrities fly

How the celebrities fly: What private jets the bold face names are flying.
/ Source: Forbes

Tom Cruise flies higher than the rest of us, literally. His Gulfstream IV arcs through the ether at 45,000 feet, roughly 10,000 feet above most commercial aircraft. By most accounts the man is generous and self-effacing, but when he's flying, he looks down on people.

Cruise enjoys several other high-altitude perks: His cabin air is completely refreshed every two minutes, as opposed to never. He can check email whenever he wants. And he's pressurized at 6,000 feet, as opposed to 8,000, so he's less fatigued when he shows up in Auckland for a premiere. Customs are a breeze -- the agent boards the plane.

The Gulfstream has been the alpha-male plane of choice for decades: Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Mark Cuban and John Travolta are owners. These men fly the way most people drive. As Senior Manager of Gulfstream Corporate Communications Robert Baugniet puts it, "you can go around the world in one stop." Shocked at the televised devastation of Katrina last year, Travolta decided to help out, so he flew down five tons of supplies.

Granted, he made the trip in his other plane, a customized Boeing 707. Aviation-wise, Travolta exists in another universe. His house in Ocala, Florida, is essentially a personal airport. He's a member of a far more exclusive club -- the boys with Boeings.

Most of these titans of industry own Boeing Business Jets, which are modified 737s. They include Rupert Murdoch, Kirk Kerkorian and the prime ministers of Australia, Malaysia and Nigeria. These are essentially flying 800-square-foot apartments, replete with master bedrooms, en-suite restrooms and banquet halls.

"It's the same general philosophy as the real estate market," says Sandy Angers of Boeing Business Jets. "Most of our customers are people who have owned other business jets. They usually start with something smaller, and they want to trade up."

And there's always more up. According to Angers, some BBJ clients (there are currently around 90) have expressed interest in customizing new Boeing models such as the 787 Dreamliner and the 747-8. All new orders are delivered "green," without any interior detailing; that's when the creativity starts.

"Everything we do is unusual," says Jerry Fain of Fain Models, a Bedford, Texas, design firm specializing in high-end interiors. "Our clients don't want to see their stuff in someone else's plane." Fain has honored several requests for dance floors.

Custom interiors demand time and money -- sometimes as much as a quarter of the sales price. And interior decorating is always a delicate process; Google cofounders Sergey Brin and Larry Page recently parted company with the designer of their Boeing 767. According to The Wall Street Journal, the separation was far from amicable (perhaps it was the hammock request).

Gulfstream and Boeing aren't the only options, of course. Oprah Winfrey travels at just under the speed of sound in her new Canadian-made Bombardier Global Express XRS. So does Celine Dion, and Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté. Harrison Ford is partial to his trusty De Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver, while Sydney Pollack flies his own Citation X.

But as with yachts, it's the maintenance that gets you. That's probably why several celebrities have decided that the hassle and cost of ownership just aren't worth it; pioneering fractional ownership company NetJets has attracted names like Jerry Seinfeld, Nicole Kidman, Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.

Blue Star Jets is another popular option. The private jet broker counts Russell Simmons among its loyal customers: "I call Blue Star Jets three times a day, every day." Things are going well when the jet broker is on speed-dial.