Kylie Jenner went viral this week over the news of her taking a three-minute plane ride between two towns in Southern California just 35 miles apart. It didn’t help that she loves to brag about having a private jet — an Instagram post from last weekend shows Jenner with boyfriend Travis Scott on the tarmac between two planes, with a caption that teases, “you wanna take mine or yours?”
Jenner’s absurdly short flight wasn’t first noticed by a human, but rather an automated Twitter account titled @CelebJets. It’s the bot brainchild of Jack Sweeney, a tech expert who first got plaudits for automatically tracking Elon Musk’s private plane using public aviation data. In that sense, CelebJets is an evolution of ElonJet, casting a wider net while providing the same resource: An easily accessible list of flights, all updated on the fly.
The account expresses no viewpoint about these celebrity flights, but it’s nonetheless become a favorite source of evidence for a popular thesis: That the hyper-rich really do not care about their extravagant, obnoxious consumption habits. It was easy enough to mock the irony of world leaders using private jets to travel to a literal climate change summit, but seeing Steven Spielberg and Floyd Mayweather’s planes going round and round every single week feels like an even bigger affront.
TikToker Nick Watts captured the laugh-out-loud insanity of this consumption on Monday, highlighting multiple reports from CelebJets and wryly noting the hypocrisy of the government asking the rest of us to suffer with paper straws. “And they’re telling me ‘recycle cans’! Buddy, we’re just letting these guys dump CO2 into the atmosphere. It’s crazy,” he says in the clip.
The impact of private jets on the environment can’t be overstated: They’re disproportionately wasteful, especially given that industry experts admit private jets are rarely flown at passenger capacity and often fly around empty between pickups. Data from the clean-energy advocacy NGO European Federation for Transport and Environment shows private jets pollute up to 14 times more than commercial planes per passenger, and up to 50 times more than rail travel. It’s not even just about the CO2 emissions; experts say other gasses released by planes at high altitude may have an even bigger impact on climate change.
For perspective, Spielberg could have taken a Ferrari for a two-and-a-half hour drive from Teterboro in New Jersey to Long Island, and it still would have only consumed 4 percent of the total CO2 emissions of his private jet ride, per the EPA’s estimates on automobile emissions per mile. Driving a supercar around his East Coast points of interest probably isn’t practical for Spielberg, but the example does illustrate just what’s being spent (and wasted) every time a celeb uses a plane for a short hop.
Even more unsettling is that the massive upward transfer of wealth during the pandemic means that the rich, celebrity or otherwise, are choosing private jets more than ever. First-time buyers have soared in number, and 2021 was a record-breaking year. There were 3.3 million business jet takeoffs in 2021, the most for a single year, according to data from WingX. The industry is booming while commercial airlines struggle with labor shortages, poor planning and spiking demand.
The revelations in CelebJets just illustrate the widening gap between the hyper-wealthy and the rest of us. Are any celebrities feeling awkward about being exposed in such a manner? Probably not, given the number of clout-chasers and mean-muggin’ capitalists who flex private jet travel like it’s the apotheosis of human achievement. Nonetheless, the Twitter bot is an entertaining way to create some transparency and generate spirited conversations (okay, mass shaming) around the people who can spend a month’s worth of wages on jet fuel to travel between parties.
As Nick Watts says in his TikTok video: “The turtles are screwed. Look at these people.”