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In PNC jet, chief roars above the peasants

| Friday, Feb. 13, 2009

Jet-setter Jim Rohr boarded the corporate plane and flew to Tampa.

An undisclosed number of nebulous clients accompanied him. They apparently were so anxious to close some as-yet-unannounced banking deal with the PNC chairman that they were willing to sacrifice a Sunday to do business.

That was the story offered Thursday by PNC media relations staffers and they were sticking to it. No matter how uncomfortable it likely made them to defend the recent use of a PNC jet to transport Rohr and his mystery guests to and from Super Bowl XLIII.

Dwelling in the insular stratosphere of the corporate elite, Rohr probably didn't realize how gluttonous many high-profile CEOs appear these days — even those who don't use company aircraft to get to a football game.

He probably missed the public outcry in November when the chief executives of the Big Three automakers flew on corporate jets from Detroit to Washington to beg Congress for a bailout.

People driving beat-up Cavaliers dotted with rust tend to get upset when the CEOs of companies that get handed their hard-earned money continue to indulge in the perks of the privileged.

PNC received $7.6 billion in federal bailout money after it agreed in October to acquire National City Corp.

PNC spokesman Fred Solomon said Rohr can't fly commercial on his business or personal trips, even if he prefers munching Lance crackers with Southwest Airlines commoners to sipping champagne from slippers on PNC One.

(I say PNC One because the company possesses five corporate aircraft, although three of them came from National City. No wonder that bank soon will be just a memory.)

Solomon said the PNC board requires Rohr "to travel on the corporate jet for (his) security."

Before Rohr's trip to the Super Bowl, such a requirement was preposterous.

But after news of his private flight, which occurs a week after news of 5,800 jobs being eliminated in the merger, legitimate concerns probably exist over his continued well-being.

In addition to keeping Rohr safe and sound, Solomon said the corporate jet affords him the convenience of using airports that don't offer commercial service.

Indulging in convenience for the Super Bowl was unnecessary, though; just ask any of the 1.4 million commercial passengers who used Tampa International Airport in December.

You would think the head of a company that received billions in bailout money would have the common sense to conduct himself with an air of austerity.

You would think a responsible CEO would have avoided this public relations blunder by using any other mode of transport than corporate aircraft — rental car, Greyhound bus, hitchhiking — to get to the Super Bowl.

In this instance, however, such thinking would be nothing more than pie in the plane-filled sky.

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