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Why multimillionaire Disney heiress says she 'would pass a law against private jets'

Abigail Disney
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Abigail Disney

If Abigail Disney wanted a private jet, she could buy one. The 59-year-old, who was the executive producer and director of the Emmy-winning film "The Armor of Light," is the granddaughter of Roy O. Disney, co-founder of The Walt Disney Company. She inherited a sizable fortune, one that has allowed her to give away $70 million.

But though the multimillionaire has experience flying private — her dad bought a 737 that she and her family have used — she has no interest in ever doing it again. In fact, "if I were queen of the world, I would pass a law against private jets," she told The Cut in a recent interview.

That's "because they enable you to get around a certain reality," she said. "You don't have to go through an airport terminal, you don't have to interact, you don't have to be patient, you don't have to be uncomfortable. These are the things that remind us we're human."

When her dad became rich enough to buy a plane, that's when he "really lost his way in life," said Disney. "And that's why I feel hyper-conscious about what wealth does to people."

"It's not a small thing when you don't have to be patient or be around other people." -Abigail Disney, documentary filmmaker and philanthropist

"It wasn't just the plane, but it's not a small thing when you don't have to be patient or be around other people. It creates this notion that you're a little bit better than they are," added Disney. She said she stopped flying private jets about 20 years ago when she realized that it "hollows you out from the inside."

Not all members of the 1 percent agree. Several business leaders who have splurged on private jets stand by the purchase because they say it's made their lives easier and allowed them to be more productive.

Buying a private jet "was my all-time goal," Shark Tank star and self-made billionaire Mark Cuban told Money in 2017, "because the asset I value the most is time, and that bought me time."

Having his own plane "means I have more hours in my day to spend with friends and family," Cuban said in an interview with Business Jet Traveler. "It means I can get more work done. It means I can travel comfortably with my family. It's a life- and game-changer."

Self-made billionaire Tilman Fertitta, who bought a private jet at age 35, has a similar take. "It's how I do everything I do, being able to leave when I want to leave, go home when I want to go home," the owner and CEO of Fertitta Entertainment told CNBC Make It in 2016. Without it, "I could not cover near as much ground."

Even though they're rich enough to fly in luxury, some celebrities, like Kevin O'Leary and LeBron James, use getting around as an opportunity to make sure that they're passing on good values to their kids.

One of the ways James helps his children maintain perspective, for example, is by making sure they know how ordinary people travel.

"I'm in a position now where it's very hard for me to fly commercial. It's just a hassle. I want my privacy. I want my downtime ... so I fly private," he said on the first episode of UNINTERRUPTED's new podcast, "Kneading Dough." His kids can't assume they get to too, though. While there are times when they join him on his private plane, James said, he and his wife "try to balance it. Like, OK, yeah, we're going to fly private sometimes, but at the same time, we're going to fly commercial [too], just to make sure [they] see both sides of the fence."

Kevin O'Leary has a similar parenting style: He flies first class but he makes his kids Trevor and Savannah fly coach.

As the "Shark Tank" star recalled to CNBC Make It, on one occasion, "we were getting on a flight to Geneva. It's a long flight, and Trevor said to me, 'Dad, why is it every time we get on this flight, I have to take a left and go sit in the back of the plane, and you take a right and go to the front? [You] sit in a big chair and they roll roast beef on a trolley by you, and I'm back in 69D.'"

O'Leary had a simple answer: "I say, 'Trevor, you don't have any money.'"

"My son is making the connection between money and personal freedom," O'Leary writes in his book, "Cold Hard Truth on Family, Kids and Money." "I think that's the greatest gift I've ever given him: to help him see that connection. And I constantly reinforce it by doing Mean Dad things like making him sit in those crappy economy seats."

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