Flight of Fancy: Pricing Civil Servants’ Time

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Jersey, C.I. – A South African friend down the pub claims to only ever fly home in business class, never paying more than £2,000.

We were, unsurprisingly, discussing the curious case of the two States of Jersey civil servants who spent £6,500 each flying to a conference in Cape Town.

Skyscanner illustrates what the Jersey Evening Post already reported: that the way to make a trip from Jersey to Cape Town cost £6,500 is to book a flexible business class ticket with British Airways in advance.

The benefit of doing so is that if you need to change plans, you can.

The premium for this flexibility, easily deduced from British Airways’ own website, is about £1,000.

The resulting £6,500 fare is about 2.5 times the best value business class fares. More so, if my South African mate books the flights.


Before we have a look at what else Skyscanner tells us, let’s make a couple of allowances for the civil servants.

Everyone’s time is wasted by hanging around in transit lounges, so we’ll only look for flights with no more than one connection and a total duration not exceeding 16 hours. The British Airways direct flight is 12 hours.

Definitely no overnights in Addis Ababa.

Let’s also say that overnight flights make the most efficient use of our civil servants’ time. Nodding off in Europe and waking up in South Africa allows them to start their day ready for business.

And let’s, for the time being, allow them to fly in business class. Afterall, working and sleeping – both desirable for public servants on the move – are more easily accomplished up front.

So allowing our civil servants to fly overnight in business class on either direct flights or those that have no more than one connection (avoiding airlines we’re not really sure about), what do we find?

The answer – which my South African friend and Skyscanner already knew – is that such flights are pretty easy to find for less than £2,500.

That means the flexibility in the £6,500 fare was only worth it if the civil servants had re-scheduled their flights not once, but twice. Unlikely.


So what did that extra £4,000 really buy?

What Skyscanner also shows us is that the big jump in fares happens between flights which stop once – say in Dubai, Schiphol or Johannesburg – and those that go straight to Cape Town, which are much rarer.

What our civil servants bought by spending £6,500 rather than £2,500, was four hours, and the convenience of not having to change flights.

That suggests that whoever signed off on the flights valued our civil servants’ time – subconsciously, perhaps – at £1,000 an hour.

Is the time of our civil servants worth that much? Perhaps. For important people, time is money.

There’s no need, however, to scratch our heads in deducing a true value for our civil servants’ time. The States does this for us, at least for one of them.


Jersey’s public accounts show the Chief Officer of Economic Development, Mike King, is paid between £140,000 a year and £145,000.

There are 260 working days in a year, so Mr King’s employers (taxpayers) value his time at between £540 and £560 a day. Nice work.

Many people are paid for eight hours in a working day.

Important people work long hours, though, so let’s try try this with 10 hours as well.

Dividing the daily rate by eight or ten (hours) we can see that Mr King’s time is worth between £54 and £70 an hour.

(That’s some way below £1,000 an hour)

And it implies that the value of 12-16 hours of our civil servants’ time (the duration of a flight to South Africa) is actually worth between £650 and £1,100.

That’s about what it costs to fly to Cape Town in coach.

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