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Brian McGrory

Very friendly skies for insurance execs

When you open up a can of worms, you should expect to see things that crawl. I just wasn’t prepared for the extent.

I decided to see whether any other insurance companies in Massachusetts, preferably mutual companies, had their own corporate jets, just to add context to the fact that Liberty Mutual has an air force ready to satisfy the utterly critical need of flying its grossly overpaid executives to some of the most celebrated resort destinations in the world.

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Which is how I happened to type the name of Massachusetts Mutual Financial Group, better known as MassMutual, into a database compiled by the Wall Street Journal that tracks the flight itineraries of corporate jets. I expected nothing, assuming that executives based in modest Springfield think the bowls of warm nuts served in the first-class cabin of a commercial flight out of Hartford are pretty good.

Ping. Ping.

And there they were, in all their glory, a pair of aircraft tail numbers, which I cross-checked with the Federal Aviation Administration and learned were a Dassault Falcon 2000 capable of flying coast to coast, and a more luxurious Dassault Falcon 2000EX able to fly more than 4,000 miles.

That was only the headline. The real story lies in the flight itineraries, and what a story. The fifth and sixth most popular destinations for MassMutual’s jets were Naples and West Palm Beach, Fla., with 39 flights apiece over a four-year period ending in 2010. The Florida resorts were edged out by Portland, Maine, and Dulles airport in Virginia, with 40 flights apiece.

Stuart, Fla., with 31 flights, was the ninth most popular destination. Freeport, the one in the Bahamas, not Maine, was 12th. Fort Lauderdale was the 16th most popular destination, with 15 flights. With just a few exceptions, these trips to warm weather climes took place in cool and cold weather months. One can only hope that the nice executives at MassMutual understand the importance of sunblock.

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If it feels like we’ve seen this musical before, we have, starring a $50 million-a-year insurance man named Ted Kelly and backup dancers known as the Liberty Mutual board of directors, who, by the way, are on an all-expenses paid trip to China, courtesy of the policyholders who own the company. Godspeed to those directors as they carry out their important work.

There is precious little original in life, most especially the manifestations of greed, which might explain why MassMutual’s jets, just like Liberty Mutual’s, have a habit of flying to airports close to where company executives own getaway homes. Property records show MassMutual chief executive Roger Crandall has a house in Palm City, Fla., a skip and a jump from the Stuart airport. Crandall made $7 million in 2011 and $5.3 million in 2010.

Former chief executive Stuart Reese owned residences in Stuart and on Marco Island, not far from the Naples airport. He was paid $12.7 million as CEO in 2009 and $10 million as chairman in 2010.

Jim Lacey, a MassMutual vice president for media relations, e-mailed a statement Tuesday in which he said the jets “supplement our heavy use of limited commercial flight options available from Bradley International Airport.’’ The resort destinations, he said “were almost exclusively for business related travel.’’

He also revealed that the company owns two helicopters that shuttle “all levels of employees’’ between Springfield and New York City. He said the chief executive is given “limited personal use’’ of aircraft, which is “fully taxable to him.’’ Bless him for not citing security reasons.

Still, the business purpose of 15 MassMutual flights to West Yellowstone, Mont., in various Junes and Septembers is a mystery, as are flights to Charleston, Grand Cayman, Cancun, and a community named Marathon, where the civic slogan is “The Heart of the Florida Keys.’’

Maybe they’re rushing payments to grieving widows and widowers. More likely, somebody’s rushing to the spa.

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at mcgrory@globe.com.

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