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Elon Musk under fire for reported 9-minute flight from San Jose to San Francisco

Elon Musk.Joshua Lott/Getty

Kylie Jenner faced criticism last month after online flight trackers reported she took a 17-minute flight on her private plane — a journey that takes less than half an hour by car and produces a fraction of the carbon emissions. Now, billionaire Elon Musk is facing similar backlash for an even shorter trip.

Musk reportedly flew a whopping nine minutes from San Jose to San Francisco, according to a tweet by Hayden Clarkin, who shared an image Sunday captured by the automated bot account, @ElonJet, which tracks the Tesla mogul’s flights. The account is one of many run by college sophomore Jack Sweeney, who tracks private jets owned by celebrities using data from sites like ADS-B Exchange, according to the Independent.


On Sunday afternoon, Clarkin criticized Musk for flying when the same trip is only a few stops on the commuter rail line serving the area.

“Elon Musk took a 9 minute flight to San Francisco from San Jose, which is 5 stops on Caltrain. I literally have no words,” Clarkin tweeted.

Clarkin, whose Twitter handle is @the_transit_guy, wasn’t alone in his frustration, and many on social media echoed his climate concerns.

“How to make people feel silly for recycling, keeping a compost bin in an apartment, and re-using bathtub clean waters in the toilet in one tweet,” one user said.

Another person compared the Tesla founder’s flight to taking “an F-15 to his downstairs bathroom.”

“That’s a 40 min drive at most. WTF,” another tweeted.

According to Google Maps, the distance from San Francisco International Airport to San Jose International Airport is 33 miles and takes about 40 minutes by car, depending on traffic, which can sometimes be bumper to bumper.


Clarkin added in another tweet that the San Francisco and San Jose airports “would be a stop away from each other on the HSR project [Musk] tried to derail.”

According to multiple outlets, Musk has been a vocal critic of the proposed high-speed rail project that would connect major cities in California, and admitted to his biographer Ashlee Vance, according to Paris Marx of Time Magazine, that his Hyperloop proposal — which, in theory, would carry people from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 35 minutes — was all about trying to get legislators to cancel the HSR project, but Musk never had plans to build it.

Others noted the irony that Musk, a businessman who has become the richest man in the world thanks in part to Tesla, his electric car company, is responsible for an unequal share of carbon emissions.

“Behold! The man being trusted to create sustainable transport!” another user tweeted about the short flight.

Flying private produces up to 14 times more greenhouse gas pollution per passenger than commercial planes, and 50 times more than trains, according to a 2021 study. Two hours on a private flight produces two metric tons of greenhouse gas pollution, which is about as much as the average person on Earth generates in a year.

Of course Musk and Jenner are far from the only one-percenters to fly private. Tom Cruise reportedly took an 8-minute flight in Tennessee, according to automated flight tracker CelebJets, while Kenny Chesney traveled about 35 minutes earlier this week, and Steven Spielberg apparently took a 48-minute flight.


Not everyone thought Musk deserved the backlash, pointing out how the extra-short trip could have been an example of the jet being transferred to a new airport for take-off with another client.

New York Times columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin tweeted that such repositioning happens “all the time. Planes often sit at a less busy airport and then fly to another one close by.”

Still, others noted that President Biden — who recently signed into law a sweeping bill that calls for $369 billion in spending on climate and energy programs — had recently flown on Air Force One from Washington, D.C., to nearby Wilmington, Del.

“Biden took a 747 from [DC] to Delaware. 24 minutes,” tweeted another user.

Brittany Bowker can be reached at brittany.bowker@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @brittbowker and on Instagram @brittbowker.