Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Tim Cook's average day doesn't sound as if it's filled with excessive entertainment.

He says he wakes up at 4 a.m. to gauge the feelings of his customers.

What do you imagine he does next? Perhaps he checks in with his senior staff, to make sure product pipelines are flowing smoothly.

And surely he's off to China quite often, checking on Apple's production operations and trying to make sure one of Apple's most important markets drifts the company's way.

It's easy, indeed, to imagine that Cook, so firmly entrenched as the face of Apple, makes all the important decisions.

Yet a statistic blurted by one of America's most fascinating companies offers a radically different perspective on the way Apple does business.

For reasons that some might feel waft along an axis from peculiar to reckless, United Airlines erected promotional banners at San Francisco Airport, in which it revealed its biggest corporate customers.

Spotted and tweeted by LAFlyer, the banner revealed that Apple was the airline's biggest customer out of the airport.

Cupertino spends $35 million a year on United flights just to Shanghai.

(Please, try and control your emotions. In a moment, there will be a bigger reason for their release.)

Apple buys 50 business class seats daily from San Francisco to Shanghai.

Which, perhaps, ought to give a slightly different perspective on all the employees involved in managing Apple's operations overseas.

The only faces Apple puts forward on a regular basis are those you see at its product launch events.

Yet without an array of important staff, nothing would get done -- certainly not done well.

I contacted Apple to ask whether it had given permission for this fascinating statistical release.

I also contacted United to ask a similar question. An airline spokeswoman told me: 

This information was provided to United employees as part of a limited pilot project focused on San Francisco to highlight the importance of our corporate relationships and was not intended to be shared publicly. The project has since been discontinued.

How, then, did it become so readily seen? That's slightly unclear. 

United did admit that it has contacted Apple and the other companies exposed: 

A small group of customers were mentioned by name on this material and each has been contacted directly and we are working to address their concerns. The material has been taken down and moving forward we will review and further restrict sharing of internal customer information to a strictly need-to-know audience. 

Still, some will find this knowledge uplifting.

As well as seemingly making it very difficult for anyone else to get an upgrade, Apple also sends employees constantly to Hong Kong and Taipei from San Francisco.

Indeed, Asian destinations take up the majority of the top 10.

Not every observer was moved positively by this revelation.

Famed tech commentator Walt Mossberg offered this pithy observation on Twitter

I bet @Apple is really pissed at @united over the disclosure of this granular, competitive info. I also find it amusing that a company which values quality and customer satisfaction as much as Apple does spends so much money with a company that values those things so little.

United and Apple do, indeed, share little in terms of customer perception. There are, though, few non-stop options to Shanghai from SFO. China Eastern Airlines may be the only one.

Business Class on United isn't a terrible way to fly, as I recently discovered

Still I wonder whether, after this revelation, United might be offering Apple a few free tickets.

You know, in First Class.

Published on: Jan 13, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.