Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What's it like to fly on Air Force One?

Peter MarquezSpace policy geek.
(I realized I posted my response in the comments section so here it is properly placed with a few edits and additions.)

It's awesome. I only got to fly on her once. 
I really wish some other former White House staff would answer some of these questions- I know A LOT of other people flew on AF1 and have much better information than I have.

The staff is amazing and after flying on AF1 you will NEVER want to fly commercial again. 

The experience starts before you even get on the plane.  You are transported from the White House to Andrews and you get to drive right up to the airplane and leave the vehicle and walk up into the plane.  (Only the president and his close staff get the Marine 1 transport to Andrews)

It's very comfortable- huge seats, desks and tables for working. A full conference room with flat screens and video teleconferencing capability. There's a computer room with Internet access. 

One of the greatest things about AF1 has nothing to do with the aircraft itself-- it's the people that make AF1 run.  All of the AF1 staff appear to really enjoy their jobs and they take great pride in their work.  It definitely appeared that none of them took this great opportunity for granted.  They are also well versed in the history of AF1 and can tell you stories about all the previous AF1s.

The trip I was on was very short.  We were flying from DC to Kennedy Space Center for a speech President Obama was giving.
During the flight I had been helping to work and rework a speech the President was about to give. He kept coming out of his cabin with more edits and changes.  After another round of edits from the boss an attendant looked at me and asked if I needed anything. I jokingly said, "Yes, a nice strong drink. Preferably a single malt" (it was about 9 or 10AM). Without pausing the attendant asks, "what brand and what year?" I had to tell him I was joking. 

In addition to my colleagues and a few members of Congress we also had Buzz Aldrin on the flight.  Dr. Aldrin was seated next to me at our table and he starts to get a bit fidgety, he looks around, and he says, "You wanna go take a look around?"

So I stop working for a minute and Dr. Aldrin and I start checking out AF1.  We make it over to the stairs that lead to the upper deck and cockpit and one of the staff members asks if we want to head upstairs and check out the cockpit.  Dr. Aldrin got a big smile on his face and looked at me- we were both smiling like little kids.  Did we want to see the cockpit of AF1? Seriously? You have to ask?

So Dr. Aldrin and I make it up to the flight deck and all of the Air Force officers are in awe of this moon walker and here's Buzz Aldrin happy as a little kid because he's hanging out in the cockpit of AF1.  Dr. Aldrin goes into the cockpit and I stand outside of it with my head sticking through the doorway.  So here I am- essentially a nobody and I'm hanging out in the cockpit of AF1, with the pilots, while AF1 is in flight, and I'm with Buzz Aldrin.  Somewhere back in time the 10 year old version of me was saying, "You have got to be kidding me..."  

It was way too short of a flight. 

But just a couple of more interesting bits.  

First, as we started to descend I instinctively went back to my seat and buckled up.  But I noticed a lot of the other "frequent flyers" were still up and walking around.  So I asked one of them, "When are we supposed to sit down?"  They just kind of laughed at my "noob question" and said something to the effect of-- "You don't really have to sit down at all just watch how the pilot lands this thing."  So people were still up and walking around as the plane landed. For someone who had only flown commercial it was a fascinating to me for some reason.  Sure enough- the pilot put her down like a feather and came to a gentle stop.

Second, we landed on the space shuttle runway.  Another thing that blew my mind.  Of course we were going to an event at Kennedy Space Center so the closest runway is the space shuttle runway- but landing in AF1 on the space shuttle runway was more mind blowing then not having to sit down during landing.  

Finally, you get a bill for the food you eat on AF1 (this may be the only thing AF1 has in common with United).  Since you are eating a meal on AF1 you are doing so at taxpayer expense.  This means you have to reimburse the government for whatever you ate.  That's completely fair and the right thing to do but it's something you wouldn't immediately consider when flying on AF1.  So about a week after my AF1 flight I got a bill sent to me for the lunch I ate on AF1.  That bill made for a great souvenir.

So to paraphrase philosopher Ferris Bueller- "It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend..."

I forgot one more thing- if you make a phone call from AF1 it's routed through a couple of operators who sit up on the flight deck.  They make the outgoing call for you and then they connect you to the person once they make the call.  The cool part is that when they call person for you they say something to the effect of (my memory is a bit fuzzy here), "This is Air Force One, we have a call from  can you hold while I connect you?" I think just receiving a call from AF1 would be amazing.
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27+ Comments • Repost (6) • Thank • Mar 8, 2012
Peter Marquez
Jim Longnew media soul trapped in an old medi...
I occasionally fly on Air Force One as part of my job covering the White House as a network news cameraman for NBC.  The best part of traveling on Air Force One is walking on and walking off the plane.  That's where the adventure is.  You've landed and you have to run to your motorcade vehicle - for us it's "Camera 1" - or you're boarding the plane, about to embark on a global journey, sometimes a very secret one.

I've had some memorable flights on the plane.  I've done interviews with Presidents on the plane, one while in-flight, with Tom Brokaw and Brian Williams. On a trip to Rome for the funeral of Pope John Paul II, we had 41, 42, and 43 on board. I was on the aircraft when Katrina hit New Orleans.  I remember them calling AP photographer Susan Walsh up to the front cabin to take the picture of Bush peering down at the disaster below.

Peter is right, the staff is wonderful.  The even treat the press well! :) We are relegated to the aft of the aircraft and occasionally the President will come back to speak with the us.  The flying part is just flying, but on AF1 you're always part of history in the making.  That's pretty cool :)
1+ Comments • Repost • Thank • 7:08am
Jim Long
Rakesh Agrawal3.5 MM frequent flier miles and counting
It depends on who you are: the President and family, invited dignitaries, White House staff, Secret Service or press. All have different experiences.

The big advantages of flying on Air Force One:
  • Hobnobbing with power players. By definition, Air Force One is a plane with the President on it. There are many aircraft that have been used as Air Force One. Currently, there are two VC-25s (essentially heavily modified 747s) that serve as Air Force One. There are usually other top aides and members of the press.
  • Don't have to deal with the TSA, though you do have to deal with the Secret Service.
  • Priority landing.

The big downside is that if you're on the plane, you're probably working.
Rakesh Agrawal
Arnold W. KleinWorld Renown Dermatologist who pionee...
Well with Reagen there were other free gifts. Boxes  of M&M's and playing cards labelled Air Force One. Also I did not pay for food.AWK
Comment • Repost • Thank • 1:05am
Arnold W. Klein
Gabe SandersRealtor from Martin County, Florida (...
While I never flew Air Force One, I did fly some support for Air Force One back in the early '70's with a C-141.  We normally carried the President's limo as well as the Secret Service details.

Wasn't nearly as comfy or fun as being on the big jet.
Comment • Repost • Thank • 1:21am
Gabe Sanders
Jared FreezeSon of ex-AG
I flew AF1 from DC to Texas once. (Best steak I've ever had, by the way.) One thing that Peter didn't touch on that I found surprising was that the press flies in the rear of the plane. They all work and sit together and everyone knows everyone.

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