When The Commander-in-Chief Takes Flight: An In-Depth Look At Air Travel As POTUS

Most people have heard of Air Force One, but few people know just how much planning, security, and coordination it takes for the President to fly from one city to another. Whether his or her destination is a few states over or across international borders, traveling for the President of the United States (POTUS) is no small feat. Next time you hear Air Force One is on the move, consider these preparations, regulations, and perks that the president is faced with while flying.

Heightened Security

Its no secret that the POTUS travels with a team of security personnel. Staff members visit and analyze the president’s destination months ahead of time. These visits investigate everything from traffic conditions to healthcare facilities. Airspaces are also cleared in anticipation for Air Force One and a no fly zone is implemented in proximity to the president’s final destination. Many cities will also issue travel warnings so locals are aware of travel times and can plan accordingly. When President Obama traveled to Oahu this summer for an environmental conference, local news outlets warned all drivers to stay off the 12 mile stretch of highway that connects the island’s airport to the capital, Honolulu, for several hours. Before the president arrives, press members and other present parities will be thoroughly inspected by security, canine units, and other protocols before entering the president’s proximity. A motorcade including the presidential limousine will meet the POTUS on the runway and quickly initiate the next phase of transport.

High Cost of Operation

Presidential travel is not cheap. Between cost of personnel, 24-hour surveillance, lodging, securing locations, and  other expenses, funding presidential air travel is no small feat. A recent Washington Post article cited Bill Clinton’s trip to six African countries while in office cost at least $42.7 million and Obama’s trip to Africa in 2013 cost over $60 million. Both the National Taxpayer Foundation and CNN report Air Force One costing over $200,000 to operate per hour. While president, Ronald Reagan spent 105 days traveling out of the office, Bill Clinton, spent 206 traveling, George W. Bush, 186, and Barack Obama, 185.

The Presidential plane. Image Courtesy of Pixabay.com.

The Presidential plane. Image Courtesy of Pixabay.com.

Secret Service

The president doesn’t go anywhere without a team of highly trained security at his side. From elite dinners, to press events, to galas and conferences, the POTUS is always protected. They also conduct screenings of all outside personnel at events and locations to ensure that hotel employees, dining staff, and other present individuals don’t pose a threat. During President Obama’s first trip to Hawaii while in office in 2009, his Washington team and Honolulu officers alike assembled on surfboards and jet skis to protect him while he went body surfing. Obama enjoyed the waves near where he grew up at Sandy’s Beach Park on the southern shore of Oahu, but the Secret Service, however, said they did not like him doing that.

A Few Extra Perks

Air Force One is not your typical Boeing 747-200B. This plane has been highly modified to optimize comfort and safety. Inside, the plane has over 4,000 feet of space including beds, a bathroom, an office, two kitchens, a medical facility equipped for surgery, and a portable gym. The plane delivers first class service around the clock and can carry 70 passengers and 26 crew members. Beyond its comfort and functionality, the plane is one of the safest in the world. Its exterior is bullet proof and equipped with a state of the art telecommunications center. One more noteworthy perk: The first dog is allowed on board.

Facilitating presidential travel is no small feat. From coordinating personnel, to securing airports, clearing fly zones, and much more, traveling as the president is an intricate operation where our military and secret service put in their best work to keep our Commander-in-Chief safe. To learn more about presidential travel and Air Force One, keep an eye out for our President’s Day Blog Post next month where we’ll be diving into the history of the presidential air fleet.  

Featured courtesy of Flickr.com photo by Gage Skidmore, licensed for reuse.