Declan's memoirs of Air Force One (was: Clinton's trip home)

Rohit Khare (
Thu, 15 Apr 1999 14:58:34 -0700

>Date: Mon, 15 Mar 1999 09:20:18 -0500
>From: Declan McCullagh <>
>Subject: FC: Air Force One (was: Clinton's trip home)
>X-URL: Politech is at
>A number of people have asked me about what it's like to fly on Air Force One.
>Whatever plane the president is flying on at the moment is called Air Force
>One. But the mammoth 747 that lives in a special hangar at Andrews Air
>Force base, 25 miles south of Washington DC, is what most people think of
>-- and the model for the recent Harrison Ford movie of the same name.
>That plane has an entirely custom interior with rooms instead of rows of
>seats. The president and staff quarters are at the front, followed by the
>press area, and the galley at the far back. Sometimes the president wanders
>back for on- or off-the-record chats with reporters. The baggage and other
>gear is stored on the level beneath, as you'd expect, and there's enough
>room to walk there if you duck.
>>From a passenger's perspective, it's a great flight: We get to choose our
>movie from a stack of still-in-the-theaters tapes, and the food, seats, and
>service are superb. Best of all are the lack of rules. No fussy
>stewardesses run around telling you to buckle your seatbelt or turn off
>When you fly AF1 you don't have to worry about other air traffic;
>everything else gets out of your way. Airports pretty much close down when
>the president is in town -- you'll remember the furor over the First
>Haircut a while ago. And forget those dawdling commercial takeoffs. This is
>a speedy military flight, and it feels like the pilot points the nose
>straight up in the sky.
>Smaller airports don't have long enough runways to handle the 747. This was
>the case when we flew into Hope, Arkansas on Friday morning. We took a C-9
>(painted the same white-and-blue as its larger cousin) instead; I believe
>the civilian equivalent is the DC-9. The galley was comparatively tiny, so
>the food wasn't as good and there were no in-flight movies. But it was much
>more cozy. Clinton was sitting about five seats in front of us, chatting
>with Rep. Sandlin, a Congressman with a penchant for producing inane press
>releases such as "East Texas Dairy Producers Meet With Sandlin in
>Washington DC."
>Then there are the bone-rattling helicopters. When I covered the
>president's trip to the USS Truman, I flew on a military helicopter from
>AF1 to the aircraft carrier and was half-deaf (even though I used earplugs)
>for hours. There are also stories to tell about motorcade screwups -- such
>as when the local police in New Mexico forgot to close the interstate
>highway our motorcade was entering at high speeds -- but those can wait for
>another day.

>Date: Sun, 14 Mar 1999 15:45:32 -0500
>From: Declan McCullagh <>
>Subject: FC: Confessions of an email addict (or, Clinton's trip home)
>X-URL: Politech is at
>Apologies if you've tried to reach me and I haven't responded. I was
>unexpectedly called away to cover the president's three-day trip to Texas
>and Arkansas.
>I did have my laptop with me and could have logged in, but when you're in
>the "tight pool" and stay with the president constantly, by the time you
>get to bed you're exhausted. (Even Air Force One, which has direct
>connections to the White House switchboard we can use, does not yet have
>Ethernet hookups at each reporter's seat.)
>The so-called tight pool was created because the number of reporters who
>want to cover the president is larger than the number who can reasonably do
>so. The 30-car motorcade -- one van just to carry POTUS luggage -- is
>already too awkward. (In one trip to Aspen I covered, our motorcade split
>in two when one driver got lost.) And even a plane as large as AF1 only has
>a small number of seats reserved for the press.
>The compromise: Reporters from national publications travel with POTUS at
>all times, as long as they share their reports with their colleagues.
>So when Clinton went to a Little Rock fundraiser last night (raised
>$200,000 for the DNC, held in the living room of an executive at Entergy
>Inc.) I was the only such reporter in the room. When I left I phoned in my
>report for the rest of the press corps to use.
>This trip was more tiring than usual. Part of the problem was that Clinton
>was back home and seemed to know everyone. By around midnight last night,
>the tight pool was so exhausted that we gave Clinton an unprecedented
>standing ovation when he finally decided to leave one fundraising gathering
>-- just 90 minutes behind schedule. At one point he asked if the press
>corps would be upset that we weren't staying in Little Rock another night
>(as was scheduled until rain cancelled golf plans). Huh? That, we decided,
>was the mark of a president who was deeply out of touch with reality.
>It's interesting to note that to the traveling press corps, policy and even
>politics are much less important than personal behavior. Clinton is
>well-known as being much less considerate of everyone he travels with than
>Bush or Gore have been. He routinely keeps visiting dignitaries waiting in
>the rain outside AF1, for instance, instead of getting out as soon as it