What is it like to fly on Air Force One?
Just for fun, I am going to do something a little different today and review an aircraft that no amount of points/miles can get you a ride on. Unless you are the President, one of the President’s staff members, aides, or invited guests, or a member of the traveling press corps–it is pretty difficult to actually get a flight on Air Force One.
Last December I had the amazing opportunity to take a tour of Air Force One and eat lunch on board while the aircraft was on the ground. While I have not personally flown on the aircraft, and was not permitted to take pictures while I was on board, I wanted to review the food and the hard product itself as if it was a normal flight. Furthermore, I will use publicly available photos to show you what it looks like on board so you can get an idea of what it would be like to fly on Air Force One!
Brief History of Air Force One
The term “Air Force One” is actually used to describe any Air Force aircraft carrying the President. However, according to whitehouse.gov, it has become “standard practice to refer to specific planes that are equipped to transport the Commander-in-Chief” with the term. Today, “this name refers to one of two highly customized Boeing 747-200B series aircraft, which carry the tail codes 28000 and 29000. The Air Force designation for the aircraft is VC-25A.”
The first jet specifically built for Presidential use was a modified Boeing 707 acquired by the Air Force in 1962. President Kennedy was responsible for approving the now iconic markings of Air Force One–polished aluminum fuselage on the bottom side and the use of two blues–slate blue associated with the early republic and the presidency, and cyan to represent the present and future. The presidential seal was added to both sides of the fuselage near the nose, a large American flag was painted on the tail, and the sides of the aircraft read “United States of America” in all capital letters.
This first version of Air Force One served until 1990, when it was replaced with the current 747-200.
What’s it like on board?
The current version of Air Force One has approximately 4,000 square feet of floor space on three levels. The main floor “includes an extensive suite for the President that features a large office, lavatory, and conference room.”
The President’s office aboard Air Force One is large, has several seats for guests and has a flat screen television on the wall above the sofa. I thought that the Presidential seal above the window was a pretty cool touch.
Just forward of the President’s office are the living quarters, including a bathroom with shower. The sofas in the bedroom area convert into a bed. Surprisingly, this is the only lie flat surface on board!
If you are the Secretary of State, another world leader, or even a former President traveling on Air Force One, you are going to find yourself in a leather recliner style airline seat, albeit with a metal presidential seal on the lap safety belt–uber cool! The seats are comfortable for sitting with good pitch and width, but would not be ideal for sleeping on a long trip.
The bathroom and shower are nice, but somewhat cramped. As a quick point of comparison the First Class bathroom on Emirates A-380s is about double the size. There are dual sinks in the bathroom and a small shower stall.
Further aft on the aircraft is the large conference room. The table can sit eight people, but there is more room along the side walls for additional people.
Air Force One also includes a medical suite that can function as an operating room, and a doctor is permanently on board. The plane’s two food preparation galleys can feed 100 people at a time. Food is prepared and served by specially trained USAF personnel.
Air Force One also has quarters for those who accompany the President, including senior advisors, Secret Service officers, traveling press, and other guests.
The aft cabin on the main floor is reserved for the press, security, and less senior staffers that didn’t get to ride up front.
How’s the food and on-board entertainment?
The two galleys on board prepare meals for the President, guests, crew, and the press. All food is prepared by US Air Force personnel who are specially trained as flight attendants. After my tour of the aircraft, I was invited into the conference room to sample the food. There were 5 others on our special tour and we all sat at the conference table while the Air Force One crew presented us a menu, took our drink orders, and began preparing our meals.
The menu is not nearly as extensive as a commercial airline and you do not have any over the top luxury items that you would find on a 5-Star International First Class–probably not going to find caviar and high-dollar champagne on board. However, the crew does prepare a good meal. Our meal consisted of a chicken curry over rice with a side salad and a dessert. Served on a tray, the presentation was beautiful on custom Air Force One plates and dishes. Unfortunately, I was unable to take a picture, but I found the photo below of a what a typical meal on Air Force One will look like. This is almost identical to how our meals were served.
The aircraft also does have an on-board entertainment system complete with a menu of movie and television choices. WiFi is available for the President and staff, and there are numerous telephones for both secure and non-secure conversations.
Air Force One is designed for its functionality and certainly does not go over the top on luxury. Primarily, it is a flying oval office and communications hub. Furthermore, the aircraft was designed in the 1980s, before many of the lie-flat commercial innovations were developed and it has had only had a few minor interior updates since it was first delivered.
However, just because the aircraft is not blinged-out doesn’t mean that it isn’t impressive. I am confident that anyone walking onto Air Force One for the first time immediately is in awe of the power, prestige, and history of the aircraft. The aura of Air Force One is palpable–even though it is not the newest or most modern aircraft, it is probably the most recognizable and the most awe inspiring! Both the interior and exterior are pristine, despite being over 25 years old. There is not a speck of dirt or a smudge anywhere–all due to the extreme diligence and professionalism of the Air Force crew members.
All that being said, I was still surprised that only the President actually has a place to lie-flat on Air Force One (with the exception of the crew rest area). I would imagine that the next version of Air Force One would probably get some updates in the seating department and probably have some cutting edge lie flat options for senior staffers. Finally, an important note, there is little to no overhead storage–so leave your large roll-aboard at home!