How Do Former Presidents Fly?

Feb 3, 2017

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Now that President Obama has relinquished Air Force One to the new administration, how does a man coming out of the Oval Office — and for that matter, all living past presidents — accomplish air travel?

From the Obama family’s first flight without Air Force One, it would appear they’re going to travel as lavishly as possible. Michelle Obama was seen boarding Sir Richard Branson’s Falcon 900EX jet in Palm Springs on the way to a Necker Island getaway in the British Virgin Islands and while the former president was not seen getting on the plane, rest assured he didn’t fly commercially down to the Caribbean.

The Obamas traveled in style to get to Necker Island on a recent post-presidential vacation. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Because of security details — all presidents and spouses are entitled to lifetime Secret Service protection (offspring are protected up to the age of 16) — flying commercially usually isn’t a viable option. Also considering the public relations and traffic jam a President’s appearance would cause in a public airport terminal, it probably isn’t the best idea.

President George W. Bush has had a few private jet incidents since leaving office — one emergency landing in 2013 after smoke was reported onboard, as well as a bad publicity episode after he accepted a $20,000 private jet flight and a $100,000 speaking fee in order to attend a veteran’s event. The only former President who is the exception to the private jet trend is President Jimmy Carter — and his wife Roslyn — who traveled on a commercial Delta flight from Atlanta to Washington, D.C. for President Trump’s inauguration.

In case you weren’t aware, travel for former presidents and no more than two of their designated staff is actually covered by tax payer dollars thanks to the Former President’s Act (FPA) of 1958. In 1969, the General Services Administration (GSA) took control of determining the travel costs and capped annual appropriations at $1 million per president and $500,000 per president’s spouse. In order for travel to be funded by the GSA, travel needs to be related to a function dealing with their capacity as a former president — pure leisure travel does not make the cut.

Before you get too outraged at those figures, consider this: in fiscal year 2015 (the most current numbers available) only Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush used official travel funds, which totaled a minuscule $66,000. Former presidents who make millions of dollars in public speaking fees and book deals have received criticism for accepting benefits under the FPA, originally enacted to “maintain the dignity of the Office of the President” after President Truman was so poor after leaving office he had to move into his mother-in-law’s house.

If you’re flying through ATL any time soon, be sure to keep an eye out for the Carters, who hopefully have been collecting their Delta SkyMiles. Otherwise, the only time you may catch a glimpse of President Obama, Clinton or either of the Bushes would be as they’re coming to or from their respective private jets.

Featured image courtesy of Getty Images.

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