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World leaders are just like us: They fly commercial!

Well, not exactly. They fly commercial, like German Chancellor Angela Merkel did Friday, when their ultra-secure government airplanes have a bizarre technical failure on the way to a major summit; have to make an emergency landing; there is no backup government plane available; and said leader positively, absolutely has to be there on time, because it’s a G-20 summit of the world’s top 20 industrialized nations and it would look very bad if number four on the list did not show up.

Merkel and her entourage were on the way from Berlin to Buenos Aires, Argentina, Thursday evening on one of the German Air Force’s two Airbus A340-300 long-haul jets, former Lufthansa planes turned into VIP transports for the chancellor and president — with satellite communications, anti-missile gear, and all the other systems needed to safely ferry the leaders of a big, important nation and keep them securely in touch with the armed forces.

Things went awry when the plane had to make an emergency landing Thursday because of a technical issue, which according to German media later turned out to be a failure of the radios. According to German news site Spiegel Online, the only way that the crew could communicate with air traffic control was thanks to that onboard satellite phone. The Airbus was met by fire trucks and, while the landing was perfectly safe,  it had to be taken out of service.

Initially, German media reported that Merkel would reach Argentina on the air force’s other Airbus A340. But that’s not what happened.

The leader of the most populous country in the European Union and fourth-biggest economy in the world ended up flying just like we do. She took a commercial airliner from Madrid, which she reached on a smaller German air force plane that didn’t have the range to get to Argentina. Specifically, she took Iberia flight IB6849 nonstop to Buenos Aires (EZE) — and of course passengers with phone cameras documented it.

 

By the look of it, Merkel was in business class, at least. (According to our review of Iberia biz class, she had room to stretch but probably not the best inflight catering.) No word on whether her entourage was in coach class or up front with the boss.

At the time of this writing, the Airbus A330-200 is still in the air. Flight tracking site Flightaware has Merkel at 34,000 feet above Brazil, still a few hours from landing in Buenos Aires.   

According to the Financial Times, Merkel said the problem on her A340 was “a serious malfunction” — however, the air force said there was no sign of wrongdoing. German journalists on board the original air force flight said that Merkel was told by an aide that there was an urgent problem that required her attention. The chancellor thought that there was a crisis she had to deal with, but then was told about the problem with the plane.

Featured image of the A340-300 aircraft with Merkel on board stranded in Cologne by Jörg Blank/picture alliance via Getty Images

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