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The Traveling President

Posted by on Jul. 8, 2011 at 1:51 PM
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The Traveling President

July 8, 2011

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Q: Is President Obama flying on Air Force One more than other presidents did? Is he being accompanied by more people on international trips?

A: Two chain e-mails suggesting that the president's travel habits are more excessive than his predecessors are off base.

FULL QUESTION

Is it true that Air Force One pilots and crew are flying President Obama more than President Bush?  And that he flew 172 times in 2010?

This is from Mark Knoller of CBS.

The pilots and crew of Air Force One are flying more hours than a rookie on a beer run. They are tired of it too, and are adding more crew to Air Force-1, – I know this for a fact because I'm one of the instructors that trains the crews Our company (Atlas Air) has had the Air Force-1 and E-4 contract for over two years and I've been doing it for about 8 months now.

Last year (2010) Obama flew in Air Force One 172 times, almost every other day.

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______________________________________________

Can you fact check this article….  I found that it was written in March of 2009, but I don't know if all the facts are true.

If you're not sure what "big government" implies, take a look at this.

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FULL ANSWER

Our inbox has been inundated with questions about two separate chain e-mails about President Barack Obama's use of Air Force One in 2010, and about the number of people who accompanied him on a trip to England in 2009. But the suggestion that Obama is traveling more often on the presidential plane, and traveling with larger entourages on international trips than past presidents, is badly mistaken.

The first e-mail forwarded to us by numerous readers claims that "Obama flew in Air Force One 172 times, almost every other day" last year. That's based on a blog post written by the Los Angeles Times' Andrew Malcolm, who got his figures from veteran CBS News reporter Mark Knoller. But figures provided to FactCheck.org by the Air Force's 89th Airlift Wing show that Obama traveled less on Air Force One last year, and in his first two years, than President George W. Bush did.

The second frequently forwarded chain e-mail includes a column from Dale McFeatters of the Scripps Howard News Service. The column says that Obama — when he traveled to London in 2009 for an economic summit of the G-20 nations, not his most recent trip to London in May of this year — "arrived with 500 staff in tow, including 200 Secret Service agents, a team of six doctors, the White House chef and kitchen staff with the president's own food and water." But even assuming that the report is accurate, we also found government and news reports on the international travel of previous presidents that show they at times traveled with as many or more people as Obama reportedly did in 2009, and with similar personnel.

Obama's Air Force One Travel

Contrary to what the e-mail about Obama's use of Air Force One suggests, Mark Knoller of CBS News is not the author of this e-mail. The portion of the e-mail beginning with the line, "Last year Obama flew in Air Force One 172 times, almost every other day," through the line, "Aides indicate the 'Real Good Talker' believes we need more," was written by Andrew Malcolm of the Los Angeles Times. Malcolm plucked several figures from Knoller's piece, which was titled "Obama's 2010: By the Numbers," for his own blog post titled "Obama and Air Force One: It's good to have a 747." Everything else about the Atlas Air training crew and the costs to taxpayers, which we'll get to later, was added by the anonymous author of this e-mail, who lifted Malcolm's piece.

It is true that Knoller originally reported in his 2010 year-end article that Obama took 172 flights on Air Force One in the second year of his presidency. And that does work out to be almost one flight every other day, as Malcolm wrote in his own blog post.

We checked with the U.S. Air Force's 89th Airlift Wing, which oversees the president's travel on Air Force One, to see what it had for the number of flights taken by Obama last year. The statistics the 89th Airlift Wing provided to us show that the president took 72 total "missions" and 177 total "sorties" in 2010. Missions are the number of trips the president took from Andrews Air Force Base and back, whereas sorties represent the number of individual flights in a mission.

For example, a log of the president's travel from June 23-24, 2011, shows him departing from Andrews Air Force Base at 1:00 pm on June 23 and arriving back at the base at 1:40 pm on June 24, with multiple stops in between:

Obama Travel Schedule

1:00 PM: The President departs Joint Base Andrews en route Fort Drum, New York

2:15 PM: The President arrives Fort Drum, New York

3:10 PM: The President meets with Gold Star Families

4:15 PM: The President departs Fort Drum en route New York City, New York

5:10 PM: The President arrives New York City, New York

7:05 PM: The President delivers remarks at a DNC event

8:00 PM: The President delivers remarks at a DNC event

9:50 PM: The President delivers remarks at a DNC event

11:05 PM: The President departs New York City, New York en route Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 

12:15 AM: The President arrives Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

10:45 AM: The President tours Carnegie Mellon University's National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC)

11:00 AM: The President delivers remarks on the need to focus on cross-cutting technologies that will enhance the global competitiveness of U.S. manufacturing and speed up ideas from the drawing board to the manufacturing floor

12:45 PM: The President departs Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

1:40 PM: The President arrives at Andrews Air Force Base

Source: 89th Airlift Wing

This would be counted as one mission and four sorties, according to the airlift group.

So, the Air Force has a slightly higher count for flights than Knoller — 177 versus 172. But Maj. Shelly Lai, public affairs director of the 89th Airlift Wing, said that just reporting the number of sorties could also potentially give readers the wrong impression about the number of times Obama has actually left Washington on Air Force One.

Maj. Lai, July 5: There is just a difference between how the information is being represented. Most people consider the time you leave your home to the time you return to be one trip. Even if they made multiple stops while they were out. It's the same in this instance. When people hear a 177 trips, they believe that means the President left DC a 177 times. As you can see, that isn't the case.

To put Obama's use of Air Force One into context, we also asked for travel data for his predecessor, President George W. Bush. Bush took 89 missions and 259 sorties in 2002, his second year as president, according to the airlift group. And in his first two years, Bush took 148 missions with 416 sorties, compared with 126 missions with 324 sorties for Obama over two years.

As for the e-mail's other claims: It is true that Atlas Air was awarded a government contract to train Air Force One pilots and engineers. But we don't know if the anonymous author of this e-mail — who claims to be one of the company's training instructors — is relaying an honest account of the way the crew feels about the president's travel. We also don't know if Obama "spent over $100 million taxpayer dollars flying around in Air Force One" last year, or during his entire presidency. The 89th Airlift Wing didn't have many of the figures we would need to calculate this — such as total flight hours for each year, and a breakdown of each jet used by the president to travel and its operating cost.

Obama's Travels Abroad

When Obama traveled to London in March 2009 to attend a meeting of the G-20 nations, it was part of a longer eight-day trip across Europe, in which the president visited five countries total, including stops in France, Germany, Turkey and the Czech Republic. Several British newsorganizations, citing unnamed officials, reported that Obama was traveling with an entourage of as many as 500 people when he arrived in London, the first stop of the trip.

column written by Dale McFeatters of the Scripps Howard News Service in 2009 also made the claim that "Obama arrived with 500 staff in tow, including 200 Secret Service agents, a team of six doctors, the White House chef and kitchen staff with the president's own food and water." That column is included in a chain e-mail that has been forwarded to us dozens of times in the last year. McFeatters also wrote: "And, according to the Evening Standard, he also came with '35 vehicles in all, four speech writers and 12 teleprompters.' "

We have not been able to independently confirm any of the figures reported by McFeatters or members of the British press. The White House would not comment on details of presidential travel, a spokeswoman told us. Both the White House and the Secret Service typically cite security concerns in declining to comment. But if the figures about the number of individuals traveling with the president are indeed accurate, it would not be anything new for a modern U.S. president on an overseas trip.

When President Bush traveled to England in the fall of 2003 for a state visit, the Guardian reportedthat "Mr. Bush, his wife, Laura, and a 700-strong entourage worthy of a travelling medieval monarch, flew into Heathrow airport." And the Telegraph broke it down further, reporting that "Mr. Bush will be accompanied by a retinue consisting of 250 members of the Secret Service, 150 advisers from the National Security Department, 200 representatives of other government departments and 50 political aides." Also traveling with the president were "his personal chef, personal assistants, four cooks, medics and the presidential 15-strong sniffer dog team," according to the report.

In 1999, the General Accounting Office (now the Government Accountability Office) issued a reportdetailing the amount of planning and personnel support that went into executing President Bill Clinton's foreign trips to Africa, Chile and China in 1998.

According to the GAO, nearly 500 people played a role in Clinton's nine-day trip across China, either traveling with the president, providing support to the delegation of travelers, or traveling to China earlier as a part of several advance teams that assisted in the planning of the president's trip. And nearly 600 were involved in Clinton's five-day trip to Chile that year, and nearly 1,300 were a part of Clinton's 11-day trip across Africa as well. And those totals did not include members of the Secret Service or non-federal officials and private citizens who later reimbursed the government for their travel costs, GAO said.

Also, Larry Speakes, press secretary to President Ronald Reagan, was quoted by John Hendren of the States News Service in 1992, saying: "I would say on some of the (Reagan administration's) European trips we had like 700 to 800 people involved, excluding the press corps."

The e-mail's anonymous author also makes much of the claim that Obama traveled with a team of doctors. "You and I may never see health care again the way it used to be, but 'Emperor Obama' took six (6) doctors with him for a 3 day visit to London." But in its 1999 report, the GAO said that members of the White House Medical Unit typically travel with the president on foreign trips in case they are needed.

Obama may or may not have traveled with 500 people to London in 2009. We can't say for sure. But whether one believes that presidents could get by with less help during international trips or not, it's wrong to suggest that such a large traveling entourage would be unusual.

Note: Some readers who forwarded this chain e-mail to us seemed to believe that McFeatters' column referred to Obama's most recent trip to London in May. But he wrote that column at the time of the president's trip two years earlier.

A Continuing Pattern

These latest chain e-mails are part of a continuing pattern of indignant, anonymous authors spreading false and misleading claims about the travels of the president and the first lady.

In November 2010, we wrote about the "highly doubtful" claim that Obama's trip to India would cost $200 million each day. That figure was based on only one report from an Indian news organization that cited an unnamed official, with no additional evidence to support the claim. The White House called the claim "wildly exaggerated."

In July 2009, we wrote about another chain e-mail that complained that the first lady used taxpayer money to take her daughters and her mother on a European vacation. While taxpayers were on the hook for some of the cost of transporting the first family, and for providing security for them, no taxpayer money was used for their personal expenses.

In October 2008, we wrote about the false claim that Michelle Obama spent nearly $450 on room service at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City that year. Not only did Obama not stay at that hotel when she was in the city, according to her husband's then-presidential campaign, she hadn't yet arrived in New York by the time the bogus receipt claimed she had ordered room service

"Be who you are and say what you feel....
Because those that matter...
don't mind...
And those that mind... don't
matter."
by on Jul. 8, 2011 at 1:51 PM
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Replies (1-2):
GLWerth
by Gina on Jul. 8, 2011 at 2:37 PM

Thanks for posting this.

Not that it will matter to the "if Obama steps outside the WH, he's on VACATION!!" brigade.

parrishsky
by Maxfield on Jul. 8, 2011 at 2:41 PM

I really don't care what other people say. He's got the hardest f*cking job in the world. I do not envy what he's taken on and know that whatever he does he's doing for us, even a game of golf is good for a person... especially one with the world on  his shoulders.

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