Really, $60,000 to Fly to Asia?

Late last week, Washington Post media journalist Paul Farhi wrote a column explaining how journalists accompanying President Obama on his trip to Asia will be paying $60,000 for the privilege. No, this is not what the government is charging them to fly aboard Air Force One. Rather, it is what the rate may be for them to fly a chartered aircraft.

One thing is clear: It costs over $3 million to charter this plane. The more passengers they carry, the lower the cost for each. Apparently to date, only 51 members of the media are onboard, so to speak. The more their peers join in the action, the lower the cost for each. So just what do they get for this $60,000? Well, it not only travels to China but also Burma. And then there is that stopover in Australia, five legs in all. And of course, they have to come home.

Okay, some disclosure here. Like them, I fly around the world. Sometimes I fly business class for international flights. One time I even received a very pleasant surprise upgrade to United’s international first class cabin. I will log around 200,000 miles this year, more than most but far less than others. Even so, my total cost for all flights is not $60,000, much less paying that much for one charter.

But being a BoardingArea blogger, I am more curious about other things like what type of aircraft are they using and how many passengers can they carry? I assumed this includes all business class lie-flat seats but that seems doubtful since Farhi says that normally there are over a hundred passengers for these trips. But who knows, it’s possible a 747 or 787 could be configured for a hundred lie-flats. Of course they have food and drink aboard but do they also have workstations, Wi-Fi, and the ability to make telephone and/or video calls back to their editors? Do they have the same small stinky lavatories like those on commercial flights? Do they have showers? Do they wait for charter stragglers or do they push back without them? Inquiring minds would like to know.

Really, is it necessary for them to fly to Asia together on a chartered aircraft? Yes, according to Steve Thomma, a former association president and White House correspondent. He says flying commercial like us mortals makes it “nearly impossible” to keep up with the President’s schedule because of unusual arrival and takeoff times.

Okay, I can appreciate the comradery and all that – and I am sure the charter is quite nice – and there is that fear factor, missing out on a timely moment that they could have recorded for history but c’mon, is it really that painful to fly with us mere mortals sitting in a $10-15,000 business class seat on a commercial airline? I mean, it’s not like they are even going to see the President on these flights, much less get to talk to him. I hope this is the worst first world problem of the day.

Now to figure out how to get my book, Business Travel Success…How to Reduce Stress, Be More Productive and Travel With Confidence! into the seatback pockets of this flight 🙂

Obama with Business Travel Success book



  1. Im not an expert on international news travel but I had a friend working for MSNBC covering the GOP candidate in 2012. They flew on the candidates charted plan in order to keep up with him. Flying commerical just wasnt feasible since when they tried they would miss 50% of the events due to limits of airline flight schedules. I imagine if one was to try to do this trip on commercial aviation, they would be better off just covering it from a desk in Washington. The president moves so quickly on these trips I would be surprised if any journalists flying commerical could cover more than two or three of the stops due to the limits of scheduled commerical aviation.

  2. Hi Dan – I am not an expert either but it seems to me there is a difference between keeping up with candidates with many stops, sometimes out of the way places, and a trip like this with only three stops. It is very understandable to fly charter given the example you provide but you can be sure it wasn’t costing each of them anywhere near $60,000 per trip.

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