With the 2020 Election behind us, I found myself thinking about the lack of campaign related aircraft that we've seen this year. Although this absence is in large part due to the ongoing pandemic, it is also partially due to having an incumbent candidate as they utilize US Air Force aircraft instead. It did still lead me down a rabbit hole of digging through imagery and scanning articles to track down some of the presidential campaign aircraft in recent history, so I figured I'd share my findings!
2020 - Joe Biden & Kamala Harris
Airline - KaiserAir & Corporate Air
Aircraft - Boeing 737-500 & Gulfstream G650
Tail Number - N732KA & N235DK
Due to the onset of the Coronavirus Pandemic, the Biden-Harris Campaign had initially walked back plans for leasing campaign aircraft due to an expected decrease in in person campaigning. In the late days of the campaign, however, they reversed course and were back in the air. The sole branded campaign aircraft was a Boeing 737 operated by KaiserAir. A unique fact about this aircraft is it's all Business Class arrangement with 60 seats arranged in a 2-2 layout. The campaign also utilized a fleet of chartered Gulstream and Embraer aircraft for VIPs. A Gulfstream with tail number N235DK, and operated by Corporate Air was utilized for Kamala Harris - she really was flying like G6... In addition, the campaign regularly used N334JB, an Embraer E190 operated by jetBlue to shuttle members of the press.
2016 - Hillary Clinton & Tim Kaine
Airline - XTRAirways
Aircraft - Boeing 737-800 & Boeing 737-400
Tail Number - N881XA & N314XA
Hillary Clinton's campaign plane is probably my favorite in recent memory - her entire campaign was brilliantly branded by Pentagram, so that shouldn't come as much surprise! I'm also a bit biased as I'd flown with the airline shortly before her campaign acquired the plane. The Clinton-Kaine fleet consisted of two 737s operated by XTRAirways - Hillary's being a Next Generation -800 and Kaine's being an older -400. Hillary's plane featured her signature tagline of "Stronger Together" alongside a punchy blue tail and belly, while the vice presidential candidate's aircraft was more subdued with the names of the ticket and a blue cheat line. The planes became quite iconic as they traveled the country, and proved an excellent branding moment - even spurring a model airplane version!
2016 - Donald Trump & Mike Pence
Airline - Eastern Air Lines & DJT Operations
Aircraft - Boeing 737-700 & 757-200ER
Tail Number - N278EA & N757AF
The Trump campaign was unique - for many reasons I won't go into - in that one of the candidates already had a private jet of their own. As such, the top of the ticket opted to utilize "Trump Force One," a Boeing 757, for transporting their candidate - they also chartered a follow plane for press, but it was often delayed or left behind completely. On the flip side, an Eastern Air Lines - not the original, but rather a reboot of the storied carrier - 737 was contracted for the vice presidential candidate. It's interesting to note that the aircraft maintained its dedication to the American Soldier, shown on the nose, after its return to Eastern Air Lines. One of the most iconic aviation moments of the campaign was when this aircraft skidded off the runway and suffered a bit of damage - a metaphor for what the next four years would look like.
2012 - Mitt Romney & Paul Ryan
Airline - USA Jet Airlines
Aircraft - McDonnell Douglas MD-83 & McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32
Tail Number - N949NS & N215US
After months of touring the country in nondescript charter aircraft, the Romney campaign unveiled their "Believe in America" branded McDonnell Douglas MD-83 Aircraft. The plane was operated by USA Jet Airlines and was previously owned by Alaska Airlines. The rather tidy livery featured a blue swoop and the Romney "R" logo on the tail, along with the obligatory large scale American flag on the tail mounted engines. On the interior, Romney's plane is probably one of the most personalized - it was emblazoned with pictures and memorabilia as well as having branded headrests. The candidate also reconfigured it slightly to feature captains chairs and tables in the forward cabin. Vice Presidential Candidate, Paul Ryan, had an older and smaller variant of the aircraft, a DC-9-32, with a simplified mostly white livery.
2008 - John McCain & Sarah Palin
Airline - Swift Air & jetBlue Airways
Aircraft - Boeing 737-400 & Embraer E190
Tail Number - N802TJ & N239JB
John McCain's campaign contrasted the Obama campaign shown below by marking a shift towards smaller aircraft, as well as introducing a branded aircraft for the Vice Presidential candidate as well. McCain's Swift Air operated 737 carried the name "Straight Talk Express" that had previously adorned the candidate's bus tour. In addition, the buzzwords "Reform, Prosperity, Peace" were shown near the rear of the plane. The interior of the aircraft is also quite lively, although not to the extent of Romney's, with images and other decor adorning the walls of the plane. In tandem with the 737, the campaign also chartered a jetBlue Embraer E190 to transport Sarah Palin. Fun fact, it's journey home from Anchorage to New York-JFK after the campaign ended is thought the be the longest flight ever operated by an E190.
2008 - Barack Obama & Joe Biden
Airline - North American Airlines
Aircraft - Boeing 757-200
Tail Number - N755NA
While the Obama campaign had previously chartered a Midwest Airlines McDonnell-Douglas MD-80, they eventually upgraded to the Boeing 757 shown above displaying the "Change We Can Believe In" tagline. Overall, I think this was a nice livery that accurately portrayed the candidate's identity - crucial for a campaign that was so brand and marketing aware. This didn't, however, come without controversy as the campaign took considerable heat and criticism from right wing media as it removed the airline's livery that had a large flag on the tail (see 'W' below) and replaced it with their own logo. What was interesting to me was that this aircraft was chartered from the same airline as former President George W. Bush's campaign - although a different tail number. One noticeable difference from the more recent candidates is that this plane used door 2L for boarding - given that it was a longer haul jet, we can presume the candidate occupied the business class cabin at the forward end of the aircraft.
Notice anything in common about the aircraft in this piece? Well, they're almost overwhelmingly made by one manufacturer: Boeing, unsurprisingly. This aside, I think it's also interesting to track the trajectory over the years, such as the shift from 757 to 737 as the workhorse for campaigns, as well as the introduction of aircraft for the Vice-Presidential candidates as well. In addition to geeking out over the liveries, I think it's intriguing to get a glimpse into the interiors of the planes as they really do become homes away from home for the candidates and their teams.
Do you have a favorite? I know I do, drop yours in the comments below.
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