The History of Trump’s Obsession With Air Force One

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Trump-toddler comparisons regarding temper are pretty worn at this point, but not enough has been said about his shared interests with the preschool set. Big, beautiful walls, pretending to drive trucks, pretending to know about planes — both toddlers and Trump really like the shiny aspects of transportation and infrastructure.

From this area of appreciation comes Trump’s brand new toy: a model of Air Force One shown off in the Oval Office on Thursday.

The renovation, which Trump says he designed himself, looks suspiciously like an inverse of the paint job on his private jet. The president is hoping that the new look can be rolled out by the end of 2024, but that wish is hindered by two problems: Trump’s hypothetical second term would wrap around then, and the House voted last week to approve an amendment requiring the administration to get congressional approval for all work “relating to aircraft paint scheme, interiors, and livery.”

Trump has had a polarized relationship with the presidential Boeing: Under Obama, the planes were a symbol of executive waste, as president 44 flew around the country campaigning for Hillary Clinton. (The DNC ultimately picked up the tab for the flights.) Or, its abuse was yet another example of how Obama was not living up to the glamor of the presidency: It was a “terrible!” moment for America when the president of the Philippines did not roll out a red carpet for Air Force One when Obama visited Manila in 2016.

But when Trump became president, the plane quickly became an emblem of Trump’s promise of American revival. In 2018, Trump worked closely to secure a new deal with Boeing for the next generation of Air Force One aircraft, cutting the “out-of-control” price tag for the planes by a self-reported $1.4 billion. “Air Force One is going to be incredible. It’s gonna be the top of the line, the top in the world. And it’s gonna be red, white, and blue, which I think is appropriate,” Trump said. But the president’s promise of innovative deals doesn’t extend far past the nose of the cabin, where he sleeps on overnight flights: After Trump nixed the Iran deal, Boeing lost $20 billion in contracts with two Iranian airlines.

Like Trump tweets on any topic, his missives on Air Force One quickly turned to contradictions after taking office. In March 2014, Trump advised Obama to “stop running down the stairs when getting off Air Force One. Doesn’t look presidential and at some point he will take a fall.” But over two years into his administration, some of Trump’s least “presidential” moments — including a failure to hold an umbrella for his wife and adolescent son — have occurred on the air-stairs. When Trump called Obama’s use of the plane on the campaign trail a “disgrace,” he must not have anticipated insulting Democratic candidate Bill de Blasio from the plane with the presidential seal behind him. Immediately after posting the video last month, a watchdog group, Citizens for Ethics, called on the president to “tweet out the receipts when you reimburse the taxpayers.”

And as much as Trump loves being on Air Force One, it’s reportedly a real drag for everyone else on board. In May, CNN reported that the president refuses to go to sleep on flights, keeping up staffers with hours-long talks despite being the only passenger, aside from the First Lady, to have a lie-flat bed.

The History of Trump’s Obsession With Air Force One