Last Monday morning we awoke to news of a pending storm in the Northeast. We were scheduled to fly Tuesday from Portland, Oregon, to New York for Thanksgiving, arriving about the same time as the forecast storm. So my wife swung into action and miraculously got us rerouted on a flight leaving in less than four hours through San Francisco. We tossed our things into our bags, raced to the airport, and caught our flight to San Francisco.
After everyone had boarded the flight from San Francisco to New York, the pilot came on the loudspeaker to advise us that our flight, along with every other departing flight, was on a “gate hold.” The reason, said the pilot somewhat apologetically, was that the President of the United States was departing soon. Presumably incoming flights were circling somewhere above us, also awaiting the president’s departure.
Now I understand that the president is a very important guy and great precaution must be taken to protect him from harm, but I couldn’t help wonder if it wasn’t a bit of overkill to shut down the entire San Francisco airport while Air Force One departed. Why, I asked myself, doesn’t the president fly through some nearby military air base where security is surely a top concern at all times. It is Air Force One, after all.
It seems the president was on a three-day west coast trip, the primary purpose of which was to raise money for the Democratic Party. And by all reports he was very successful – to the tune of about $8 million. But he also attended to the people’s business by giving a couple of speeches, thus assuring that most of the cost of the trip would be paid by taxpayers.
What were the costs of the trip? Well, this information is closely guarded for the same reason our plane was held at the gate – security. The security risks of transparency on the allocation of presidential travel costs are even less obvious to me than the risks of other planes sharing the tarmac with the president’s plane, but that is the world we live in. Just pay your taxes and give way to the president and the vast bureaucracy he oversees.
Although the White House won’t tell us how much this fundraising jaunt cost taxpayers, we can guess with reasonable accuracy. According to the Air Force it costs $181,757 per hour to keep Air Force One in the air. Total flight time from DC to Seattle to San Francisco to Los Angeles and back to DC is about 13 hours. That comes to $2,362,841. In addition is the cost of flying the presidential motorcade vehicles – by one estimate $216,000 just from DC to Seattle. So there’s another half million, plus hotel and meals for a few dozen White House staff. And then there is local security and the inconvenience and expense of disruptions to travel and commerce at airports and along city streets.