Remembering United’s Executive One on Earth Day

US presidents have cruised around the world on a dedicated aircraft since at least the 1940s, with a customised Boeing 747-200 doing the job since 1990.

But one modern president flew commercial.

President Richard Nixon flew on regularly scheduled United Airlines flight 55 from Washington Dulles International to Los Angeles International airport flown by a Boeing (then Douglas) DC-10 in December 1973.

He and his entourage bought 24 seats – 12 in first class – on the roughly 222-seat aircraft, according to Air Force One by Von Hardesty.

Nixon left his dedicated Boeing 707 in Washington in order to “set an example for the rest of the nation during the current energy crisis”, his deputy director of communications Kenneth Clawson told the Washington Post at the time.

The United DC-10 carried the unique callsign “Executive One” while Nixon was onboard, versus the president’s usual “Air Force One” callsign when aboard their own aircraft.

Few would expect US president Barack Obama to fly commercial today. All of the additional security and communications protocols that have been added since 1973 would undoubtedly make the flight an ordeal, to say the least.

Though wouldn’t it have been quite the kick if Obama and his entourage had showed up at Ronald Reagan Washington National airport for Alaska Airlines flight 1 to Seattle Tacoma this morning – Earth Day 2014 – for his trip to Oso, Washington? It certainly would have set an example – of something.

Considering the controversy over greenhouse gas emissions and air travel, flying is probably not the best way for president Obama – or any world leader – to demonstrate the virtues of conservation. Who knows though, maybe he would have ridden the Metro the airport.

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