On the Plane
Straight Talk Express Gets an Upgrade
By Juliet Eilperin
ABOARD THE STRAIGHT TALK EXPRESS -- The Straight Talk Express has gone airborne.
Monday morning marked the inaugural flight of Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) new campaign plane, even though the presumptive GOP nominee wasn't on it. His wife Cindy and the traveling press corps tested out the airplane equivalent of the McCain's legendary bus, by hopping a short flight from Dulles to Harrisburg, Pa., where the senator had spent the night.
The Boeing 737-400, operated by Arizona-based Swift Air, represents a serious upgrade from the Jet Blue charters McCain has been using for several months. Specially configured for the candidate, it features a special area toward the front where McCain will conduct group interviews with the press, in the same way he does on his chartered bus. That section features a couch and two captain's chairs, along with an area where cameras can film him. McCain stopped conducting press interviews on his plane several weeks ago, with his aides saying he preferred a setting where he could sit down with reporters rather then while journalists thronged him in the aisle.
McCain senior aide Mark Salter quipped this morning that "only the good reporters" would get to sit in the specially-configured section for interviews. "You'll have to earn it," he said.
The aircraft features 10 first-class seats in the front section, where McCain and his immediate associates sit, along with a second section for Secret Service agents and additional campaign staff. The press sits in the main section of the plane, where there are standard coach-class seats. Even the coach section, however, boasts leather seats and thick blankets for passengers.
McCain spokeswoman Kimmie Lipscomb noted that the plane also has "phone and fax capability," which the press can use -- for a price.
On the outside, the plane touts McCain's new campaign message -- "Reform, Prosperity, Peace" -- along with the Straight Talk Express logo. And even the plane's tail is aimed at boosting the candidate's fortunes, with the words "JohnMcCain.com" emblazoned on it. When asked whether this means McCain is fully committed to his three-pronged campaign slogan, Salter replied, "It's on the plane."
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