On the Plane

Travel, Defense Style

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates both arrived in the Middle East today, but in quite different styles.

Rice left at 1 p.m. and flew on her blue-and-white Boeing 757, which stopped to refuel in Shannon, Ireland almost seven hours later. The news media on board got off to file stories, only to discover that the wi-fi service was out and many had to dictate on phone lines.

Rice's weary entourage then got back aboard and flew another six hours to Egypt's Red Sea port of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Gates, meanwhile, left two hours later and flew direct from Washington to Egypt on the so-called Doomsday plane, a 747 modified to refuel in midair and designed as an airborne presidential command post in the event of nuclear war. The plane was built to withstand the electromagnetic effects of nuclear detonation.

Until the end of the Cold War, the plane or others like it were on alert around the clock at Andrews Air Force Base. But since they were deactivated in the 1990s, the aircraft have assumed the more mundane duty of flying defense secretaries around the world.

Using the plane's advanced equipment, journalists filed to their U.S. offices in seconds.

Rice's entourage arrived in Egypt Tuesday morning bedraggled and exhausted to begin working the first day of the trip, only to find that the Pentagon had reserved rooms for its staff and press. They had showered, were napping or were taking a dip in the luxury hotel where Rice and Gates were meeting Arab leaders.

No rooms were available for the State Department staff and press.

On the next leg, from Sharm el-Sheikh to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Rice chose to fly on Gates' plane.

-- Robin Wright

By  |  July 31, 2007; 4:36 PM ET  | Trip:  Rice in Middle East, July 2007
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It's an allegory for the two departments' relative priority in government.

Posted by: OD | July 31, 2007 10:18 PM

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