Monday, April 14, 2008

"Shepherd One" and the absence of the in-flight press conference

John Allen, Jr. enlightens us regarding the Pope's flight to the U.S. (360 Degrees Blog, April 14, 2008):

In truth, there is no “papal plane” in the sense of a jet owned by the Vatican and used exclusively for papal travel. Instead, the pope flies on a regular commercial jet belonging to Alitalia, the Italian national airline, chartered by the Vatican for the period of a given trip. The pilots and crew are all Alitalia personnel.

Most of the passengers aboard the papal plane are actually journalists, representing a cross-section on the world’s major secular and Catholic media outlets. This time, 70 journalists are accompanying Pope Benedict to the United States, a figure which includes print reporters, TV and radio correspondents, producers, cameramen and photographers.

Journalists pay top dollar to fly with the pope – the roundtrip airfare this time is roughly $4800, comparable to a full-fare business class ticket for what usually amounts to economy class accommodations. ...

Allen also explains why, unlike the 2007 flight to Brazil, the curia have declined to hold an in-flight press conferences with the Pope:
From the outside, that might seem a curious choice, given that there’s plenty of time for a real press conference, and given that Benedict XVI is a veteran university professor who relishes intellectual give-and-take. Yet Vatican officials have long memories, and they recall well what happened on the Brazil flight. Pope Benedict answered a question about possible excommunication of pro-choice Catholic politicians in Mexico, seeming to endorse a hard-line position. That became the dominant day-one story of the Brazil trip, effectively blotting the pope’s formal message out of the sky.

This time around, it would seem that trip organizers are determined to keep the pope “on message” as he enters the world’s premier sound-bite culture.