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ABOARD THE PRESS CHARTER — A smiling flight attendant fans out an array of newspapers. Want anything to read, he offers? “Nah, we’re okay,” one reporter jokes. “We wrote it.”
Eighty journalists are packed onto this 12-hour charter flight, from Washington to Riyadh. We’ll land in Saudi Arabia even before President Donald Trump lifts off from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.
It’s the president’s first international trip since taking office. And it’s mine, too: Back on the road after spending 18 months traveling the U.S. for the 2016 campaign.
The stops will be more exotic, and the stakes will be higher. But much of it’s familiar: Same trusty backpack, same travel t-shirt, same hurry-up-and-wait routine as we file stories on a bus that takes us to the other bus that takes us to the place where we wait for the plane.
For the president, it’s a chance to put thousands of miles between him and his most recent controversies — aiming to avoid more of them on an international marathon with diplomatic minefields at every step.
For the press who cover him, it’s a front-row seat to his political debut on the world stage.
It’ll be intense: tightly-choreographed, tons of scrutiny and packed with protocol — plus plenty of chances for Trump to stray off-script. He — and we — are coming off a grinding 10-day stretch that started with FBI Director James Comey's firing and ended with the Justice Department installing a special counsel to oversee the Russia investigation.
Those late nights at the White House cut into my packing time, as you might imagine. In the car, 30 minutes after throwing heaps of clothes into a suitcase, I realized with dread I’d forgotten the only thing I really need: A phone charger.
Lucky for me, I can borrow one from the colleagues joining me for the journey. Kristen Welker and Kelly O’Donnell, and producers Alicia Jennings and Stacey Klein, are all veterans of presidential foreign trips. Ali Vitali, who covered the Trump campaign, brings a different perspective: She flew nearly every leg of the president’s 2016 campaign. It’s a great mix of experiences and one hell of a fun group. Kelly came up with a hashtag: “Six chicks!” No sleep ’til the last stop in Sicily, but it’s worth it.
Five hours after leaving a refueling stop in Frankfurt, we’re ready to land. The energy on the plane picks up as people rustle in the overhead bins, change into their camera-ready clothes and put away toothbrushes and eye masks.
We touch down. Fifteen minutes later, an email: The president has departed Washington. He’ll be here soon.