Air Force One Theft Scandal: Journalists Warned to Stop Pilfering Presidential Plane

Source: Flickr/The White House

Sticky fingers beware – the party is over for light-fingered journalists who have habitually stolen souvenirs from Air Force One.

A recent scolding email from the White House Correspondents’ Association appears to have put the presidential plane’s plunderers on notice as tales of discreet returns and sudden attacks of conscience emerge.

But for years, the privileged press pack have casually slipped engraved tumblers, cushions, and tableware into their bags before stepping off the iconic aircraft.

Journalists Caught Red-Handed Stealing Air Force One Souvenirs

For years, the press corps has helped themselves to complimentary souvenirs from Air Force One like chocolates, glasses, and pillows – but their sticky fingers have finally been caught.

Source: Business Insider Africa

According to a Politico report, the White House Correspondents’ Association issued a stern warning last month to its members that the theft of items from the press cabin had been noticed.

The Pilfered Goods

Reportedly, everything from whiskey tumblers to wine glasses has been discreetly stashed in journalists’ bags before disembarking.

Source: Al Arabia

In one outrageous case, a former White House correspondent even hosted a dinner party using gold-rimmed plates taken from the plane over time.

Media Perks and Privileges

While media outlets pay hefty fees for reporters to accompany the president, including covering in-flight meals and drinks, souvenirs like M&M’s and glasses are meant to be purchased, not pocketed.

Source: Wikimedia/Pete Souza

Still, the temptation of mementos from the iconic plane seems too great for many. Politico says the sounds of plates and glassware clinking in backpacks are common.

Crackdown and Contrition

Following the strongly-worded warning, a chastened reporter arranged to hand over a pilfered pillowcase to a press official.

Source: Wikimedia/171st ARW, Master Sgt. Stacey Barkey

Ultimately, though, the shamefaced return of just one item shows the WHCA still has some way to curb the light-fingered press corps’ habits.

The Allure of Collecting Presidential Memorabilia

For journalists aboard Air Force One, the temptation to take a memento from such an iconic plane is hard to resist.

Source: Military Machine

After all, traveling on the president’s aircraft is a rare privilege afforded to only a few in the press corps.

Sticky Hands For Bragging Rights

To some journalists, pocketing an item like an embroidered napkin or engraved tumbler is a way to gain bragging rights among their peers.

Source: Wikimedia/Cherie A. Thurlby

Displaying these presidential souvenirs at home or the office signifies they have reached the pinnacle of their career, cementing their status as a top political reporter.

Taking A Little Piece of History at A Time

As an important symbol of the presidency, Air Force One carries the commander-in-chief and key staff and journalists during momentous events and crises.

Source: YouTube/The Obama White House

An item like a pillowcase or tray used on a trip during which major news transpired becomes imbued with a sense of significance.

A Lighthearted Tradition Amongst The Press Corp

However, some journalists view nicking items from the plane as more of a lighthearted tradition and joke among those in the press corps.

Source: Flickr/Adam Schultz

Over the years, it has become an open secret, with the sounds of glasses and other goods clinking in bags and a familiar sound on departure.

An Inside Look at Air Force One’s Lavish Amenities

Air Force One is more than just the US President’s plane—it’s a luxurious flying fortress with many amenities to ensure maximum comfort and security during long flights.

Source: YouTube

The President and First Lady’s quarters feature an office, conference room, private bedrooms and bathrooms, and a dining room where guests can enjoy gourmet meals prepared by onboard chefs.

Lounges and Dining Inside Air Force One

In the press area, leather seats face each other around tables where journalists can work or socialize. There is also a private office for news conferences and briefings.

Source: ABC News

The press are served meals comparable to first-class on commercial airlines. The senior staff lounge has seats around a large conference table for meetings and collaboration.

Bizarre Story of a Pilfered Pillowcase Returned in a Park Meeting

Politico’s story of the stolen pillowcase notes that the sounds of plates and glasses clinking in journalists’ backpacks could be heard as they got off the plane.


Following the Association’s scolding email, at least one journalist decided to return an embroidered pillowcase. A meeting was arranged between the reporter and a press official in a park across from the White House. “The pillowcase changed hands, and that was that,” Politico reported.

Will the Scolding Stop Further Theft on Air Force One?

Following the stern warning from the White House Correspondents’ Association, one would hope journalists and guests aboard Air Force One have learned their lesson and put an end to pilfering items bearing the presidential seal.

Source: REUTERS/Tom Brenner

However, old habits die hard, and for those who have been helping themselves to souvenirs for years, it may be difficult to suddenly exercise restraint.

A Bold First Step In Addressing Theft

The White House took a bold first step in addressing the issue. For real change to happen, correspondents themselves must commit to higher ethical standards regarding presidential property.

Source: Photo/U.S. Air Force.2016.5.13

Ending the long-standing practice of pilfering on Air Force One will require a shift in mindset and culture. With time and perseverance, souvenir-hunting can transition to a relic of the past, replaced by a spirit of professionalism and mutual respect between the press corps and the administration.

Intimidation Tactic or Limiting Coverage

Cynics question if the scolding is meant to intimidate journalists or limit unfavorable coverage of the administration.

Source: Wikimedia/Adam Schultz

While the timing is conspicuous, officials insist this measure aims solely to recover lost property, not censor the press. Any implication otherwise only serves to undermine a reasonable request.

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Sally Reed

Written by Sally Reed

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