President Biden and Kamala Harris did not fly aboard Air Force One together
The claim: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris road Air Force One together, violating a rule
In a recent Facebook post, an image shows both President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris exiting Air Force One.
“The rule is the Prez, and the Veep never travel together, for obvious reasons,” said the March 20, 2021, post. “Then why the hell is this happening? More importantly, why is no one saying anything about it??”
The post has over 3,100 shares on Facebook. USA TODAY reached out to the user for a comment.
It’s an interesting claim regarding the new administration, given the longstanding practice of keeping the country’s top two officials separated during travel for security reasons.
Let’s take a look at what’s going on in this picture and the rules in play.
What’s happening in the photo
The photo — taken by Eric Baradat of the AFP news agency — shows Biden and Harris leaving Air Force One, but it’s not because they flew together.
Harris flew separately and boarded Air Force One once the plane had already landed in Georgia, according to a Reuters reporter and photographer who were on site. A Reuters fact check of this claim said Harris flew on Air Force Two and went to Biden’s plane for a while before they headed to their afternoon meetings.
(Like Air Force One, that label doesn’t refer to a specific plane, it’s simply the call sign used for any plane that has the vice president aboard.)
Confusion over the nature of the photo was exacerbated by the photo’s original caption, as distributed by Getty Images. It simply described it as the moment Biden and Harris “arrive at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, Georgia.”
Biden and Harris were meeting with Asian American community leaders in Atlanta following the March 16 spa shootings there that left eight people dead, including six women of Asian descent, and one other person wounded.
According to a New York Times article, the president and vice president met with “Atlanta’s mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, state lawmakers and the heads of several Asian-American social justice groups and nonprofit organizations.”
Rules or practices?
Officials say there’s no formal rule about the president and vice president riding together on Air Force One, but there’s a longstanding practice of avoiding that for security reasons.
A White House official told USA TODAY the president and vice president do not fly together on Air Force One, on any occasion.
“It’s not necessarily a rule but a matter of practice,” the official said.
Other research supports that description.
The official White House page says this about the commander-in-chief’s plane: “Air Force One also has quarters for those who accompany the President, including senior advisors, Secret Service officers, traveling press, and other guests.” In addition, “the President and his or her travel companions enjoy 4,000 square feet of floor space on three levels.” The term “vice president” is not used in the description.
That’s because the vice president, her family and staff travel aboard Air Force Two.
They travel separately due to the risk of terrorist attacks or other natural accidents, said John Fortier, executive director of the Continuity of Government Commission at the American Enterprise Institute, who has done research on the U.S. presidency.
After a 2010 airplane crash that killed the president of Poland and other several high-ranking government officials, Fortier talked to National Public Radio about how the U.S. generally separates the president and vice president during travel to avert a leadership void in the event of a similar incident.
“There’s a very strong prohibition about the president and vice president flying together,” Fortier said. “I wouldn’t say that’s absolutely universal.”
Our rating: False
The claim that an image depicts Biden and Harris flying together aboard Air Force One on March 19 is FALSE, based on our research. Harris flew separately on Air Force Two and then boarded the aircraft with Biden before their meeting that afternoon with community leaders and state lawmakers in Atlanta.
Our fact-check sources:
Getty Images, March 19, photo of President Biden and Vice President Harris
President Joe Biden, March 19, tweet
Indianapolis Star, Oct. 16, 2017, 6 fun facts about Air Force Two
New York Times, March 19, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris met with Asian-American leaders in Atlanta.
Vice President Kamala Harris, March 19, tweet
New York Times, March 19, Atlanta Shootings Live Updates: Suspect Had Visited Targeted Spas Before, Police Say
NPR, April 12, 2010, Could Poland Tragedy Happen Here?
The White House, accessed April 20,// Air Force One
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Biden and Harris did not fly together