The cool afternoon air felt electric as press and staff awaited the beginning of the first presidential visit to Washington State in nearly six years.
Air Force One landed at 5:11 PM Pacific Time at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. On the tarmac, President Joe Biden was greeted by Washington State Governor Jay Inslee, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, United States Representative Adam Smith, and SeaTac Mayor Jake Simpson, before being whisked away to a DNC fundraiser in the Laurelhurst neighborhood of Seattle.
Presidents tend to visit swing states and their party’s strongholds, so reliably Democratic states like Washington and Oregon haven’t experienced the thrill of a presidential visit since President Obama’s last trip in 2016.
This was the first Air Force landing I’ve experienced in person.
I arrived at the airport about an hour before Air Force One arrived to check in with the White House and Secret Service. After being screened, I walked out to the tarmac. Reporters from all the major Seattle television stations and The Seattle Times had set up cameras atop a flat-bed truck parked parallel to Air Force One’s designated parking spot on the tarmac.
As the wind picked up and began to further chill the air, I looked behind me to see a sniper team set up atop a warehouse roof directly behind the truck and to the left of it. A Secret Service agent stood just behind the metal barricades near the front of the truck, and several Port employees could be seen making the rounds.
Police or Secret Service operated vehicles occasionally crossed the tarmac and correspondents filmed quick updates on flight delays in the periphery.
At 5:10 PM, every camera was pointed to the north as Air Force One appeared on the horizon. By this point, the wind was blowing cold rain in seemingly every direction for a proper Seattle welcome!
Ten minutes later, President Biden’s VC-25A transport stood just 50 meters in front of our truck, and press and staff began spilling out of the modified Boeing 747’s rear airstairs. The sight of the plane was awe-inspiring; this particular presidential transport was a lot larger than I had imagined it would be.
The motorcade of motorcycles, SUVs, and limos began rolling in at 5:23 PM, offloading Governor Inslee and local dignitaries like Mayor Harrell near the plane. President Biden descended a set of truck-mounted airstairs at 5:25 PM, greeting Governor Inslee first while staff and the traveling press climbed into black SUVs.
By 5:26 PM, everyone had loaded, and by 5:28 PM the motorcycles and white vans bringing up the presidential motorcade’s tail end were rolling off the tarmac. By 5:30 PM, the snipers and press on the truck were packing up and heading out.
The speedy disembarking process ran like a well-oiled machine, with the tarmac clearing just as quickly as it had filled up.
Although shivering and wet, I couldn’t stop grinning at the curious feeling of stepping into a scene from The West Wing.
The journalists present who have previously covered Air Force One landings assured me that witnessing the pageantry and gravitas of the United States presidency is always a little surreal. And it never gets old.