Charter planes are typically the mode of air travel for the wealthy, the influential, and/or the powerful, as data from 2013 shows that 0.9% of respondents who came from a household where the annual income was $200,000 USD or more stated that they had used a charter service. As you might expect, it’s how the Bishop of Rome, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the State of Vatican City, Pope Francis flew during his trip to the United States.
Not just any aircraft, though. Pope Francis toured the U.S. on the Shepherd One. The American Airlines Boeing 777-200 aircraft flew the Pope from Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Maryland to New York’s JFK International Airport to the Philadelphia International Airport. It’s even the plane he went home to Rome in.
Shepherd One was chartered by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to help Pope Francis move around the nation during his trip, according to an American Airlines spokesperson, who also revealed that the plane’s pilots and crew were pulled from American Airlines’ nationwide employee ranks.
Although American Airlines spokesperson Casey Norton told the Dallas Morning News that “we’re limited with the details we can provide because of security,” he did also reveal that it actually took the airline almost an entire year to arrange the Pope’s U.S. travel schedule.
The reason the papacy had to work so closely with American Airlines is because the pope doesn’t actually own a plane. The Vatican actually charters a widebody jet from Italian airline Alitalia.
That being said, the Alitalia aircraft, which goes by the name Raffaello Sanzio after the great late Renaissance painter who immortalized late Renaissance Popes, is his regular aircraft vehicle. It doesn’t feature any of the things Airforce One does. The Pope has a first class row to himself, and the heads of his secretariats sit behind him.
The coach area, meanwhile, is packed with journalists, who pay their own way, and are glad to do it. The seats are unbelievably valuable, as the pope traditionally doesn’t grant official interviews. The only time he meets with journalists is during his trips. Pope Francis regularly joins the coach cabin to give blessings and shake hands, offering journalists the rare opportunity to speak candidly with him.
As for Shepherd One, it went back into regular commercial service after the Pope returned to Rome.