Inside the Pope’s American Airlines 777-200

Sep 24, 2015

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Update 2/24/17: This AA 777-200 (tail number N776AN), which carried the Pope around the US in 2015, has since been retrofitted with AA’s new 1-2-1 lie-flat business class. And it now sports this commemorative plaque:

You’ve seen plenty of images of the Pope making the rounds in Washington, D.C. before he travels on to New York City this afternoon, but what’s his experience like in the air? Must be pretty posh, right? With a private suite in the nose of a 747? And a shower? There must be a shower.

Yeah – nope. None of that. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has chartered an American Airlines 777-200 — and not even the updated version with lie-flat seats in business. This particular product has been flying since 2000, making it a whopping 15 years old.

A 2000s-era photo of Flagship First.
A 2000s-era photo of Flagship First.

There are 14 soon-to-be-retired “Flagship First” seats on board, which do lie flat, and 37 angle-flat seats in business.

Angled-flat business on the 777-200.
Angled-flat business on the 777-200.

The plane also has 194 coach seats in a 2-5-2 configuration — journalists are flying in the economy cabin but are reportedly paying “business class” prices, effectively subsidizing the flight for the Pope and his entourage.

How can you not love AA Flagship First?
How can you not love AA Flagship First?

TPG’s flown up front himself a couple of times, and while he had a bittersweet farewell flight earlier this year, there’s no question that AA’s latest first-class product is a big upgrade.

TPG flying AA's new first class in 2013.
TPG flying AA’s new first class in 2013.

What the aircraft does have, though, is a special call sign. When the Pope’s onboard, this dated 777-200 is known as “Shepherd One.” According to a spokesperson, American has been working to coordinate this trip for nearly a year. In addition to the Pope (who reportedly has the first row of first class all to himself), passengers include a Vatican entourage and dozens of journalists, in addition to AA pilots, flight attendants, maintenance technicians, charter coordinators, corporate security and operations team members from around the US.

The Pope's plane en-route from DFW.
The Pope’s plane en-route from DFW.

The Pope’s 777 is just now arriving into Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, near Washington, D.C, having departed from Dallas earlier this morning. It completed its last scheduled flight from London to Dallas on Monday. The aircraft (tail number N776AN) will fly the Pope from Andrews to JFK at 4pm today, and then depart New York for Philadelphia on Saturday morning at 8:40 before returning the Pope on a redeye to Rome this Sunday night at 8pm. You can track the plane here.

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