The president never simply pops out of the White House for a quick trip. It can take months to set the presidential travel schedule due to security requirements, advance teams, and logistics. Presidents often fly with a military cargo plane carrying bulletproof glass, dozens of vehicles, and equipment to keep them safe. A single presidential trip can cost as much as $100 million. Whether the president is flying overseas on Air Force One or visiting a Washington, DC, restaurant, hundreds if not thousands of people work together to make the trip as seamless as possible.
Every moment of a president's time outside the White House undergoes careful scrutiny, down to who rides in the elevator with the president. The Secret Service doesn't just give nicknames to the presidential family - they also give nicknames to the presidential limos, like "The Beast." In addition, the presidential motorcade always includes a decoy limo to throw off attackers. And while Secret Service agents risk their lives to protect the president, they also take on less glamorous tasks, like standing guard at every hospital on the president's route in case of an emergency. All told, some surprising steps occur every time a president leaves the White House.
The Advance Team May Visit A Location Months Beforehand
When the president travels domestically, his advance team arrives several weeks early to ensure the trip runs smoothly. They visit potential sites the president might visit and make sure the White House press pool can access every location. Advance people also have to keep the president's plans quiet so information doesn't leak before the trip.
For international travel, advance teams might visit three months before the president. Secret Service agents spend time planning out the motorcade route, arranging to clear the airspace when the president visits, and making sure the president is never more than a few minutes away from a trauma hospital or secure location.
The Presidential Motorcade Has To Be Prepped
When the president drives through Washington, DC, or takes a car anywhere in the world, he doesn't just hop in the back of a limo and leave. Instead, he always travels with a presidential motorcade, which has been described as a mobile White House. The motorcade includes medical facilities in case of emergencies, a communications office, and a lot of armed Secret Service agents.
The president often travels in a special limo known as "The Beast," which features 8-inch thick doors to protect the president. In 2018, the cost of a single presidential limo was around $1.5 million, and the fleet contains 16 to 20 limos.
Dinner Out Can Require Floor Plan Reviews, Background Checks, And Snipers
During the 2012 election, President Barack Obama hosted "Dinner with Barack" events around Washington, DC. The dinners proved that even local travel requires extensive planning. When Obama visited DC restaurant Smith Commons, the preparations took three weeks.
For three days before the dinner, as many as 60 people visited Smith Commons to plan a single meal. Secret Service reviewed floor plans and swept the entire building using trained dogs. Everyone entering the restaurant had to be screened with a metal detector, and the restaurant owner had to provide a list of names and Social Security numbers to vet his staff.
In the kitchen, the president's security detail oversees food preparation. When Obama visited Mintwood Place, the kitchen staff wasn't allowed to open any new food containers and had to answers a lot of questions about the ingredients.
Finally, snipers surround the nearby buildings to protect the president.
When Presidents Travel, They Fly With Their Cars
The presidential motorcade includes the presidential limousine, a route car to check the roads, a pilot car to stop traffic at intersections, sweepers to clear the road, and a lead car to act as the presidential limo's main guide. Every time the president travels, he needs a fleet of vehicles to make sure he's protected. When the president flies, he often brings along multiple cars to cover every stop.
For example, on his 2013 trip to sub-Saharan Africa, President Barack Obama brought 56 vehicles. That included presidential limos, a communications car outfitted for classified information, and an ambulance. Because Obama made three quick stops on the trip, the Secret Service brought along three complete sets of the motorcade, with military cargo planes airlifting in the vehicles.