Longtime Air Force One flight steward to speak in Mills River

Howie Franklin was an Air Force One flight steward for 18 years, serving under Presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton. That makes him the only person ever to work for five consecutive U.S. presidents.

Flying White House: Air Force One lands at the Asheville Airport on April 23. Photo by Jonathan Welch

Franklin now travels the country offering an inside perspective on life aboard the fabled plane.

In the wake of President Obama's recent Asheville visit, Franklin will share some insights in a free presentation at the Mills River United Methodist Church Tuesday, May 18, starting at 7 p.m. Here's a preview of what he'll share.

Mountain Xpress: Did you find that presidents were more demanding than bosses at other jobs you've had, or less demanding?
Howie Franklin:
About the same. Presidents are less demanding than vice presidents or people at a lower level. [Those] people … are demanding, and they're trying to get to the top level.

Were there particular presidents or vice presidents that were harder or easier to work for?
Nobody was real demanding or negative or anything like that. They were all mild-mannered, very nice, polite and appreciative, with different profiles. President Ford had not been elected, so he didn't have the ego of an elected president.

Was there a noticeably higher level of ego among presidents that were more popular?
Let's say, if they were more popular, they felt more secure.

One thing I can tell you is these presidents, the person we have now and the former presidents, work long, long hours. And seven days a week. Someone was getting on Obama for playing golf [in Asheville]. Let me tell you, he needs to play golf. He needs an adjustment mechanism. … Even when he plays golf, he's got a military aid standing next to him with the football, and the football is the codes for a nuclear war.

How did the different presidents spend their time when they were on Air Force One? Did they work a lot? Did different ones have different hobbies and things they'd spend their time on?
Most of them were working. I've heard presidents talk about how they like to be on Air Force One, because they can get things done. …

First Steward: Howie Franklin served as Chief Flight Steward aboard Air Force One for Presidents Bush and Clinton. Photo courtesy Howie Franklin

It's a flying White House. … The flight attendants, our job was to provide a professional but comfortable atmosphere. That means when you came back to the airplane, whether you were the president or you were the staff, we wanted you to feel like you were at home. You know, when you get home and take your shoes off and relax.

What kind of luxuries and resources does the plane have?
There's private executive jets that are much more elaborate than Air Force One, [which] is an office complex. … They had at least 85 to 87 telephones, and under ideal conditions they could make up to 22 phone calls at one time. And they have secure voice — that's a key issue on Air Force One.

What were some of the presidents' favorite drinks or snacks?
Yeah, well, the reality is — and a lot of people fall into this category now — presidents can of course afford to eat anything they want, but they can't afford to eat it. They're all on diets, every one of them I've ever traveled with.

President Ford, uniquely enough, on a diet, used to eat cottage cheese with A.1. Sauce. President Nixon, I think, ate cottage cheese with ketchup.

They're all on salads and low-fat now. … With Ronald Reagan, a breakfast meal consisted of, if we were coming out of California, heavy scrambled eggs with cream cheese to make them even creamier. And large country sausages, almost like Italian sausages, with sourdough bread and hash brown potatoes and probably some fruit and a big, fresh Danish. That was a standard breakfast.

Nowadays it's fresh fruit, yogurt and a bran muffin.

What about Bill Clinton?
He liked his food, but he had to watch what he ate. … He's got allergies, so he's not able to eat dairy products and doesn't drink alcohol. …

One of the favorite meals in the winter time, on Air Force One, was a Reuben sandwich with navy-bean soup. … Everybody liked that. … Another thing the presidents had in common was they all liked butter-pecan ice cream.

When we got into low-fat, I would use rye bread and peppercorn turkey, and low-fat Monterey jack, even though it calls for Swiss. And then we'd take low-fat Thousand Island dressing and we'd mix it with sauerkraut, and we'd build this big sandwich and we'd grill it.

Sometimes I remember the Clintons saying to me, "We'll just each have a half," and by the time we'd finish the trip, each of them would have three halves.

About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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