UPDATE: Newer figures and articles are available in our Presidential Travel archive.
The President is winding down his latest international trip with stops in Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, and Germany. This marks the 45th time President Obama has traveled abroad during his terms in office. On those trips he has made 99 visits to 54 countries. By the time he returns home, he will have spent a total of 185 days out of the United States. And by the end of his 2nd term, Obama is on track have taken the second most trips abroad of any President. The transport costs for this trip are $5.6 million just for Air Force One, which represents a small part of the total cost to taxpayers.
It is one of the President’s many duties to travel abroad on occasion, leading the nation’s diplomatic efforts via private meetings with foreign leaders or attending international summits. However, while Presidential trips abroad are becoming more frequent, they are also expensive, and a full accounting of the expenses remain unavailable to the public. In an ongoing project, NTUF tracks the number of trips abroad made by Presidents to help shed light on the potential costs to taxpayers.
The chart above details the international travel made by recent two-term Presidents through the end of April of their 8th year in office. A “trip” is counted each time the President leaves the U.S., and each country stopped at is counted as a “visit” (excluding fuel-only stopovers at Air Force bases).
To date, Obama has taken 45 trips abroad: two more than President George W. Bush and two shy of President Clinton’s total. On average, Obama is taking slightly shorter trips to fewer countries than Clinton and Bush. At this point in his Presidency, Bush had paid visits to 124 countries, an average of 2.9 per trip. Obama’s international passport lists 99 visits, 2.2 per trip. Obama has spent 185 days abroad, one fewer than Bush through his 87th month, and three fewer weeks than President Clinton (206 days).
The full cost of this trip is unknown. Unfortunately, the last time the light of transparency was shed on a President’s travels abroad was in a 1999 Government Accountability Office report about President Clinton’s 1998 trips to Africa, Chile, and China, with a related follow-up analysis in 2000 on air lift costs. What is known is that the planning for every trip a requires comprehensive security arrangements including advance trips by security personnel months ahead of time, logistics and transport of multiple cargo planes and ships for supplies, and an entourage of cabinet members, administrative support and staff from multiple departments and agencies, and even “culinary specialists.”
The most easily quantifiable item to estimate is the cost to operate Air Force One (AF1), a Boeing VC-25A, the military version of the 747 aircraft. Some good news for taxpayers is that the costs per flight hour for AF1 has gone down again. In 2013, it cost $228,288. Last year, it was reported at $206,337 per flight hour. In response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by Judicial Watch, the Air Force reported that the FY 2016 cost per flight hour for the AF1 is $180,118.
Using the site TravelMath.com to calculate the flight distance between the reported points of landing for this current trip, NTUF estimates that it cost nearly $6 million alone to fly AF1 from Andrews Air Force Base outside of Washington, DC, to Saudi Arabia, Europe, and back again.
President Clinton has the record as the most traveled President, with a total of 55 trips and 134 visits over 233 days over his complete eight years in office. Obama needs just four more trips to tie President Bush’s total of 49, and based on the current travel schedule, it looks like he will surpass his predecessor. Obama will be headed to Japan (and possible Vietnam) in late May, Canada in June, Poland in July, China and Laos in September, and Peru in November. And as the President goes up in the air, so do the costs for taxpayers.
Related articles are available in our Presidential Travel archive.