Matt Lauer's interview with President George W. Bush revealed something to the public that was previously known only to White House staff, members of the military and the media: Jet Blue had live in-flight satellite television available on its aircraft before Air Force One did. This deficiency became a national security issue on the day of 9/11, when Air Force One was forced to gather over-the-air television news in snippets, while aloft, as it moved from television market to television market. There was no more important a day for the leader of the free world to be watching television. When I covered the White House and flew regularly on Air Force One, I remember the on-board tradition when we landed somewhere: The crew would switch on a local station, which would come to life on all the on-board TV monitors (glass-front in those days, even though flat screens existed) and we would watch local news coverage of our landing...while we were seated on the plane. We literally had the sensation of feeling the wheels touch the runway while watching the same thing happen -- outside ourselves -- live. I always blamed the lack of up-to-date passenger cabin technology on the glacial way the military can sometimes move -- the regulations and requisitions -- and since military vehicles often lack the creature comforts of their civilian counterparts, Air Force One equaled that same dynamic writ large. We always thought it was strange that the seats only reclined a small bit, and there were no seat-back pockets -- two differences we always blamed on the aircraft having been designed and requisitioned by the Air Force. Don't get me wrong: It's the best ride out there...it was an honor each time I boarded, and an experience I never dreamed I'd have. But we now know, thanks to a new book by President Bush, that on a very important day in our nation's history: The need to know exceeded the technology on board.
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