Pope Francis arrived in the U.S. yesterday for a six-day multi-city historic visit aboard an Alitalia Airbus A330, at which point he transferred to a Fiat 500L. But the Holy See of the Catholic Church will be flying aboard a chartered American Airlines Boeing 777 throughout his tour of America, an airline which a Pope hasn’t flown since 1993.

The Pope’s best known form of transportation is the Popemobile, but when the Bishop of Rome must fly, he most often uses a chartered Alitalia (the Italian flag carrier) aircraft. And while the FAA has reportedly approved “Shepherd One” as the Papal plane’s callsign during this trip, that name might give you the wrong idea about the Pontifical jet.

Advertisement

The “Shepherd One” moniker might suggest to some that the Pope has his own personal aircraft, reserved for his use at all times and maybe even outfitted like an airborne Apostolic Palace, like a holy Air Force One.

In reality, though, the Pope’s air travel is far more humble. The aircraft on which the Pope flies don’t have any special modifications (other than the addition of the Papal coat of arms next to the cabin door), and are returned to regular passenger service after he disembarks.

On outbound flights from Italy, the Pope’s plane usually uses flight number AZ4000 (AZ is Alitalia’s IATA designator). When the Pope arrived at Joint Base Andrews (ADW) in the U.S. yesterday from Santiago de Cuba (SCU), the second flight of his trip, the flight number was AZ4001.

Advertisement

Is the Pope breaking with tradition by flying on an American Airlines jet during the rest of his American tour? Actually, not at all. In fact, it is customary for the Pope to return to the Vatican aboard the national carrier of the country he had just visited. And even though American Airlines last had the Pope on board in 1993, TWA flew him five times between 1965 and 1999. At the time, some joked that TWA stood for “Traveling With Angels” during those flights.

The Pope is scheduled to depart Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) for Rome on Sunday September 27th at 8:00PM EST.

Photo credit: Top shot - Andrew Harnik/AP, Middle shot - L’Osservatore Romano/Pool photo via AP, Bottom shot - Susan Walsh/AP

Follow the author on Twitter: @collinkrum