Michelle Obama’s airplane close call comes during busy travel period

First lady Michelle Obama spent last week crisscrossing the country on a tour of military bases and daytime talk shows, chatting with the women of “The View” and taping a segment with Elmo as the face of the administration’s outreach to military families.

But for the past day, she has been the face of something else: dangerous lapses by air traffic controllers.

Obama’s flight from New York on Monday, which she boarded after snapping publicity photos with Muppets Elmo and Rosita on the set of “Sesame Street,” came close to a 200-ton cargo jet on the tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base. Shortly after her caravan of black sport-utility vehicles made it back to the White House, she was sitting down for seder dinner with her family and White House staffers.

It is unclear whether the first lady and her staff knew there was any trouble as their massive aircraft performed a series of S-turns to distance itself from the aircraft on the runway; the White House has referred all calls to the Federal Aviation Administration, which is investigating the incident.

A call Tuesday afternoon by a Washington Post reporter to the East Wing was followed by a call from the White House to the FAA, which confirmed that Michelle Obama was on the flight. The FAA also confirmed that Vice President Biden’s wife, Jill Biden, was on board, following her joint appearance in New York with the first lady.

The incident comes as the first lady is in the middle of a busy travel time, unveiling her Joining Forces initiative, which she has said will be one of her defining missions. After a kickoff last week, she joined with Jill Biden and traveled to three states in one day — North Carolina, Texas and Colorado — completing one of her busiest travel stretches as first lady.

It is unlikely that she will keep up that pace in the coming weeks, though she will travel later this month and next month to deliver graduation addresses.

Obama said in an earlier interview that she intended to step up her domestic travel, and as her husband ramps up his reelection campaign, she will probably be traveling more next year. Polls show that she remains the administration’s most popular figure.

And in her chats on daytime television in recent days, she has pulled the curtain back on life in the White House, revealing that her mother still does laundry and that her daughters, Sasha and Malia, are increasingly interested in clothes and makeup. Her husband, she said, has coached the girls in basketball.

Anita McBride, who served as chief of staff to first lady Laura Bush, said the flight incident served as an important reminder. “It’s great to be under the control of the United States military; they aren’t going to take any risks. . . . But the minute you hear that it’s the first lady of the United States, it does make you think, if it can happen to them, it could happen to anyone.”

Indeed, Twitter lit up with news of the airplane mishap, with people re-reporting the incident, but also letting followers know that the first lady was not harmed.

Over the next week, Obama’s travel plans include a trip back home to Chicago, where she will sit with her husband for an interview with Oprah Winfrey. On Friday, she will visit Fort Dupont Park in Southeast Washington for an Earth Day event.

Nia-Malika Henderson is a political reporter for The Fix.

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