The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Biden’s press plane was about to head to Europe. Then Brood X cicadas ‘invaded’ the engines.

Reporters attend the daily press briefing at the White House on June 7. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)

The Brood X cicadas that rose from the earth after 17 years underground have proved their determination to leave a mark before they die off in a few weeks. The shrill, winged insects have driven tourism, inspired new food trends and even caused a car crash in Ohio.

On Tuesday night, the busy bugs claimed another surprising accomplishment: grounding the White House press corps as it headed to Europe for President Biden’s first overseas trip in office.

“The White House press charter, flying from Dulles to Europe ahead of President Biden, has been delayed for hours — due to mechanical issues caused by cicadas,” Jonathan Lemire, a reporter for the Associated Press, said in a tweet late Tuesday. “Yes. Cicadas.”

Reporters gathered at a Marriott hotel near Dulles International Airport were told by a White House aide that the insects had flown into the engine, causing mechanical problems that required the airline to obtain a new plane and a new captain for the flight. The journalists ended up delayed more than five hours.

A spokeswoman for Delta confirmed that cicadas inside the engines had prevented the plane from taking off.

With Brood X beginning to emerge in the billions, scientists are hoping to answer some of the many questions surrounding these cicadas. (Video: Alice Li/The Washington Post)

While birds are the more common natural threat to airplanes, other swarming insects such as locusts have spurred officials to warn pilots against flying in areas where they may cross paths with the bugs, which can damage planes and engines.

The White House press corps was en route to cover the president’s trip to Europe, where he will meet with leaders from the Group of Seven industrial nations, the European Union and NATO. Biden will also attend a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Biden is scheduled to depart on Wednesday.

While the press charter flight was coordinated with the help of the White House, reporters pay for their own travel through the private company operating the plane. Tuesday night’s flight was scheduled to be wheels up at 9 p.m. but was delayed by the cicada issues until at least 2:40 a.m.

Naturally, the news that cicadas had significantly delayed a flight full of journalists spread quickly.

“No, @JonLemire isn’t kidding, the White House press charter for the foreign trip is delayed several hours because of cicada-related mechanical issues,” CNN’s Kaitlan Collins said on Twitter.

Others noted the delay was not the only travel hiccup for the White House this week, after mechanical problems delayed Vice President Harris’s flight on Air Force Two to Guatemala on Sunday.

“Not a good week for Biden administration planes,” the New York Times’s Michael D. Shear said on Twitter. “First mechanical issues with the @vp plane. Now, the press charter for @potus trip is delayed because the engines were invaded by cicadas, grounding it.”

Another reporter waiting for the flight suggested the delay was a fittingly long tribute to insects that show up after so many years underground.

“I’m gonna remember this never-ending flight delay 17 years from now, cicadas,” tweeted CNN senior White House correspondent Phil Mattingly.

Ashley Parker contributed to this report.