Mexico’s leader has eschewed private planes and upper-class travel status. But at the terminal gate or in his cramped no-extra-legroom seat, he’s not just any other passenger.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador makes police and flight attendants alike tremble when he embarks on air travel, always in coach, according to media reports.
Still a rock star to a hugh swath of the public, AMLO stops for photos with just about everyone, allowing them to kiss, hug or even grab him by the waist.
AMLO’s acquiescence sparked a near stampede of supporters, with no security to push back the throngs.
AMLO is the most popular president in the country’s history with an 80 percent approval rating, according to the last Mitofsky poll.
“Of course, whatever photos you like,” said the smiling president to a woman trying to snatch a photo with her smart phone as he walked to the plane ahead of a trip to Sinaloa.
That’s because Lopez Obrador has done away with the thousands of military escorts and sent them to work “for the benefit of the people.”
The US$218 million presidential jet, a Dreamliner 787-8, is in California and up for sale. AMLO traveled to Sinaloa on a cramped Embraer Jet.
“How can I board this plane when there’s so much poverty in Mexico?” Lopez Obrador said about the Boeing Dreamliner.
Now he travels with a small retinue of aides headed by Daniel Asaf, a restaurateur of Lebanese origin and former candidate for Mexico City’s legislature. None are security specialists, but are defined by their “loyalty.”
Three women and two men spent most of the trip to Sinaloa shoving back reporters and asking travelers to move away after taking a selfie.
But Mexico City’s airport police are less impressed.
“When he has to cross the entire airport, it’s the worst,” said an unnamed officer. “People pounce on him. If one day someone wants to do something to him we won’t be able to stop them because he doesn’t like being guarded.”
“He can’t continue like this, he has to use the VIP room,” he continued.
AMLO believes he is protected by an assortment of good-luck charms.
“I have a lot of protection, this is a shield,” he told a news agency, holding up an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Among his other protective amulets, AMLO carries a four-leaf clover and a dollar given to him by a Mexican migrant.
For some passengers, having the president on their flight gives them a feeling of security.
Carmen Diaz, a 52-year-old housewife traveling to Sinaloa for a party, said she would have “never expected” to find herself on a flight with the president.
Although she worried it would be unsafe due to the number of people aboard, “it’s the opposite because they’re watching the flight closer.”
But for flight attendant Alejandra Martinez, the flight is a headache.
“It’s awful that he’s come on my flight. People are ignoring the (safety) instructions, they’re leaving their seats even during turbulence and the press don’t understand that their cameras could become projectiles if something unexpected happens,” she said. “I hope he never travels with my family.”
With information from Agence France-Presse