After Election Day, the work of tearing down a presidential campaign begins. Field offices are dismantled. Bunting and balloons are junked. And a small company in Michigan gets back its airplane. After the Republican National Convention, Mitt Romney toured the country in a personalized McDonnell Douglas MD-83. The tail fin sported his logo and the headrest on his seat was embroidered with “The Gov.” The plane is operated by USA Jet Airlines, a subsidiary of privately held Active Aero Group, with headquarters in Belleville, Mich. Before another client can fly tail number N949NS, it must first be de-Romneyized.
Like all campaign aircraft, Air Romney took a beating as it lugged the GOP nominee and his entourage—family, staff, surrogates, reporters, cameramen, Secret Service agents, flight attendants, mechanics, and more—all day, every day, through the battleground states. The first step in turning it around, says Active Aero spokeswoman Bernadette Quist, is a thorough cleaning. “Decontamination” may be more appropriate: Campaign planes are notoriously filthy places, where poor hygiene, recycled air, and threadbare immune systems combine to create flying tubes of contagion. When USA Jet leases an airplane to, say, the University of Michigan varsity hockey team, Quist says, it usually comes back none the worse for wear. “That just gets your basic pickup and cleaning,” she says. “This is going to need a little more intense care, shall we say.”