How Does The Pope Fly?

As one of the most important religious figures in the world, the Pope travels a lot. From his home in the Vatican, the Pope routinely flies globally to boost the church and meet followers. But how does the Pope fly? Let’s find out.

Alitalia Pope Flights
Spoiler alert: the Pope does not have his own private jets to travel the globe. Photo: Getty Images

Home airline

Based out of the Vatican, the most convenient option for the Papal aircraft is a ride on Italian flag carrier Alitalia. When flying out of Italy, the Pope almost exclusively uses a chartered Alitalia aircraft, with the size depending on the distance being flown. On the plane, you’ll find the Pope himself, his entourage, and a press pool reporting on the visit.

For short- and medium-haul routes, an Airbus A320 or A321 is chosen for the mission. Similarly, longer missions use the A330 or Boeing 777s. On the Pope’s most recent journey to Iraq, he flew an Alitalia A330-200 for the roughly four-hour-long journey. 

Alitalia Airbus A330-200
We’re certain that the Pope is one of Alitalia’s most loyal customers thanks to his round-the-world charters. Photo: Getty Images

However, this isn’t any routine charter service. When the Pope is onboard, the Alitalia flight uses the flight number AZ4000. The callsign “Shepherd One” has also been used on some flights in the past. This is similar to the unique call signs used by aircraft carrying other world leaders.

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily and weekly aviation news digests.

Coming back

While the Pope might be flying Alitalia a lot, this is usually a one-way flight. On the way back, he opts to fly with the host country’s flag carrier or any nationally prominent airline. This has meant a Pope has the chance to fly quite a few airlines during his papacy.

Airlines carrying Popes include American Airlines, Biman Bangladesh, Avianca, TAP Air Portugal, airBaltic (on their A220!), Aer Lingus, SriLankan, and several others. The aircraft deployed similarly depends on the route being flown, although carriers do like to send their best when flying the Pope.

Pope press conference flight Getty
On many flights, the Pope joins the traveling journalist to give press conferences. Photo: Getty Images

Notably, the Pope usually flies in first or business class during his visits to foreign countries. His entourage usually gets to fly up front as well, with the press relegated to economy during the flight.

According to The Points Guy, press members actually pay business class fares to get exclusive access to the Pope, while still sitting in economy. This helps pay for the chartered flights since the taxpayer does not pick up the tab.

However, it’s not as bad a deal as one might think. The Pope routinely ventures into economy to give impromptu press conferences, bless the country he is flying over, or just generally chat with those flying with him!

Racking it up

For the Pope, traveling is an essential part of the job. While the first papal flight only operated in 1964, it has since become routine for the Pope to visit multiple countries every year. According to The Daily Telegraph, Pope John Paul II flew the most during his 26-year papacy, flying 725,000 miles to 129 countries.

While the pandemic grounded the Pope for a year, he is back on the road now. After visiting Iraq, Pope Francis plans to visit Hungary and Slovakia in September, Greece and Cyprus in September, and Glasgow for the COP26 summit, according to America.