New Delhi: Check-in bags are not coming off Air India One these days, as on most of the nights, the Prime Minister aims at sleeping on the plane rather than in foreign hotels to shorten his trips.
In his latest trips to Belgium, US and Saudi Arabia between March 30 and April 2, Narendra Modi spent three nights on Air India One – while in transit from Delhi to Brussels, from Brussels to Washington DC and from there to Riyadh.
He just spent two nights at hotels – one in Washington and one in Riyadh. “It is unprecedented to complete a PM’s multination trip involving US in just 97 hours. If the PM had not chosen to sleep on the plane, we would not have been back for at least six days,” a senior government official told ET.
Former prime minister Manmohan Singh’s visits were longer and largely summit-related with single-city engagements. Overnight travel was occasional. But foreign schedules are now short and packed as per Modi’s directions to save “unproductive night stay in foreign hotels” and use it for air travel, multiple senior officials told ET on the condition of anonymity.
In his first two years, Modi as the PM would have spent 95 days abroad much more than Singh’s 72 days abroad in his first two years in UPA-1and UPA-2. But Modi has covered far more ground by visiting 40 countries in his 20 trips. Singh could visit 18 countries in 15 trips in UPA-1and 24 countries in 17 trips in UPA-2 in the first two years.
“Modi says he wants to push maximum buttons…he has unending energy,” an official said. He chose to take a midnight flight on March 30 to Brussels to use the nine-hour flying time to sleep and land there at 6 am local time. Initially, a night stay and community address the next morning was planned in in Brussels.
But March 31 was a working day and Modi did not wish that the NRIs take the day off to come to listen to him. “PM said he could easily spend consecutive nights on the Modi Travels by Night, Sleeps on Flights to Save Time aircraft,” an official told ET.
The community address hence happened on March 30 at 9 pm after back-to-back meetings. Modi left for the airport and took a 10-hour flight to US. Check-in bags of the delegation were not taken off Air Force 1in Belgium (but in Washington) and officials packed in an extra piece of clothing in a hand baggage.
Sleeping through time zones, PM landed in the wee hours of March 31, in the US for yet another busy day.
On the plane too, Modi does not sleep throughout the time on his flat-bed cabin. “He wants a detailed debriefing on the plane after one leg of the trip is over. There is no luxury to return to India and then prepare for the debriefing,” an official said. The PM wants a briefing within 30 minutes of checking into a foreign hotel too before the bilateral commence.
“A night should be spent in a foreign hotel only if there is an engagement scheduled the next day,” an official explained Modi’s line of thought. On April 1, the PM was in Nuclear Security Summit till 5 pm.
He reached the airport straight from the venue to fly out of Riyadh at 7 pm. He slept on the 12-hour flight again to save a day. Modi arrived there on April 2 afternoon, spent the night and held talks the next day. At 7 pm on April 3, the PM flew back and arrived at Race Course Road at 2 am. He had meetings scheduled the nextmorning. But what about jet-lag of travel to-and-fro US time zones? “Before jet lag hits reverse jet lag comes into force,” an official quipped.