Skip to Content

What airline does the Pope fly?

As the head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City State, the Pope does a significant amount of traveling to fulfill his pastoral and diplomatic responsibilities. Naturally, air travel is the most efficient way for the Pope to reach his global destinations. But when you’re the world’s preeminent religious leader, you can’t just book a seat on any old commercial flight. The Pope has special transportation arrangements befitting his station.

The Pope’s Official Airliner

The Pope does not have his own personal aircraft. Rather, specific jets are chartered for the Pope’s use as needed. Since 2015, the preferred airline for Papal flights has been Alitalia, Italy’s national carrier. Alitalia works closely with the Vatican to ensure the Pope is provided with suitable planes for his trips abroad and within Italy.

For international flights, the Pope typically uses a chartered widebody Alitalia jet. The aircraft utilized is usually either a Boeing 777-200ER or an Airbus A330-200, depending on availability and the nature of the specific trip. These planes can accommodate the Pope’s entire traveling party, including his crew and media corps, with room to spare.

For domestic flights within Italy, the Pope flies aboard narrowbody aircraft. His most common domestic rides are Alitalia Airbus A320s and A321s. A smaller jet like this is more than adequate for short hops between Rome and other Italian cities.

Chartered Papal Flights

All Papal flights are specially arranged, non-commercial charters. Even though he flies with Alitalia, the Pope does not mingle with everyday passengers on scheduled flights. His planes are dedicated solely to his delegation on particular travel dates.

Alitalia supplies the aircraft, crew, maintenance, and insurance for the Pope’s charters. The Vatican covers the cost of leasing the planes. It pays Alitalia a mutually agreed upon sum for every hour the jets are used to transport the Pontiff.

The Pope’s flights adhere to a published itinerary from the Vatican. Alitalia assigns regular crew members who have volunteered for the prestigious duty of flying the Holy Father. They work closely with the airline’s flight operations department to execute each Papal charter flawlessly.

Onboard Experience

Papal flights are meticulously prepared to provide a comfortable and secure environment for His Holiness. While onboard, the Pope enjoys privacy and many special arrangements coordinated by the Alitalia cabin crew:

  • The Pope typically boards the plane through the rear entrance rather than the forward boarding door.
  • He sits in a simple, unassigned seat chosen at random.
  • The Pope’s food preferences are noted and catered to.
  • The crew addresses him as “Your Holiness.”
  • Announcements and routine procedures are adjusted appropriately.

Other interior modifications made for the Pope include installing additional handrails in the lavatory and removing select seats to provide more room for his entourage. When he travels abroad, the Papal flag and Vatican emblem are displayed inside the aircraft cabin.

Airports and Landing Rights

Just like any international flight, the Pope’s charters must obtain standard overflight permissions and landing rights for every country on the itinerary. The Vatican formally requests authorization from each nation’s civil aviation authority. For security reasons, the flight details and exact airport arrival/departure slots are only finalized closer to the actual travel dates.

The Pope mainly uses Rome–Fiumicino Airport (FCO) for departures and arrivals to/from foreign trips. Some of the other airports frequented by the Pope include:

  • Ciampino–G. B. Pastine International Airport (CIA) – for domestic flights within Italy
  • Joint Base Andrews (ADW) – serving Washington, D.C.
  • Ben Gurion Airport (TLV) – Tel Aviv, Israel
  • Jorge Chávez International Airport (LIM) – Lima, Peru
  • Ruzyne Airport (PRG) – Prague, Czech Republic

The Pope breaks with normal procedures by not passing through the main passenger terminals. At major airports, he uses dedicated VIP facilities to privately board his flight away from the public eye.

In-Flight Security

Papal flights have heavy security arrangements managed by the Pontifical Swiss Guard and host country forces. Here are some of the safety measures in place for the Pope while onboard:

  • Thorough screening of the entire traveling party, crew, baggage, and catering before boarding.
  • A security sweep of the aircraft interior right before the Pope enters.
  • Plainclothes guards seated near the Pope and at other strategic cabin locations.
  • Monitoring of the flight deck and exterior fuselage during the flight.
  • Coordination with airport teams on the ground for arrival and departure.

All food served aboard is prepared under close supervision to prevent any attempts at poisoning or contamination. The pilot keeps the flight path and details confidential to avoid interception attempts.

Medical Facilities

The Pope’s charted jets are outfitted with onboard medical equipment and life support systems. Alitalia ensures an enhanced first aid kit is available. A doctor always accompanies the Pope on flights to provide immediate care if ever required. Though rarely needed, the aircraft can be quickly reconfigured with folding seats and stretchers if emergency medical transport is necessary.

Past Popes

The current Pope’s immediate predecessors – Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II – also made extensive use of Alitalia for Papal flights. However, it was Pope Paul VI who first flew on official chartered jets starting in 1964. Prior to that, Popes would routinely take the train or ship when traveling beyond Rome.

Pope Paul VI’s trailblazing first flight was aboard an Alitalia Boeing 707 from Rome to Jordan and Israel – the first Papal visit to the Holy Land. Pope Paul later also became the first reigning Pope to visit the Americas when he flew on Alitalia 707s and DC-8s to Colombia, Uruguay, and the United Nations in 1965.

Notable Papal Flights

Here are some other noteworthy flights taken by Popes aboard Alitalia aircraft over the decades:

  • October 1962 – Pope John XXIII flew aboard an Alitalia Douglas DC-4 from Rome to Loreto to visit the Holy House shrine.
  • December 1989 – Pope John Paul II used an Alitalia 747 to travel to South Korea – his first visit to the Asian continent as Pope.
  • September 1994 – Pope John Paul II made a historic flight on an Alitalia Airbus A300 to Zagreb – the first Papal visit to the Balkans since the end of communism.
  • January 1999 – Pope John Paul II flew aboard an Alitalia MD-11 “Popemobile” jet from Rome to Mexico City.
  • May 2002 – Pope John Paul II flew Alitalia to Toronto for World Youth Day 2002 hosted in Canada.
  • June 2007 – Pope Benedict XVI flew aboard an Alitalia A320 on a trip to Assisi right after his election.


While Popes today routinely crisscross the skies, air travel was once considered controversial for the Holy See. But pragmatic modern Pontiffs have embraced aviation as the most practical means for global outreach. Through a long partnership dating back over 50 years, Alitalia continues providing the dedicated aircraft that literally and figuratively help the Pope spread his wings around the world.