Journalist hands over Air Force One pillowcase in discreet rendezvous

Air Force One arrives at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, on May 18, 2023. President Joseph R. Biden is scheduled to attend the G7 Summit in Hiroshima alongside world leaders from Japan, Italy, Canada, France, United Kingdom, Germany, and the European Union. Photo by Cpl. Evan Jones/USMC/UPI

March 31 (UPI) -- The president of the White House Correspondents' Association has sent a terse note to reporters who travel Air Force One that pocketing items from the plane is forbidden.

NBC's Kelly O'Donnell sent the email to her fellow journalists, saying the long-time and rather common practice of taking items from the presidential aircraft reflects poorly on the press corps as a whole, several people who saw the off-the-record email told Politico.

O'Donnell's directive came after the press office received an email from Brie Moore, the former director in charge of the press on Air Force One saying several items were missing from the plane following a recent swing to the West Coast and offered reporter's amnesty and anonymity in exchange for returning any items they had lifted, either accidentally or on purpose.

One of the press handlers emailed everyone who had been part of the press pool on that trip. According to someone who saw it, the email was not accusatory.

"It was like, 'Hey, if you inadvertently wound up taking something off the plane by mistake, we can help facilitate a quiet return,'" they said.

After arranging a discreet meeting with a White House representative, one reporter took the press office up on the offer and handed over an Air Force One-embroidered pillowcase at a rendezvous point near the statue of Andrew Jackson in Liberty Square.

That was the only reporter who responded to the request.

In addition to the rather commonly pilfered pillowcases, glasses and gold-rimmed plates are among the items that have reportedly gone missing from the jet.

Taking items with an Air Force One logo -- including cutlery and towels -- has been commonplace for years, the White House Travel Office said. And the office is about to try to curtail the rite-of-passage practice.

The White House said the point of the crackdown is not to embarrass or punish anyone who has taken items from the plane, but to send a message that the thefts need to stop.

A former administration official said the practice hasn't amounted to "a massive amount of theft, but petty, chronic grift."

Journalists sometimes receive small packages of M&Ms decorated with the presidential seal as a souvenirs, and items similar to the ones onboard the planes are available for purchase online.

"But the glasses that are sold on the [Air Force] site aren't the same as the ones they have on the plane," another former administration official said. "Same with the blankets. That's why the ones onboard are so coveted."

Misha Komadovsky, the White House correspondent for Voice of America, has a subtle collection of items from his trips on the president's plane.

"I didn't embarrass anyone or commit any wrongdoing to put this collection together," he told BBC News, as he held up a paper cup with the Air Force One logo he "simply forgot to throw away."

Komadovsky also has a box of presidential M&Ms with President Joe Biden's signature.

"Spoiler alert. They are regular M&Ms in a nice box," he said.

Air Force One is considered the president's "office in the sky." It has 4,000 sq feet of floor space spread over three levels.