Journalists scheduled to cover President Joe Biden’s maiden trip abroad were stranded in Europe for many hours Tuesday night — but not because of the weather.
Cicadas had caused the plane to have mechanical issues.
The flying insects had somehow filled the plane’s engines, causing Biden’s staff to hustle to find another method to transport the reporters overseas. The scheduled departure time of 9 p.m. was pushed back to 11 p.m. Then it was until 2:15 a.m.
White House travel staffers informed reporters gathering at the airport hotel about the insect problem, assuring them that a fresh plane was on its way from New York to Washington. Officials hoped that both the new pilot and the cicada cloud, which had been dense enough around Washington to be picked up on weather radar, would make it safely through the cicada cloud.
Pizza was provided, along with the option of sleeping in a hotel room for a few hours. For those who preferred to stay up, the bar extended its hours.
On Twitter, word of the delay — which was reported by the journalists in the room — instantly garnered pity, scorn, and the usual caustic commentary that only a story about Washington politics can inspire.
“Are the cicadas considered to be hijackers and is the FBI negotiating for the release of the plane?” one person tweeted. “What are the demands of the cicadas?”
Andrea Mitchell of NBC News tweeted about the ordeal, implying that she isn’t a fan of the bugs.” Another reason to dislike cicadas “cicada strike” disabled White House press plane set to depart for G& in Cornwall last night. Waiting to board replacement aircraft 6 hours later…”
Another wrote: “Check for #maga shells,” clearly a reference to the fact that this was the Biden press corps.
Another tweeted, “Those cicadas are the enemy of the press,” another responded: “Has the GOP indoctrinated and recruited the cicadas?”
After emerging from underground for the first time in 17 years, billions of these enormous, loud insects have engulfed the Washington, D.C. region and other regions along the East Coast. They’re part of Brood X, which includes three species and is the largest group of cicadas that live in 17-year cycles.
It’s unclear how many cicadas were involved in the plane’s malfunction, but they’ve been flying around the D.C. area for weeks and have been seen by weather-tracking Doppler radars.
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden are flying to the United Kingdom on Air Force One from Joint Base Andrews on Wednesday morning. A cicada flew onto Biden’s neck before he boarded his plane, which he smacked away.
The President swats a cicada off of his neck before getting on Air Force One. pic.twitter.com/l0kuaLWyss
— Kate Sullivan (@KateSullivanDC) June 9, 2021
“Watch out for the cicadas,” the president jokingly told reporters.
NBC News foreign correspondent Molly Hunter, based in London, reacted to the delay of the press plane on Twitter, saying: “Good news: no cicadas on this side!”
The Washington, D.C., the area is one of many areas around the country where Brood X cicadas have swarmed, a big emergence of the raucous 17-year insects that dive-bomb moving automobiles and unwary people.
The press plane is organized with White House help and takes journalists at their own expense. There was no expectation that Biden’s presence would have an impact on news coverage.