White House press corps plane detained in China

BEIJING – A charter airplane carrying the White House press corps was detained for nearly three hours Friday at Beijing’s international airport not long after President Bush arrived to attend the Olympic Games.

The flight crew of the Northwest Airlines 747 had been expecting to park at a VIP terminal, but after landing was instead directed by the control tower to a normal international gate.

White House officials would say only there were “logistical problems” getting clearance to unload the aircraft. The flight crew was told the Chinese were insisting that all luggage be inspected.

Typically, the White House press charter receives the “custom of the port,” meaning reporters, photographers and camera crews are able to get off the plane right after landing, board buses and head to their hotels and work areas while U.S. State Department officials process immigration and customs details.

Delays on landing have happened before, but no one on the plane was able to recall one this long.

The plane landed at 2:10 a.m. local time. Passengers finally were able to get off the plane shortly after 5 a.m. However, they were made to pass through Chinese immigration control individually, and baggage was still being screened.

Many of those on the plane – roughly 40 journalists – were due to cover the president’s first appearance of the day: the opening of the new Beijing U.S. Embassy complex.