Trump Shuttle Capt. Raymond Dothard, at the controls of Nelson and Winnie Mandela's chartered Boeing 727, has been both pilot and tour guide on the black leader's 5,000-mile trip across America.
But somewhere between Atlanta and Miami this week, Dothard's reassuring voice came over the loudspeakers with a special message for the 71-year-old in the front row.
"I'd like to give Mr. Mandela some advice that a son would give a father," Dothard said. "You've had a long, exhausting day in Atlanta, and I'd like to urge you to go straight to bed once we are in Miami so you can get some rest."
Mandela turned to his aides, fixed them with an I-told-you-so grin, and, pointing skyward, said: "Did you here that?"
The African National Congress deputy president's 12 punishing days on the ground in the United States, which end today when he leaves Oakland for Europe, have been broken only by his hours in the air.
On Friday, Mandela's plane crossed the broad expanse of the United States, from Detroit to Los Angeles, in 4 hours and 40 minutes.
Flying the Mandelas "has been great," Dothard said. "Best flights I've ever had." As the 727 approached Los Angeles International Airport on Friday, Dothard delivered a personal tribute to the Mandelas over the loudspeaker, calling them the "true First Man and First Lady of South Africa." He concluded by shouting "Amandla! Amandla!"--the Zulu word for "power."
"Air Mandela," as the 50 members of Mandela's delegation call their plane, has offered some respite from the hectic schedule that awaited Mandela at his eight stops over the past 11 days. The plane, with leather seats and air telephones in every row, is carrying ANC officers, photographers, reporters, video cameramen, public relations people, and even a representative of the State Department's South Africa desk.
"Air Mandela" has its own rules. No hot food, for instance. The plane was designed for the shuttle flights on the Boston-New York-Washington air corridor and it doesn't have a microwave oven.
And just try asking for a can of Coca-Cola.
"There's no Coke on Mr. Mandela's plane," a flight attendant explains to newcomers. Coca-Cola has been targeted by anti-apartheid activists for allowing its soft drinks to be sold in South Africa. Canada Dry was the beverage of choice.
Nevertheless, the ANC, a close ally of the Communist Party in the liberation struggle, has no problem of conscience flying under the red "T" of the Trump Shuttle. The plane and crew were leased for $130,000 from the fleet that bears the name of America's best-known capitalist, Donald Trump.