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Is this the Plane Talk Express?

No one cracked a bottle of champagne on its nose. No one cut a ribbon. Perhaps that was because the maiden voyage of John McCain’s new campaign plane was missing one vital ingredient: the senator himself.

On Monday morning, his new 95-seat Boeing 737-400 left Washington with journalists and staffers, heading for Harrisburg, Pa., where the candidate had spent the night. The plane, bought by the campaign, has been refurbished to create an airborne version of the homey Straight Talk Express bus, McCain’s signature campaign vehicle.

Press rides in the back, Secret Service agents in the middle cabin, and the candidate in first class. To replicate the horseshoe-shaped banquette of the bus, where the candidate engages in freewheeling discussions with reporters, one of the forward cabins has been modified to include a captain’s chair for McCain. (FAA regulations require clear aisles, so a curved bench was out.)

The outside of the plane bears McCain’s motto, “Reform, Prosperity, Peace,” on the side; the tail has been painted in blue and gold with his website address.

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McCain boarded for the first time later Monday morning, for a hop from Harrisburg to Allentown. He apparently missed the fact that his name is emblazoned on the tail until he was asked about it by reporters. “Maybe it’s a little added free publicity, I don’t know,” he said.

There is one thing McCain will miss about his old plane, a leased JetBlue aircraft -- and he’ll be feeling the loss today, as he’s scheduled to fly from Indianapolis to Cartagena, Colombia, with a stop in Mexico.

“In interest of full disclosure,” said McCain, “you know, we used to have television sets on JetBlue, and I miss out on my fix, particularly when we’re on these long flights like we’re going on.”

-- Robin Abcarian

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