VIENNA // Globetrotting John Kerry had to return to the US a commercial flight from Vienna Thursday, after his ageing Air Force plane broke down for the fourth time this year.
After marathon talks on Iran’s nuclear programme in the Austrian capital Wednesday, the US secretary of state’s party of more than 40 State Department staff and journalists were checking out of their hotel rooms before dawn Thursday when the news came that his Boeing 757 needed unspecified repairs — again.
Since taking up his post in February 2013, Kerry has flown some 911,000 kilometres around the globe and visited 55 countries — many of them multiple times — spending some 249 days on the road.
He is well on his way to overtaking his predecessor Hillary Clinton who flew just short of a million miles in her four years in office, visiting a record 112 countries.
But despite a normally well-planned, slick logistical operation to move Kerry and his posse of staff, security agents and the travelling press as he jumps from country to country, he has been beset this year by a frustrating number of glitches.
In August, the US secretary of state was forced to take a commercial nine-hour flight back to Washington from Hawaii when the plane suffered electrical problems after a trip which had seen him literally fly around the globe.
Earlier this year, a new transponder had to be flown from the United States to Switzerland when in the middle of international talks on the Syrian conflict in January his aircraft was grounded.
And in London in March, a similar mechanical problem was hastily fixed — after a few nerve-wrecking hours which saw his party anxiously checking for flights home.
Mr Kerry was on Thursday flying back from a whirlwind six-day trip which saw him first travel to Cairo for an international donor’s conference for Gaza, and then head to Paris for talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
He had arrived in Vienna early Wednesday and went straight into talks with Iranian foreign minister Mohammed Javad Zarif and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Iran’s nuclear programme.
Mr Zarif chuckled Thursday when he heard Kerry’s plane was grounded due to apparent mechanical issues.
“So it is not just our planes,” he told the online news site Al Monitor.
* Agence France-Presse