Every President That Fell On Air Force One's Stairs

We know the scene by now: A U.S. president steps out of Air Force One and stands at the top of the stairs, hand raised to the crowd in greeting. They keep their eyes half on whoever is present and half on the stairs. Maybe he does a fast downward trot like President Barack Obama, who stumbles and catches himself before continuing unfazed, as YouTube shows. Maybe, like President George W. Bush, he's a bit cautious and grabs the hand railing very deliberately during his slow descent, black Scottish Terrier in arm, as YouTube also shows. Or maybe, like President Joe Biden on his return trip from Kyiv, Ukraine to speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on the one-year anniversary of the nation's war against Russia, he trips going up the stairs — not down (viewable on Twitter).

But it's a weird moment in general, right? Potential millions scrutinizing your every mannerism while doing something as banal as walking up or down a flight of stairs? Some may cry, "Who gives a flying flip?" Others may bark, "The president needs to be the best of us, and that includes his stair-traversing athleticism, dagnabbit!" Is it any wonder why, when faced with such performance anxiety, some presidents trip, stumble, or fall? Besides, those mobile airplane staircases aren't the most stable things to walk on, as flight-goers will attest. Biden's 2023 fall (and the one before — it wasn't his first time) just lengthens the list of Air Force One-related mobility gaffes.  

A nosedive for Ford

To be fair, all the presidents who've fallen in proximity to Air Force One fell on the stairs and not anywhere else. Maybe a sleep-deprived commander-in-chief has tripped on the carpet inside, but we'd never know. That being said, one of the folks on this list are more president-adjacent, while one incident is here just for laughs, no matter how little falling was involved. And for the record: No, Harrison Ford did not make this list, which is a shame because he did a whole lot of falling, crawling, kicking, getting punched, and more in 1997's patriotic popcorn favorite "Air Force One." 

The biggest fall on this (admittedly not too long) list goes to Gerald Ford, who in 1975 took a serious nosedive from about five or six steps up while walking down to Austrian soil with his wife, Betty. As we can see on YouTube, President Ford didn't kersplat spread-eagle. He landed, popped up on a dime, and promptly pivoted to face Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky and shake his hand as though nothing had happened. Some attendants helped President Ford up, but the president didn't lean into them too hard. As Time says, President Ford had a bad knee, presumably from his football days at the University of Michigan. Chevy Chase later roasted the president in a "Saturday Night Live" skit where he collided with a flag on stage, spontaneously collapsed a couple times, and tumbled onto a few foldout metal chairs, per YouTube.  

Repeat fall offenders

Forbes has a list of the rest of the Air Force One stair fallers. We mentioned President Barack Obama, for instance, who didn't completely fall while going down Air Force One's stairs in 2015 but wobbled for a moment before regaining his footing. It's a good thing, too, because he lost his balance at the top of the stairs. Five years later in 2020, it was Vice President Mike Pence who made it nearly to the tippy top of the stairs leading into Air Force Two — which yes, is a thing — before falling forward, catching himself, shrugging it off and turning to wave, watchable on Twitter. There was Ronald Reagan, who stumbled during a Seattle appearance in 1984 (it wasn't captured on video, per Slate). Then there was Hillary Clinton's 2009 fall while boarding the plane (per YouTube). And just because we can't not mention it, yes, there was that time that President Donald Trump walked up the stairs of Air Force One in 2018 with a comedy classic stuck to his foot: toilet paper, memorialized for eternity on YouTube.

The last person on this list is a repeat fall offender and our most recent president, President Joe Biden. Biden's most egregious display of two-left-footedness happened in 2021 when he fell three times in a row on one ascent. The last fall was a doozy, and it took him a bit to right himself and check the steps before proceeding undaunted to the top and turning to salute. And as we already mentioned, Biden fell again coming back from Ukraine. Perhaps someone should layer some non-slip pads on Air Force One's steps?