Johnny’s extended family back in East Tennessee were so proud of him for his job, although being staunch Republicans, they were less thrilled about who he was flying. His Aunt Ress specifically gave him some interesting advice, saying, “Johnny, I’m sure proud of you getting this assignment and flying those important people up there in Washington. But, if you have those Democrats on your plane, I don’t want you to hurt them, but if you could scare ‘em every now and then, I sure would appreciate it.”
Johnny had to laugh at that. And while he may not have scared any of his passengers, one of those passengers did scare the staff. That passenger was Hillary Clinton, and one particular trip with her remains vivid in his memory.
If Al Gore was wooden, Hillary Clinton was a nightmare. Years later, Johnny Payne recalled, “Hillary was very difficult to deal with. Our people in the back really did not like dealing with Mrs. Clinton at all.” On that trip, they had just flown the First Lady eight hours to Israel.
Johnny began the plane’s descent, but as he prepared to land, he got a message—Mrs. Clinton wasn’t ready. Johnny’s brow furled; this was very irregular.
“We gave them plenty of warning,” he said. Indeed, he had been sending updates to Mrs. Clinton’s staff when they were two hours away, one hour, 30 minutes, beginning descent.
“She needs 20 more minutes,” the flight attendant insisted. The plane already had the landing gear down and they were running low on fuel.
“We can do one loop,” Johnny said, “and then we’re landing.” On the ground below, high-ranking Israeli government officials watched the plane pull up and circle. After the loop, Air Force Two finally landed, but Hillary Clinton still kept the officials waiting for another 15 minutes before she was ready.
After she left, Johnny asked the flight attendants what had happened. Had her staff not gotten his updates?
“We told them,” one of the attendants answered. “Every update you gave us, we gave to them… Even when we were descending, they wouldn’t go in and wake her up.” Finally, one of the attendants had woken the First Lady.
“Why?” Johnny asked.
“Because they’re scared of her.”
Over his career, Johnny would hear other negative stories about both Bill and Hillary from people who worked with them. One friend whose retirement papers were signed by Bill Clinton said, “I’m not even sure if I’ll keep them.”