I guess I imagined the papal plane to be something resembling Air Force One only spiritual, like a news pilgrimage.
I imagined wrong.
The Volo Papale, as it's known in Italian, is more like a Catholic school field trip.
Disapproving priests shepherd their unruly charges through what should be an educational journey. But to all concerned, the whole thing quickly seems like a chore.
The priests and their helpers have a thankless task. Organizing the media is a bit like herding cats. Except that cats don't complain. The boys on the bus may be following the dress code. Coats and ties are required on the Volo Papale.
But we're still badly behaved. We are all told repeatedly to stay in our seats should the Holy Father come back to say hello, but at the first glimpse of a white cassock we all jump up and surround the poor man.
Clearly these antics try the patience of the Vatican press officials who have mapped out every moment of the day.
Not only do they design a jumble of credentials for reporters to gain access to key events, but they also give careful thought to how they should be worn around the neck -- which one on top, which underneath, etc.
I'm told that for the return journey we will have to wear them on an entirely different string.
The morning as we leave, a respected colleague from a rival news organization receives a tongue-lashing at the Rome airport. He has allowed his credential to flip backside up, as it inevitably does many times during the day.
He's a veteran of dozens of these trips, so he merely shrugs, pretending he doesn't understand what the problem is, and walks away.
My own press badge has a piece of adhesive tape stuck to it with a cryptic message written in block letters, perfect penmanship. "SAVE THIS SLEEVE!" The last word underlined. With an exclamation point.
It has been explained to me that I have what amounts to a criminal record at the Vatican.
Apparently last year I failed to return Vatican property -- the clear plastic sleeve that came with my credentials for Pope John Paul's funeral. Unbeknownst to me, the Vatican press office was very upset by this.
ABC News' Rome producer tried gallantly to smooth things over by handing in another clear plastic credential sleeve. But the sharp-eyed nuns at the press office quickly spotted the forgery. The Rome bureau was told to "denounce" the lost sleeve. In other words, the nuns wanted ABC News to file a police report.
This time the adhesive tape was attached to my new credential to make sure I didn't make the same mistake twice.
The credentials themselves seem to be valid only for 20-minute increments. There are frequent frantic huddles as new plastic cards are handed out. Oddly, each new card seems to be identical to the old one, except for a tiny number stamped in the corner.
The writing is in Polish while the roll call is in Italian.
The only thing obvious and unmistakable is the expression of sublime irritation on the face of the credential man.
Make that a grimace of utter disgust. We see this face a lot on the trip, every time he has to explain yet again that it's essential to remove the old badge -- "No not that one. The middle one!" -- and replace it with the new one -- "No, no, no. Now it must go on top!" It's all right there in The Book!"
All of these instructions are issued in rapid-fire Italian. If you don't speak Italian, that's your problem.