Toward the end of the flight, U.S. Rep. John Spratt was ushered into President Barack Obama's office aboard Air Force One.
The pair spent 10 or 15 minutes conferring on budget matters, then Spratt gave the president a primer on how the Charlotte region, and much of the 5th Congressional District, has struggled with the collapse of textiles.
Once on the ground in Charlotte, Obama motioned for Spratt to join him on the walk down from Air Force One.
"He said, 'Come on, John,'" Spratt recalled. "I said, 'Mr. President, you go first.'"
TV images showed Obama bounding down the steps, trailed closely by a man in a slightly rumpled suit carrying a brown briefcase. Spratt later called it "the most intact" of the four briefcases he owns.
The presidential photo-op marked an unusual moment for Spratt, who has typically kept his distance from national Democratic figures.
Southern Democrats can suffer politically for becoming too closely linked with the national party. Spratt's 5th District leans conservative; in the 2008 presidential election, 53 percent of voters chose Republican John McCain over Obama.
Given his health issues over the past year — culminating in the disclosure of his Parkinson's disease last week — the appearance might have been intended to showcase Spratt's importance, said Furman University political scientist Danielle Vinson.
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