Obama had planned to attend the funeral last year for President Lech Kaczynski, who was killed in a plane crash, but an ash cloud from an Icelandic volcano forced him to cancel.
There was concern in Poland that history could be repeated as Iceland again produced volcanic ash that caused some travel disruptions this week, even forcing Obama to shorten his stay in Ireland, the first stop in his four-country European tour.
But by Friday, the airspace over Europe was clear and it seemed that Obama would be able to keep to plans to arrive in Warsaw in the evening. Awaiting him are two days of political meetings that will focus on security, energy and joint U.S.-Polish efforts to promote democracy in North Africa, Belarus and elsewhere in Eastern Europe.
But unlike past U.S. presidents who visited this nation of 38 million, Obama will not meet or address the Polish public directly.
That deprives him of the chance to connect directly — and emotionally — with Poles in the way former presidents such as George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton did on visits to the country.
It will also make it harder for him to win over a nation that has never warmed to him the way many have in more liberal Western Europe, according to Marcin Zaborowski, a political analyst and director of the Polish Institute of International Affairs.
Obama also won't get a chance to meet with former President Lech Walesa, who has turned down an invitation to join a gathering of Obama and Polish political figures on Saturday. The legendary Solidarity founder is flying to Italy instead to a biblical festival and said a meeting with Obama "does not suit me."
Obama will attend a dinner Friday night with about 20 central and eastern European leaders holding a yearly summit. However, the inclusion of Kosovo's president has caused a diplomatic wrinkle, prompting Serbia and Romania to boycott the event in protest. Neither one recognizes the independence of the former Serbian province.
Obama's trip will also feature bilateral talks with Polish leaders that U.S. and Polish officials say will focus on security issues. Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich said the two countries would discuss a plan for the U.S. to station F-16 fighter jets and Hercules planes in Poland on a rotational basis starting in 2013.
Another key topic will be deepening cooperation in the area of shale gas exploration and nuclear energy.
Several U.S. companies are searching for shale gas in Poland, which is believed to hold vast quantities of the potentially game-changing energy source underground. American companies also hope to have a role in a Polish project to build the country's first-ever nuclear power plants in the coming years.
But perhaps most importantly, the trip offers a chance for Washington to stress to Poles that it considers the relationship important — a message U.S. officials have made an effort to stress.
"It's significant that the president is coming here not as part of a Central or Eastern European swing," a senior official in the Obama administration told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
"He's coming here after visiting major European capitals and taking part in a major G-8 meeting, and he very much sees our relationship with Poland in that context — as one of the most influential members of the EU and most active members of NATO."
Poles have felt in past years that both the administrations of George W. Bush and that of Obama have neglected their concerns, and traditionally strong pro-American sentiments are in decline compared with the early years after the fall of communism. At that time, Washington was seen as both a model of democracy that helped end the Cold War and as Poland's main guarantor of security in a region where Russia still throws its weight around.
Polish complaints have centered on a feeling that Poland's military contribution in Iraq — and the loss of lives there — left the country with few benefits, economic or otherwise, and there is deep popular resentment that Poles still don't enjoy visa-free travel to the U.S.
There has also been concern that the U.S. interest in "resetting" ties with Moscow could come at the cost of Poland and its neighbors, once under its influence. Anxieties were high when Obama scrapped a Bush-era plan to put a major missile defense base in Poland, with many Poles believing the step was made to appease Moscow.
Zaborowski, the analyst, said that the visit comes as the relationship is moving to a new phase. For the first 20 years after the fall of communism, relations were largely defined by security, but are now expanding to include energy, most significantly shale gas and nuclear energy, he said.
The evolving relationship is also marked by a rise in Polish self-confidence after years of membership in NATO and the European Union, an enhanced status underlined by the fact that Warsaw is preparing to take over the rotating presidency of the EU in July.
After some disappointments with Washington, Warsaw is also increasingly determined to stand up more forcefully for its own interests. Today, for instance, Poland would put up much more resistance before joining a military effort that it doesn't understand well, such as the Iraq war, Zaborowski argued.
"We have common values and interests but when there are concrete proposals we will no long support everything in the dark, without reflection," Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski said in a television interview several days before Obama's visit.
He said the U.S.-Polish relationship has now evolved into a "mature friendship."
Monika Scislowska contributed to this report.