Transportation & Logistics

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College Teams Facing Charter Plane Shortage

14 Jun, 2017

By: Michael Popke

Despite the negative press the U.S. airlines industry has experienced in recent months, demand for air travel remains high. And that is creating travel problems for college sports teams (and even some pro leagues) who rely on those companies for charter flights.

According to Bloomberg Quint:

American Airlines recently cut its number of National Football League charters to three from a reported nine. “It made more sense to make sure we were prioritizing the regular passenger operations,” American spokesman Joshua Freed said. “The best way to do that was to cut back a little on charter flying.”

Those changes don’t ease anyone’s anxiety at the college level. Greg Raiff, chief executive of charter operator Private Jet Services, says he’s fielding more calls from college coordinators like Smith: “They say, ‘Hey, if these airlines won’t fly the Miami Dolphins, what’s the chance they’re going to fly my college?’”

… Those who can travel by bus are likely to do so more often. Illinois’s football team will take a four-hour bus trip to play at Iowa this year, in lieu of the 26-minute charter they’ve taken in the past. They’ll probably bus to Wisconsin next year, according to Tim Knox, who handles the team’s travel. 

When Illinois last put out its bids for a charter partner, none of the major airlines were interested. No JetBlue, no United, and no Delta. “At the end of the day, they just don’t need us anymore,” Knox said.

Earlier this year, West Virginia University men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins spoke to the Charleston Gazette-Mail about the importance of chartered flights for his team and staff. As the paper put it, “the value goes beyond players, coaches and managers picking their own seats and being surrounded by familiar faces instead of being crammed next to strangers and screaming babies. WVU leaves the day before a game and flies home after the game ends. The Mountaineers have to keep a schedule, but they also make the schedule.”

No word yet on how travel plans for WVU’s men’s basketball team might change next season.

There’s at least one silver lining, though. Southwest Airlines is the lone major carrier expanding its college charter business, according to Bloomberg Quint.

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