From jet lag to unfamiliar playing fields and the howl of opposing crowds, sports teams have enough to deal with for away games without having to worry about getting where they’re going safely, comfortably, in privacy, and on time. With stadiums filling up again, major sporting events on the calendar, and growing challenges and delays that come with commercial air travel, private air charter is fast becoming a go-to transportation choice for teams, their entourages and even the fans who follow their every move.
Private aviation has been a shining star of transportation since COVID grounded the travel industry in 2020, with new clientele choosing it not for the luxuries depicted in popular culture, but to avoid the many touch points, long waits, and crowded terminals of public airports.
There were 3.3 million business jet flights worldwide in 2021, according to the data researchers at WINGX Advance – a single-year record, up 7 percent from the previous, pre-pandemic high in 2019. More of the moment, the flight-tracking website FlightAware reports business aviation traffic was up 31.6 percent for the week ended May 15, 2022, over the same period in 2019, while commercial airline traffic was down 13.8 percent.
So, what does private aviation offer sports organizations? A winning alternative to the inconveniences of commercial air travel. Following the disruptions of the height of the pandemic, when teams played in venues populated by cardboard cutout fans and games were at risk of postponement or rescheduling if players or staff tested positive for COVID, teams and the travel management companies that serve them now strongly desire to work with aviation providers they can trust and that boast the experience and specialization necessary to make and keep the travel arrangements they require.
While exclusivity is an essential element of private aviation – seats on private flights typically run at least 50 percent higher than commercial flights, after all – the heart of the industry is about customer care. Private air charter can be customized to the needs of traveling teams, with onsite and onboard representatives to closely monitor the entire operation and assist with anything required during boarding, flight, and departure.
Prime among such requirements are privacy and convenience. Imagine the scene a team might encounter at a crowded commercial airport, with long lines, time-consuming TSA security checks, and potential crowds of fans if spotted. And if the commercial flight doesn’t happen to be direct, the team will be right back in the crowds again to make connections to get to the game.
Teams flying private air charter, on the other hand, depart from private terminals at small private airports, with amenities including VIP ground transportation; high-touch handling of sports gear and specialized equipment; private terminal check-in sans security queues; and the convenience of being able to pull right up to the aircraft with minutes to spare and board immediately from a secure ramp. Meanwhile, team members inclined to arrive early will typically be welcomed into a business-class style lounge run by private Fixed Base Operators (FBOs).
Onboard catering can be personalized according to a team’s dietary preferences and requirements, ensuring athletes get the nutrition and hydration they need en route to the next big game. The cabin atmosphere can also be tailored to prime athletes for optimal performance, with “lights out,” for instance, to encourage sleep, and anything else trainers and coaches may deem necessary for the good of the team. And everyone can look forward to direct flights, saving significant hassles and keeping their minds on the game.
Teams aren’t the only clients tapping private aviation for sports. Spectators have also been key to the sports-related uptick with passionate fans, families, corporate and alumni groups, and more choosing private air charter over commercial aviation to travel to major sporting events in style, convenience, and comfort.
Take the Masters Tournament. According to research from WINGX, each year since 2006 has seen a sizable increase in business jet departures at airports near Augusta, Georgia, during the month of April, among them Daniel Field-DNL in Augusta, and Aiken Regional Airport and Orangeburg Municipal Airport in South Carolina.
Those departures rose steadily from over 1,000 in 2009 to over 2,000 in 2019. Then came the pandemic in 2020, when the Masters was re-scheduled to November and held behind closed doors to prevent the spread of COVID. One year later, private jet flying crowds were headed back to Augusta again, with departures from local airports in 2021 at their highest level since 2010. And in 2022, there were 1,773 departures, well above the previous year, with golf aficionados arriving on aircraft including Cessna Citation X/10s, Dassault-Falcon 2000s, Bombardier-Challenger 350s, and many more.
The predilection for private air charter goes beyond golf, of course. For the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby, daily arrivals at private airports near Churchill Downs in Louisville were up 22 percent in 2022 compared with 2019, with 516 private jets arriving at surrounding airports in the two days prior to the Run for the Roses versus 397 just before the pandemic.
In auto racing, the inaugural Miami F1 Grand Prix held at the Miami International Autodrome in May saw average daily arrivals up 14 percent compared with the Grand Prix held in Austin in November 2019, with 909 private jet arrivals in Florida versus 797 arrivals in Texas.
What’s more, fans attending all the above on average flew in over the two days prior to or on the day of the event, indicating they were looking to amplify the experience and make the most of their getaways, recovering the excitement of the sport they lost over the pandemic. That’s win-win-win for private air charters, local businesses in host cities, and sports fandom alike – an outcome never seen on the playing field.
With the calendar counting down to the highly anticipated World Cup in Qatar in November, travel restrictions continuing to ease around the globe, and more and more people becoming confident about traveling again, it’s game on for private aviation and the wide world of sports.