Eastern Airlines, which I’ve in the past called the world’s strangest airline, is facing a $22.8 million lawsuit from the New England Patriots. This sounds like a messy situation…
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Backstory of New England Patriots & Eastern Airlines
Transporting professional sports teams is quite the logistical challenge, given the number of people that need to be transported, plus the importance of reliability. A vast majority of sports teams set up contracts with airlines and charter operators for moving their teams around.
In 2017, the New England Patriots made headlines, when the team picked up two used Boeing 767-300s (which are now 30+ years old). The team reportedly paid only $10 million for the pair of jets, both of which previously flew for American Airlines. The idea was that the Patriots would no longer have to rely on charter contracts for transporting the team.
Below is a cool video that gives you a sense of the logistics of this.
In 2020, the New England Patriots entered into an agreement with Eastern Airlines, to essentially operate these aircraft on behalf of the Patriots for six NFL seasons. As you’d expect, the Patriots don’t actually have any expertise in aviation, so it’s more efficient to outsource this in terms of maintenance, staffing, and general logistics.
Since then, Eastern Airlines has been operating these aircraft in the New England Patriots livery on behalf of the team. For those not familiar with Eastern Airlines, this is a rather unusual US airline that has very limited commercial service (the airline flies once monthly from Miami to Santo Domingo), and otherwise operates charter flights.
New England Patriots now suing Eastern Airlines
The New York Post is reporting that the New England Patriots filed a $22.8 million lawsuit against Eastern Airlines in Manhattan Federal Court. The lawsuit alleges a breach of contract, as Eastern Airlines gave the team an ultimatum shortly before the season started — the company wanted more money, or it wouldn’t operate these flights, despite having a multi-year agreement in place. This caused the New England Patriots to terminate its contract with the airline.
The New England Patriots are suing for damages, citing Eastern’s attempt “to wring additional, unbargained-for compensation.” Per the lawsuit:
“If the [New England Patriots] did not pay Eastern more than provided for in the parties’ agreement, Eastern would simply walk away from the agreement, leaving the Patriots without an airplane operator on the eve of the upcoming NFL season, and with no plan in place to transport the Patriots’ sizeable contingent of players, coaches, and other personnel across the country.”
This sure is a puzzling situation on many levels. How exactly did Eastern Airlines get into a situation where it was losing money operating these charter contracts? I feel like there must be more to this.
I’m confused by how exactly Eastern Airlines is still in business, as I’m not sure what the carrier’s business model is? The company has a fleet of Boeing 767s and Boeing 777s that are barely utilized, the airline has repeatedly announced routes and then not launched them, and seemingly the company can’t even follow through on a charter contract with the Patriots? Is the airline relying on its new planned route to Wuhan to pay the bills?
I can’t help but wonder if there’s more at play here. Did Eastern’s contract include paying a fixed amount for maintenance, and that has proven more costly than planned, or…? From the perspective of an airline, the beauty of these kinds of contracts is supposed to be that they can be reliably profitable, since you’re not taking any risks with having to sell airline tickets, etc.
New England Patriots will now fly American Airlines
The New England Patriots are reportedly using American Airlines for charter services this NFL season, given the fallout with Eastern Airlines. So even though the New England Patriots purchased the two Boeing 767s and leased them out to Eastern Airlines, it doesn’t seem like the company will be operating these planes again, at least for the time being.
Only time will tell if the New England Patriots eventually operate these 767s again, or if this was just a short lived experiment.
In theory, a sports team having its own aircraft isn’t the worst idea in the world. It can be a competitive advantage to attract talent (especially if the plane is comfortable), and it can also be economical. The issue is that operating aircraft reliably is no small task, so most sports teams need a third party to do this. Clearly that’s what the New England Patriots were looking to Eastern Airlines for, but that didn’t work out.
The New England Patriots are suing Eastern Airlines, which has been operating the sports team’s two Boeing 767s for the past few years. The New England Patriots made quite the splash in 2017, when they decided to acquire their own jets. While that seemed like a cool idea at the time, it hasn’t worked out too well, as Eastern Airlines is accused of significantly increasing what it was charging the Patriots.
The team decided to cut ties with the airline, and is now suing for $22.8 million. You can expect the Patriots to be flying with American Airlines for this season.
What do you make of this situation between the New England Patriots and Eastern Airlines?