Are A Lot More NFL Teams About To Lose Their Charter Flights?

Filed Under: American, Delta

Yesterday I posted about how American would no longer be providing charter service to six NFL teams for the 2017 season. Those teams included the Arizona Cardinals, Baltimore Ravens, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, and Pittsburgh Steelers.

American cited a lack of resources for the reason why they can no longer offer this service. To me, that just means they think they can make more money with their regularly scheduled service than they can providing charters. In fact, I sort of expect that they simply raised the price for next year and only three teams were willing to pay it.

I didn’t really view this as too big of a deal since other airlines offer charter services to the sports teams as well and would probably be interested in picking up these contracts. But it turns out that a whole lot more teams might soon be affected.


American might not be alone in dropping some of their NFL customers

ProFootballTalk is now reporting that as many as 20 NFL teams may be on the verge of losing their charter contracts, as Delta and United are believed to be following American’s lead.

Sports and aviation are two of my favorite hobbies, so I decided to take a quick look at which teams charter from which airlines. Between lists compiled by Brian Sumers and Chibears85 over at Reddit, I think this is what the charter arrangements looked like for the 2016 season. (Crossed out teams have already been dropped.)

United Airlines

  • San Francisco 49ers
  • Denver Broncos
  • Tennessee Titans
  • New York Jets
  • Washington Redskins
  • Buffalo Bills
  • Cleveland Browns
  • Houston Texans
  • New York Giants
  • Los Angeles Rams
  • Chicago Bears
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • New Orleans Saints
  • Detroit Lions
  • Kansas City Chiefs

American Airlines

  • Carolina Panthers
  • Pittsburgh Steelers
  • Baltimore Ravens
  • Miami Dolphins
  • Dallas Cowboys
  • Indianapolis Colts
  • Arizona Cardinals
  • Jacksonville Jaguars
  • Philadelphia Eagles

Delta Air Lines

  • Atlanta Falcons
  • Green Bay Packers
  • Minnesota Vikings
  • New England Patriots
  • San Diego Chargers
  • Seattle Seahawks
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • Cincinnati Bengals

Hawaiian Airlines

  • Oakland Raiders (2015)

I was unable to find much information on the Oakland Raiders. It seems that they have an on-again, off-again relationship with Hawaiian Airlines who provided charter service to them at least as recently as the 2015 season. Can anyone confirm that this is still the case?

Also, it’s not entirely clear who provides the charter for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as I’ve seen references to both United and Delta.

Courtesy of Hawaiian Airlines

Which teams are next to lose their charters?

Playing with the numbers, we already know that six have been dropped and United provides service to 15 teams. So if United pulled out of the NFL charter business completely, that would result in “roughly 20” teams getting dropped as ProFootBallTalk is reporting.

Then again, PFT mentions Delta is considering dropping some teams too, so perhaps it is a combination of teams served by United and Delta? 

I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Why is this happening?

I originally speculated that American was pulling the plug on these contracts because domestic flying was more lucrative so it made sense — at least in the short-term — to allocate aircraft to those routes.

But a few readers commented that NFL teams typically charter widebodies given the number of players, coaches, staff, and of course equipment, that needs to be transported. That would seem to imply that these aircraft would displace those on international routes, which haven’t been nearly the cash-cow of late. Plus, the NFL season doesn’t really pick up until the busy summer travel season is over. So who knows.

It’s also sort of interesting to note that four of the six teams that American dropped play in London next fall. That could be a factor, but then again, the consensus seems to be that the league arranges that travel directly. So for now, I’d file it as an interesting coincidence.

Bottom line

Six NFL teams have already lost their charter provider for the 2017 season, with the potential for 15 more to lose their contracts. On one hand, this might just be business as usual with billionaire airlines trying to wring out extra revenue from billionaire sports owners. Or it could be, in the words of the source at ProFootBallTalk, a “real issue” for the league.

It’ll be interesting to see how this shakes out.

Which teams do you think are next to lose their charters?

  1. Another consideration — often times these planes have different seat configurations that are only used for charters (seats facing each other around a table, etc) so I’m sure it wouldn’t make much financial sense to re-configure them to put them back in regular service.

  2. @Alvin – not really. I come here for miles & points information and trip reviews. If I wanted to know about why airlines arent doing charters anymore I’d simply ask my friends in network planning at the various airlines.

  3. Haven’t there also been a number of stories where NFL teams have damaged the interiors of aircraft after losing big games. This would likely take the aircraft out of service far longer than the duration of the charters. Perhaps the airlines have finally said it is no longer worth it.

  4. I find it interesting. Better than pushing credit cards. Not everyone has friends in network planning like you Jason.

  5. Maybe the NY Giants destroying a plane on a charter flight last season was more the normal than people thought. Maybe those occurrences happen more than is publicized.

  6. Is this an issue, yes but a big issue, no. All it takes is money to solve the problem and the NFL has gobs of it. An interesting idea I heard yesterday was the NFL basically starting an airline by buying planes and then contracting with Delta or another airline to provide staffing. With current plethora of games spread throughout the week and number of teams that don’t need to fly to some away games (jets/Pats, skins/eagles/Giants etc..) you would not need a huge fleet. Advantage to NFL owning planes would be that you would only need about one plane for every three teams versus each team having their own plane.

    A big advantage of chartering is that Delta builds in the redundancy in case a plane goes tech. That is impossible to replicate since very few complain/people own a a large fleet of. Widebody aircraft.

    Interesting to see how this plays out. Either NFL forks over a ton of cash to airlines or starts buying airplanes.

  7. @jason

    Leave, troll. Plenty of people find it interesting. “Who cares” that you don’t care? Nobody. Go hang out with your network planning friends instead of wasting our time with your inane comments.

  8. The Raiders used Hawaiian last year. I saw a Hawaiian A330 on the ground in Tampa and couldn’t figure out what it would be doing there. Then I saw the Raiders logo on the front of the aircraft. They were in town to play the Bucs.

  9. I think its interesting that the main theory is that the airlines raised their charter rates. Perhaps the league LOWERED the rate they were willing to pay. Fun to watch what happens when a monopoly and an oligopoly tussle. That being said, I like the theory put out by @Dan and @jkealing regarding ownership and operations.

  10. You are missing the airline that flies the best team in NFL. Yes, JetBlue is the airline of the New England Patriots. Go Patriots!!!!! 🙂 BTW, they don’t just charter a plane to them. They are partners. That is what the other airlines are missing. If you do some research, JetBlue has committed to New England and they sponsor and fly the Boston Red Sox, New England Patriots, Boston Celtics, the Boston Bruins, They have multi year agreements with all these teams instead of just chartering them a plane. That is called innovation when the legacy airlines have no clue what they are doing. BTW, I may be wrong but I don’t think JetBlue has widebody planes so if they can do this other airlines should be able to do as well.

  11. JetBlue is the official airline of the Patriots but also several NY teams. However, they don’t fly any of them. Look at flyertalk or any of the info in the article. JetBlue doesn’t do sports charters. You could not fit the new England Patriots on an a320 with staff, gear and traveling party.

  12. Yes, Oakland does use Hawaiian. There might be 1 or 2 games through the season where Hawaiian is not utilized.

  13. Santastico — JetBlue is the official airline sponsor of the Pats, but the Pats use Delta for their charters.

  14. I’d be really interested in how chartering works for other sports teams, ice hockey, basketball and baseball primarily. With the much higher number of games all over the country/continent I wonder if teams own planes or charter etc…

  15. I accidentally clicked onto this post, which annoyed me as I have zero interest in anything to do with the NFL. Or the NBA. Or the NHL. Or whatever set of initials represents professional baseball.

    But track & field? Now we’re talking! For me, the world comes to a halt when there’s a good decathlon to follow.

    But I digress.

    @Mark F.’s comment made reading this post so worthwhile:
    “Fun to watch what happens when a monopoly and an oligopoly tussle.” I hadn’t thought it in this way and I’m now sort of curious to see how this all ends.

  16. Endre — No, the Bus played for Pittsburgh. But he did take the Bengals for a ride twice a year. 🙂

    Anyway, I did forgot the Bengals. Seems they charter with Delta which makes sense. I think I missed them because I counted the teams and had all 32 — but now I realize that I had the Buccaneers listed twice. Apparently there is some confusion as to whether they charter Delta or United. So I left them in both places for now.

  17. @Santastico – being the “official airline” for a sports franchise is a purely marketing relationship.

  18. Since spring and summer are busy times for the airlines, I’m surprised this “lack of aircraft” problem hasn’t impacted MLB teams which have 80+ road games a year.

  19. The Titans fly on a 757 from United. So some teams do fly narrow bodies. However, I believe the Titans use a 777 in the preseason when the roster is bigger before the final cut. If the legacies cut off their sports team customers, long term look for Eastern Airlines to take over as soon as they expand their fleet. They already are the official airline of University of Miami athletics. Don’t believe me, look it up.

  20. @Michael

    It’s a mix. Some own, some charter. But the other three pro sports charters all use narrow bodies, and there’s a much bigger charter market for narrow bodies than wide bodies. So there’s not nearly this kind of issue for that market. My recollection is that sports charters don’t use the major airlines for this stuff.

  21. I know the NHL isn’t as big as the NFL down there but Air Canada Jetz has carried all the Canadian NHL teams and some of the US teams as well during the season (I think Colorado and Boston still use them). They also do the Toronto Blue Jays and Toronto Raptors.

  22. Delta has a nice sub fleet of all first class planes for charters, they can re seat the plane back to main fleet when needed it takes about 6 hours

  23. How can B6 NOT have the Patriots?

    Somebody’s asleep at the wheel in that corporate office.

    Heck they expect people from Carolinas, Georgia and FL would be willing to fly 3 hours to Boston BEFORE going anyplace else.

    Least you can do is actually represent the hometown kids.

  24. “Delta has a nice sub fleet of all first class planes for charters”

    Yeah, I’ve often wondered about logistics issues with pro teams and other big-time athletic programs. I don’t really see LeBron James or Ben Roethlisberger sitting in a 31-in. pitch seat for a flight to/from the west coast–not to mention all the gear that has to be transported.

  25. A few comments:

    1. RE: JetBlue/Patriots: That’s not an entirely unusual marketing relationship in what B6 wouldn’t fly team charters (unless the secretly bought A330s while we were sleeping or something). Southwest has advertising partnerships with four MLB teams – Baltimore, Milwaukee, San Diego and Texas. Baltimore and Milwaukee charter with United, San Diego with Delta (though, I did observe a WN flight from LAX to SAN after the Padres at LA Dodgers series) and Texas with Atlas Air (using a 767). Also, American has a marketing agreement with the Chicago Cubs, but, according to flight trackers, the Cubs appear to charter with UA (as do 10 other teams). DL, BTW, is the charter carrier of choice for 13 MLB teams, AA flies the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Blue Jays use Air Canada and three other teams use a non-legacy/charter firm (I haven’t been able to track any info on Detroit’s charter provider).

    2. I think there were comments on Monday’s story about an incident involving the New York Giants allegedly trashing a UA 767 on the return charter from Green Bay to Newark which, in turn, caused delays for a UA flight from EWR to London. (Side note: for what it’s worth, WN had a charter flight from Green Bay to EWR according to FlightAware, which I found odd since WN doesn’t serve GRB; WN, however, has made major ad buys with the NFL, including the Super Bowl, so that could’ve been a charter flight for NFL execs returning to New York.)

    3. I can’t say that I’m surprised that AA kicked the Steelers to the curb as, quite frankly, they’ve pretty much downgraded Pittsburgh dating back to the US Airways days.

  26. The remaining American Airlines cities all are hubs for American/US Air. Logistically makes some sense as well.

  27. @Creighton Rabs

    The Detroit Tigers share a plane with the Detroit Red Wings. Currently it is a 36 year old MD-80 that is owned by the two teams ownership

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