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Article on Sports Charters at Delta

General Lee

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Teams Score Elite Service in the Sky
By SCOTT MCCARTNEY -- WSJ
October 24, 2012

Delta Air Lines Flight 8874 from St. Louis to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., served grilled halibut with smashed potatoes and Dove ice cream bars. On Flight 8942, passengers had large fold-out tables for card games and beds big enough to accommodate 7-footers.

Forget first class. Private jets? Lousy by comparison—too cramped and understaffed. If you want the pinnacle of air travel today, the poshest of the posh, fly with a professional sports team, like the St. Louis Rams football squad on Flight 8874, or basketball's New Orleans Hornets on Flight 8942.

Pro teams long ago gave up flying on regularly scheduled commercial trips, and most have done away with owning their own planes, though there are some notable exceptions. Instead, airlines—particularly Delta—and charter companies cater to teams with tricked-out jets, handpicked flight attendants and meals from players' favorite restaurants, sometimes served on silver trays.

Team charters often used to amount to a fraternity party of beer, pizza and junk food, sometimes with guitar playing and rookie hazing, but airlines say the days of raucous party flights are gone. Many teams ban alcohol, have nutritionists select menus and set up plane interiors so coaches can study game films and players can sleep. The most popular drink on National Basketball Association flights, according to Delta: Snapple Kiwi-Strawberry juice drink.

A big win still triggers in-flight celebration, and a player injury can make for a subdued journey. But most often, it is simply a business trip.

"They just want to get where they are going,'' said Denny Yaider, a charter coordinator for Delta who travels with teams to handle logistics and unexpected problems. "It's usually pretty subdued. They are tired and worn out after a game."

Among Mr. Yaider's duties: coordinating bus service and security screening, towing planes and refueling jets if regular workers don't show up and hunting down and returning items left behind on aircraft. These include everything from cellphones and cash-filled wallets to a tooth left behind by a hockey player sitting in seat 6B on a flight. (The tooth was never found.)

Delta takes eight of its Airbus A319 jets out of regular passenger service in October and installs special interiors designed by the NBA. Instead of 126 seats, there are only 54. The plane is segregated into three cabins—the front for players, with 16 seats that fold out into beds for 7-footers, 10 seats in the middle for coaches and 28 in the rear for team staff, security and beat reporters. Even the seats in the rear have more space than normal domestic first-class seats.

This year, Delta has been flying 21 of the 30 NBA teams, 15 of the 30 Major League Baseball teams and 15 of the 32 National Football League teams. The airline also carries two National Hockey League teams, 35 college football teams and 40 college basketball teams. Baseball and football teams typically fly on jets with regular seating, such as Boeing BA -0.15% 757s and wide-body 767 or 777s. Domestic team flights typically cost $75,000 to $200,000 each way, Delta says.

For teams, the convenience of postgame charters can ease the grind of frequent travel and keep players fresher for the next game.

"Travel can be a big thing affecting the outcome of a game," said former MLB pitcher Rick Sutcliffe, now an analyst with ESPN. "If it helps you win one game, one game can be all the difference between making the playoffs or not."

A bad flight can make headlines. Player arguments over heated card games have erupted into in-flight fights. The Baltimore Orioles had a scare early this month when smoke in a galley forced their Delta charter to land in Jacksonville, Fla., while the team was headed to the Tampa area. The plane was inspected, deemed OK and allowed to continue.

Teams try to be very private about their travel. While they carry reporters who cover the team, they ask them to agree to refrain from writing about team travels. Multiple football, baseball and basketball teams declined a request to ride along on a flight for this story. A spokeswoman for the Dallas Mavericks, which have their own Boeing 757 decked out with large bathrooms and plush seating, said, for example, "We don't let anyone do stories about our plane."

Private Jet Services Group, a Seabrook, N.H., company that handles teams, rock groups and corporate charters, has contracts with a half-dozen professional hockey and basketball teams, along with 10 major college programs. Some flights carry a therapist for rubdowns and treatments in-flight. One of its hockey teams wants all organic food on board. Another wants all high-protein food and no carbohydrates. (A few still load beer and junk food.) Some college teams spend more on charters than some pro teams.

Fancy flying "becomes a significant recruiting tool,'' said Private Jet Services Chief Executive Greg Raiff.

Sports charters help Delta use planes in the winter, when regular passenger travel slows. The airline was going to send leased A319 jets back to owners in its bankruptcy reorganization in 2008 when the NBA asked the airline about a dedicated team charter fleet. The planes fly regular service in the busy summer months, then convert to charter planes.

"We wanted planes for only four months a year. It was a perfect fit," said Bill Wernecke, director of Delta's charter department.

The airline keeps a profile on each team—preferences down to the head coach's favorite drink, snack and superstitions. Some teams want a big-screen TV on board for playing videogames. Some want a buffet laid out before departure. Others prefer in-flight plate service. "You cannot set up the Pacers the way you set up the Bobcats," said Mr. Wernecke.

About 75% of sports charters take off later than 11 p.m., Delta said. Typically, baggage gets sent early to the plane, and crews monitor game action so they know if a game may extend to overtime, delaying the flight.

Players, coaches, staff and reporters sometimes get screened by TSA-approved security contractors at arenas before boarding buses, or go through screening when they walk from a bus to the stairs of a plane. It is usually done out of the way of fans and autograph seekers, though the Green Bay Packers sometimes go through public TSA screening at their home airport to the cheers of die-hard fans.

Delta selects sports-charter flight attendants candidates based on attendance, commendations and work history. Officials from college and professional teams then get to sit in on interviews with flight attendants each season, and draft their preferred roster. Flight attendants typically wear team-branded shirts instead of airline uniforms.

"You'd think they want the youngest and best-looking, but it's not that way at all. They want experienced, well-spoken flight attendants with a professional attitude," said Mr. Wernecke. "Teams are afraid of the 23-year-old beauty queen. They think only bad things can happen.''

Every flight attendant in the NFL pool at Delta has to sign a code of conduct that prohibits asking for autographs or tickets and taking pictures. Flight attendants and charter coordinators often get close to teams. The Packers gave their flight attendants tickets to the Super Bowl last year, Delta says. Some charter coordinators have been given team championship rings.

Most teams prefer delivery from restaurants rather than airport-kitchen cuisine. Delta has contracts with national chains Morton's The Steakhouse and P.F. Chang's China Bistro, and others, but teams often prefer local delicacies, such as barbecue when leaving Memphis or Cajun food on New Orleans flights.

For retiring Braves player Chipper Jones's final charter flight from Atlanta, Delta had Atlanta chef Kevin Rathbun prepare an elaborate feast, including lobster ravioli and Georgia shrimp-and-jalapeno sliders pre-departure, with crispy duck breast with orzo for dinner in-flight. Dessert included pink lemonade cheesecake




Bye Bye---General Lee
 

labatt

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Very interesting. Righteous bucks. Bet it was a lot of fun back in the "good old days".
 

General Lee

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Very interesting. Righteous bucks. Bet it was a lot of fun back in the "good old days".

It's still fun now, but maybe not THAT fun. A lot of the food is not eaten by the teams, so there is always left overs, and that means bags full of Dove bars, huge Snickers, gatorades, and good stuff too, like Sushi and tasty chicken sandwiches. It's whatever the team and owners want. You also have to park at FBOs sometimes, which can be tight for a 767-300.


Bye Bye---General Lee
 

Freebrd

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XJet does many college BB and even some FB teams. Hard to believe DAL allows a team to fly on 3-4 50 seat RJs but I know for sure Ga and Al football teams have been carted around like this.
 

RJLoser

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It's still fun now, but maybe not THAT fun. A lot of the food is not eaten by the teams, so there is always left overs, and that means bags full of Dove bars, huge Snickers, gatorades, and good stuff too, like Sushi and tasty chicken sandwiches. It's whatever the team and owners want. You also have to park at FBOs sometimes, which can be tight for a 767-300.


Bye Bye---General Lee

GL- I'm bummed you are that excited over Gatorade, candy bars and a leftover sandwich. Very telling about the state of this industry.
 

777forever

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GL- I'm bummed you are that excited over Gatorade, candy bars and a leftover sandwich. Very telling about the state of this industry.

Oh please, pilots have been cheapos since Orville & Wilbur took to the skies at Kittyhawk. You know this man!


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bizicmo

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Those charters are always inefficient and a waste of time.

I like this quote, "You'd think they want the youngest and best-looking, but it's not that way at all. They want experienced, well-spoken flight attendants with a professional attitude," said Mr. Wernecke. "Teams are afraid of the 23-year-old beauty queen. They think only bad things can happen.''

Well delta is a perfect fit for them, there is nothing pretty there. The only chance any of them were 23 year old beauty queens was in 1970's at best. Come on professional athletes want the "old professional attitude" over the 23 year old beauty queen? Who is he trying to fool?
 

labbats

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Those charters are always inefficient and a waste of time.

I like this quote, "You'd think they want the youngest and best-looking, but it's not that way at all. They want experienced, well-spoken flight attendants with a professional attitude," said Mr. Wernecke. "Teams are afraid of the 23-year-old beauty queen. They think only bad things can happen.''

Well delta is a perfect fit for them, there is nothing pretty there. The only chance any of them were 23 year old beauty queens was in 1970's at best. Come on professional athletes want the "old professional attitude" over the 23 year old beauty queen? Who is he trying to fool?

Teams are afraid of them. I'm pretty sure the players themselves aren't.
 

General Lee

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GL- I'm bummed you are that excited over Gatorade, candy bars and a leftover sandwich. Very telling about the state of this industry.

Hi, I guess you didn't read the actual food provided on those charters? If there are leftovers, we get them, including sushi, and all of the other meals. The Pro teams usually have the better food compared to the NCAA football teams, and that is where you see more Snickers bars, chicken sandwiches, etc. If you had actually read the article, you would see what the pro teams eat, and there are always leftovers, which are 10 times better than your RJ food. You also left out the Dove Bars I mentioned, for unknown reasons.

So, what kind of food do you eat on your RJ? What what? Exactly.



Bye Bye---General Lee
 
Last edited:

General Lee

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Those charters are always inefficient and a waste of time.

I like this quote, "You'd think they want the youngest and best-looking, but it's not that way at all. They want experienced, well-spoken flight attendants with a professional attitude," said Mr. Wernecke. "Teams are afraid of the 23-year-old beauty queen. They think only bad things can happen.''

Well delta is a perfect fit for them, there is nothing pretty there. The only chance any of them were 23 year old beauty queens was in 1970's at best. Come on professional athletes want the "old professional attitude" over the 23 year old beauty queen? Who is he trying to fool?

Hi, when there are capacity cuts to normal routes, that means certain plane types aren't used as much. Those excess planes are now used on charters, and there are also many other charters done, like MAC charters. Using planes instead of leaving them parked is A GOOD THING. The teams choose the flight attendants, they are paying for the plane. If they are cranky, they are gone. It must be working out well, look at the profits. You have no idea what you are talking about, obviously. And, you are jealous.



Bye Bye---General Lee
 

DTW320

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Usually a lot of fun for the crews and a HUGE money maker for the airline.

The NBA program at Delta originated at NWA on the 727. Corporate interior with floor mounted mahogany tables and huge leather Captain's swivel chairs.

The teams loved the ability to board via the aft airstairs. During the offseason they would be swapped back to normal interior but a few would stay configured and they would sell charters to a variety of folks.....White house press corp charters (chasing Air force One around usually in and out of Andrews), even bands. Heck NWA flew the Rolling Stones and Alice Cooper around on those 72's for a while....talk about the good old days...THOSE were fun.

Program went away when NWA retired the 727's but returned later using A319's as the article mentioned.

The food is usually pretty amazing...not so much for grabbing leftovers (good luck beating the F/A's and ground crews to the goodies) but the crew meals are the same stuff as well as the occasional pre-departure platter brought up.

Usually a good deal for the crews overall and flying these guys plus going in/out of FBO's is a nice break from the routine. The teams love'em, especially the NBA interiors, and the charter dudes say we have a waiting list for the program.
 

GIZMONC

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Delta is just doing what NW did for years. NW had decidated 727-200 with same seating configuration. I will say this the traveling secretary for each team is a major PAIN IN THE ARSE. Working with the NY Yankees years ago flying from OAK-LGA nonstop he briefed the crew before leaving OAK. His briefing was very downgrading, telling the flight deck and the FA not to ask for signatures on paper or baseballs. He sat his butt in the front of the plane and slept most of the flight. Best player I ever had on a sport charter was Kenneth Gene Caminiti, God rest his soul.
 

nimtz

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Hi, I guess you didn't read the actual food provided on those charters? If there are leftovers, we get them, including sushi, and all of the other meals. The Pro teams usually have the better food compared to the NCAA football teams, and that is where you see more Snickers bars, chicken sandwiches, etc. If you had actually read the article, you would see what the pro teams eat, and there are always leftovers, which are 10 times better than your RJ food. You also left out the Dove Bars I mentioned, for unknown reasons.

So, what kind of food do you eat on your RJ? What what? Exactly.



Bye Bye---General Lee


Wow leftover baller sushi?!? Play on fluffier!
 

IAHERJ

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It's still fun now, but maybe not THAT fun. A lot of the food is not eaten by the teams, so there is always left overs, and that means bags full of Dove bars, huge Snickers, gatorades, and good stuff too, like Sushi and tasty chicken sandwiches. It's whatever the team and owners want. You also have to park at FBOs sometimes, which can be tight for a 767-300.


Bye Bye---General Lee

Yeah, we fly more NFL teams than anyone. I had an interesting trip into DCA in a 757-300(Saints use the 767-400 but we couldn't do it into DCA that day) one evening. We stayed the night in DC then flew them up to PVD after their white house visit. A 767-400 was waiting for us to return them to MSY after playing the Patriots. All the runways were short for the stretch 757 and of course the 767 but that is normal ops when doing charters. I enjoy the charters and the crews and all that goes into them. Continental flew more teams than anyone before we merged. We know how to treat the teams.
 

BILL LUMBERG

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Usually a lot of fun for the crews and a HUGE money maker for the airline.

The NBA program at Delta originated at NWA on the 727. Corporate interior with floor mounted mahogany tables and huge leather Captain's swivel chairs.

The teams loved the ability to board via the aft airstairs. During the offseason they would be swapped back to normal interior but a few would stay configured and they would sell charters to a variety of folks.....White house press corp charters (chasing Air force One around usually in and out of Andrews), even bands. Heck NWA flew the Rolling Stones and Alice Cooper around on those 72's for a while....talk about the good old days...THOSE were fun.

Program went away when NWA retired the 727's but returned later using A319's as the article mentioned.

The food is usually pretty amazing...not so much for grabbing leftovers (good luck beating the F/A's and ground crews to the goodies) but the crew meals are the same stuff as well as the occasional pre-departure platter brought up.

Usually a good deal for the crews overall and flying these guys plus going in/out of FBO's is a nice break from the routine. The teams love'em, especially the NBA interiors, and the charter dudes say we have a waiting list for the program.

Wow!!

You make it sound like those of us Bubba Gumps never did a charter before.....only NWA were the Masters at it!

We name all our planes Jen-Nay!!!!
 

BILL LUMBERG

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Yeah, we fly more NFL teams than anyone. Continental flew more teams than anyone before we merged. We know how to treat the teams.

Here comes the usual FI "Mine is bigger than yours" argument!

Standard!!!!
 

bizicmo

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Hi, when there are capacity cuts to normal routes, that means certain plane types aren't used as much. Those excess planes are now used on charters, and there are also many other charters done, like MAC charters. Using planes instead of leaving them parked is A GOOD THING. The teams choose the flight attendants, they are paying for the plane. If they are cranky, they are gone. It must be working out well, look at the profits. You have no idea what you are talking about, obviously. And, you are jealous.



Bye Bye---General Lee

I like it, you make a nice clean post with just information and then the last sentence you have to throw in the jealous remark. That last sentence made me laugh. bravo
 

General Lee

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I like it, you make a nice clean post with just information and then the last sentence you have to throw in the jealous remark. That last sentence made me laugh. bravo

You're welcome. It is a lucrative business, and uses planes during the slow season, which is good. And your remarks warranted that response.


Bye Bye---General Lee
 
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