LEAKED MEMO: NCAA Faces a Shortage of Charter Aircraft, Sees Hardship Ahead

Airlines don’t have a lot of spare planes that they’re willing to charter for the NCAA tournament, so in pursuit of a seamless travel experience for collegiate basketball teams there are going to have to be some sacrifices — like:

  • Women’s teams will be required to take departures as late as 10pm. They can fly a day earlier than usual if they wish and will be paid an extra day’s per diem if they do.
  • Men’s teams with an early game time in the second round will be required to fly home the same day they played. Teams with start times after 3pm will fly home the next day — but might have to fly early. But if their travel is late in the day, they’ll get extra per diem and be guaranteed late checkout of their hotel.

This line is priceless,

As we face these charter travel challenges together, we respectfully ask that all teams be flexible in their requests and recognize there are larger issues at stake than just arrangements for individual teams.

Teams are also asked to show up on time for their charter flights, since arriving late doesn’t just mean their team is late but it will affect downstream operations for the charter aircraft, causing delays for other teams as well.

Put another way, this is a request rather than a threat that the jetway door closes 10 minutes prior to departure and anyone not there will be left behind and have to fly commercial.

Click to enlarge:

(HT: Brian Sumers)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Not that I like the NCAA tournament, but there surely is a logistical issue, especially in the early rounds, where the organizers have only a few days to make arrangements for thousands of people. It must be quite a task, indeed.

    But I had no idea that it could require 747’s.

  2. I guess I don’t get why this is such a crazy thing for the NCAA to distribute. The bracket is revealed on Sunday and the first full round of games (which they call the 2nd round, but I hate that, so first round for me it is!) is on Thursday and Friday (that’s 64 teams criss-crossing the country on probably Mon-Wed). You have 16 games each on Thu/Fri, which means you have 32 losing teams from the first round you need to send home Thu/Fri/Sat, then another 8 games each on Sat/Sun, sending home 16 losing teams on Sat/Sun/Mon.

    That’s a lot of destinations and flights.

  3. I believe you’re attempting to ridicule overprivileged college athletes here for “hardships” involved in traveling by private charter. Your ridicule, IMHO, is misplaced. You do realize, don’t you, that pairings and schedules are announced only one-two days before the tournament starts, and that teams are sent all over the country, on short notice? Many venues for early round games are in secondary markets, such as Omaha, Dayton, Louisville, Columbus, with limited air service, and it seems unlikely that a team from New Mexico, for example, would suddenly be able to scrounge up 25 seats on a particular flight schedule to one of these cities on one day’s notice. Charter is a virtual necessity under those circumstances. The memo in question might be mildly humorous to those unfamiliar with the logistics of this tournament, but “priceless”? I don’t think so.

  4. Context:
    They make ~$775 million in just in TV revenue from the tournament. I would venture they make close to a billion dollars/tournament year if you add tickets and all the other revenue.

    Also, not all teams need to travel by air. In many regions in the early rounds, big teams stay local and can take a bus (Duke to Charlotte, Kansas to KC/STL, UCLA to LA/San Diego/Anaheim, Texas to Dallas/Houston, Arizona to Phoenix, Syracuse to NYC/Boston). So it’s fewer teams than you think.

  5. When I was in college I traveled with our team to the NCAA tournament. We had a 757 charter from Delta where the flight time was changed 5 times to get from PVD to MCI. When we lost we had to get on a plane 2 hrs later and left at 1am from MCI.

  6. Gary,

    Perhaps you can elaborate a bit.

    Are you finding it precious that the “student athletes” and their entourages are going by charter at all?

    And I’ll expose my own biases – I think the entire enterprise is bullshit and rather much a malarkey. But given the demands associated with operating a live tournament, getting participants in place when who the participants in each place are is unknown until a few days prior must be a challenge.

    And, yes,given the size of the TV audience, NCAA should want players properly “rested” and performing at their best. FWIW, When Jeopardy! operates an invitational tournament, they get similarly concerned about contestants’ travel even without the demand of live TV.

  7. @PW,

    You have 13 scholarship athletes + 3 or 4 coaches + 2-3 trainers + 1-2 team doctors. You have 10+ cheerleaders and maybe 10 more dancers. 50+ band members. 20 school administrators/board members/big donors who get on the flight. Then there is local media and student media. There is a bunch of equipment that goes too – balls, training aids, medical supplies, clothes, etc.

    The crowds get big, fast!

    That being said, I think its a really cool post! Great airline logistics challenge.

  8. I’m a big fan of NCAA round ball, but this is the absolute epitome of “first world problem.”

  9. What Robert said.

    I follow the NCAA tournament because I like college basketball. These games are literally all over the country, and, as Robert said, flights often have to be arranged at the last minute, pending whether or not a team makes it to the next round.

    And, as mentioned, a lot of these games are in secondary markets, which further make travel difficult.

    Furthermore, we’re also looking at the Spring Break travel season, which is often a peak travel season as well.

    The logistics of arranging all of this travel is more complicated than people think.

  10. I regret that Gary has chosen to ignore requests for clarification on precisely why this memo is so “priceless.” It appears he was caught snarking on a matter he really didn’t understand, and so he’s walking away from it. Of course, it’s his blog!

  11. I disagree with Gary and Brian. It is not “priceless” or “tone deaf”. What you have is someone who is charged with the logistical headache of moving over 120 teams (men and women) around the country in tight time frames with extremely limited resources and significant consequences when it all starts to unravel. Forget that it is the NCAA, anyone you think is privileged, etc. As much as I respect you Gary, I think you and Brian are coming off as holier than thou on this.

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