As demand for travel increases among the general public, some airlines are cutting back on charter flight offerings for collegiate athletics programs. In today’s sprawling athletic conferences, some programs are scrambling to find reliable travel.
Even as conferences have spread across the map, the unique requirements of charter planes have put a strain on airlines. College football teams, for example, typically require large planes to move players, coaches and staff who can total 150 or more. College teams often fly to road games on Fridays and return home on Saturdays, while the plane remains idle in between times, according to Bloomberg Quint. As airfares have increased, airlines can make much more money by keeping those planes in use continuously.
Some programs, like Eastern Carolina of the American Athletic Conference, are feeling left in the lurch. The closest conference opponent on ECU’s four-game road schedule next season is still 650 miles away, and the team will have to travel 1,300 miles — halfway across the country — to Houston for its furthest road contest.
After JetBlue told ECU charter flights would no longer be available to them, the team found a different carrier, reportedly paying Allegiant Air $430,000 for the 2017 season. After that, however, the team’s travel options are up in the air.
“I’m worried like hell right now about next year,” ECU travel coordinator Terrell Smith told Bloomberg.
If the team is forced to travel by bus to those games, it will cost the players an extra day in the classroom.
Some teams with fewer miles to travel are already looking at buses. The Illinois football team, which put out a bid for charter air travel that went unheeded by the major airlines, will take a four-hour bus ride instead of a 26 minute flight to play Iowa next year. Tim Knox, who handles team travel, has also said they’ll probably bus to Wisconsin.
Bloomberg reports that Southwest Airlines may be a solution for some schools, as they are the only carrier expanding its college charter business.
“You have to assume they’re struggling to find lift now that whoever their provider was has decided not to do it this season,” Southwest director of charters Bert Craus says. “I’ve noticed more teams are out there than normal.”