American Tells Six NFL Teams To Take Their Business Elsewhere

The major US airlines aren’t just in the business of flying scheduled routes, as most also run a thriving charter service on the side. Sports teams have become one of the biggest customers for these services. That’s because the days when professional sports teams fly commercial are long gone. For that matter, many college teams now charter planes to travel to road games as well.

In the case of college and professional football teams, flying commercial really isn’t an option anyway given how many players, coaches, trainers, and other personnel travel with the team, not to mention the equipment needs.

Well, Forbes is reporting that American Airlines is terminating their relationships with six NFL teams, citing a lack of aircraft to service these teams.

American-AA-plane-PHX

Which teams are affected?

The teams that American is discontinuing their relationship with include:

  • The Arizona Cardinals
  • The Baltimore Ravens
  • The Indianapolis Colts
  • The Jacksonville Jaguars
  • The Miami Dolphins
  • The Pittsburgh Steelers

American will continue to fly the Dallas Cowboys, Carolina Panthers, and Philadelphia Eagles.

It’s interesting to look at which teams chartered with American to begin with. Miami and Dallas were both American hubs, while Philadelphia, Charlotte, Phoenix, and Pittsburgh were US Airways hubs, though US had sort of given up on Pittsburgh even before the merger happened.

That leaves Indianapolis and Jacksonville as oddballs. Northwest tried to operate Indianapolis as a focus city once upon a time, so if I had had to guess, I would have associated the Colts with Delta.

At any rate, these teams will be left looking for other options for the 2017 season.

What does this tell us about American’s business?

To me, this just shows just how insanely profitable domestic flying is right now. American can say they lack the resources all they want, but the reality is that they have plenty of planes to serve these teams — they just don’t want to allocate the aircraft to this use because it would mean curtailing frequencies in other markets.

In fact, my guess would be that American didn’t just outright discontinue their charter service to these teams. More likely they tried to raise the price and a few NFL teams decided they could get service elsewhere. I mean, for the right price, I imagine American could have magically found enough aircraft. And how often do you just fire six major customers? As we know, the domestic aviation market is booming right now.

That said, I do wonder about the long term impact there. Sports charters are a mostly stable business — these teams play a consistent schedule from year-to-year and are mostly resistant to recessions and the like. When (not if) the next economic downturn comes, I wonder if American will regret their decision to suspend these contracts, especially if they end up having to park planes in the desert.

Miami-Airport

Bottom line

I don’t think we need to worry about any of these six teams having to take Greyhound to their road games as there are plenty of other air charter companies that will be happy to pick up the contracts. But it is certainly telling that American has decided to end relationships with six major (and stable) customers. It must be nice to be able to turn down such a consistent revenue stream.

Finally, I’m a little disappointed that my team, the Cleveland Browns, aren’t affected by this since they charter with United. I mean, I’m not sure anyone would notice if the Browns simply failed to show up to their road games since the outcome would be about the same.

What do you make of American’s decision to stop flying six NFL teams?

About Travis

Travis has been playing in the world of miles and points for over a decade. At one time or another he has held status on just about every major domestic airline and hotel program. He has visited all 50 US states and over 50 countries. Nowadays he travels almost exclusively with his wife and three young children.

More articles by Travis »

Comments

  1. The Jaguars used delta for as long as I can remember and as of last year moved to American. don’t know why the switch but interesting after one year getting the boot.

  2. So happy to know my teams (football and baseball) fly with Jet Blue and don’t need to worry about legacy airlines.

  3. I don’t know if Etihad actually charters for some of my teams but, they are the official airline.

  4. @Jason – Real fans stick with their team through bad times. True, most don’t ADVERTISE being a fan of an amazingly awful team, but that just shows moral courage.

  5. And I just think it’s weird that some teams will use one airline for their charter flights while other airline will be “The Official Airline of the…”

  6. Interesting. I saw an AA 777-200 land at CVG bringing the Baltimore Ravens to town for a game in December. Not an efficient use of a 777-200 if you ask me.

  7. With NFL teams only having 8 regular season away games annually and maybe 2 preseason, the NFL would not be as profitable as say MLB or NBA with 40+ away trips.

  8. I heard last year that one of the sport team really trashed up a plane.

    I do wonder how big of a mess those sport team make for the airlines.

  9. I can’t imagine the profit margin being lucrative for sports charters. They have to fly an empty plane to pick up the team (with full set of crew), the catering is customized, the mess they leave behind surely adds up to a nice cleaning bill, then the said empty plane has to be flown back to a hub. In some cases the plane doesn’t stay with the team which means 2x empty roundtrips. Schedule is also a bit more lax compared to scheduled domestic service, which means they have to add in more buffer between when they have to stop scheduling the aircraft on regular flights and when they can put the aircraft back in.

    Plus with NFL starting to play more games in London the cost can add up. While I think sports charters are stable revenue sources for the airline – the profit margin is not very attractive when adding in all the costs plus the loss in potential revenue elsewhere.

  10. Jason and Christian —

    I’m just setting myself up for a wild celebration here on the blog when the Cavs win their second championship in a row. I figure after proclaiming my support of the Browns in this post, nobody will be able to call me a bandwagon fan, LOL!

  11. Looks like other Airlines will be doing the same thing…

    From Profootballtalk.com
    “The issue, based on information from PFT’s source, extends beyond American Airlines. Delta is believed to be doing the same thing, and United could be next. The source said that roughly 20 teams currently don’t have a charter provider for the coming season, and that it could become a “real issue” for the league.”

  12. United as of last season was the charter carrier for the New Orleans Saints. The aircraft used for the charter flight is subbed in for an existing IAH-MSY frequency, so there’s no need for an empty ferry flight. Of course, this wouldn’t work for all teams. It would be interesting to see a 757/767 subbed for an ERJ-145 to work Green Bay’s charter flight.

  13. hsw25: I concur, not every sports charter flies empty to position. Northwest used to provide the charter for Air Force football. And they would fly a commercial special segment in on Thursday, then transport the team to and from, then fly a special segment out on Sunday. It was certainly interesting to see a big mainline jet on the schedule for COS.

  14. @Golfingboy
    That’s the business model of charter airlines, and they are reliably lucrative (unlike commercial airlines), so it’s highly unlikely that doing that doesn’t bring nice profits. Yes, like you said, they have to ferry empty airplanes back and forth, and so, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make a good chunk on these flights.
    Like Travis said, this decision is probably a consequence of the good domestic activity, that the majors like AA don’t really see the need to offer charter flights.

  15. American can do this since NFL charters are just not big business. 10 trips a year. MLB might be 25-40. Probs 30ish range for basketball and hockey.

    The stable revenue being forgone is much lower. Also, other teams travel on smaller planes. Less flexibility with NFL since you almost certainly need a widebody to move all the staff, equipment and players.

  16. While MIA is an AA hub, the Dolphins usually charter out of FLL (their practice facility in the approach path to FLL; flying in, I’ve actually looked out the window and seen them practicing).
    Grew up in Pittsburgh back in the day when it was USAir’s biggest hub, and at the time the Steelers chartered United.
    I guess the Steeler paint job on the ex-USAirways aircraft is going to get painted over. Boo.

  17. @Travis FINALLY, a well written off topic article WITHOUT a political slant! Well done and much appreciated!

  18. 48 flights plus playoffs. So, maybe 52 round trip charter flights per season.

    Can’t imagine an average of 1 charter RT per week is going to make or break an airline.

  19. Kind of an interesting fact: Delta has many (all?) of the NBA contracts. They use normal revenue-service aircraft..BUT…before basketball season starts, the interiors are re-fitted with a VIP/charter interior. The interiors are actually owned by the NBA. I don’t remember exactly which aircraft they use but it was either 717 or A319s.

  20. I thought DL has one or a couple aircraft outfitted (meaning, domestic F-class type seating throughout) for charters, so I don’t think they would go the opt our route that AA has?

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