Flying America’s Game: The Airlines That Move NFL Teams

Delta provides travel for both Super Bowl teams this year

The New England Patriots arrive in Houston for Super Bowl LI on a Delta 767-300 (Photo courtesy of New England Patriots/David Silverman)

With America’s most popular game reaching its 2016/2017 climax during Super Bowl LI this weekend, thousands of fans will flock to Houston, and so will the teams.

This year’s Super Bowl team transport is provided by Delta with the New England Patriots taking a Boeing 767-300 and the Atlanta Falcons taking a Boeing 777-200 to the big game earlier this week. Over the course of the 18-week season and the four-week playoffs, the following carriers provided service to these teams:

American Airlines – Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, Arizona Cardinals, Carolina Panthers, Indianapolis Colts, and Philadelphia Eagles

Delta Air Lines – Atlanta Falcons, Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, San Diego Chargers, and Cincinnati Bengals

United Airlines – Buffalo Bills, Los Angeles Rams, New Orleans, Saints, Washington Redskins, San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, Kansas City Chiefs, New York Jets, New York Giants, and Tennessee Titans

Hawaiian Airlines – Oakland Raiders

While most of these airlines are set in stone for the entire year, it is not uncommon for teams to choose other modes of transportation depending on the game’s distance. For example, Virgin Atlantic is the official airline of the NFL’s International Series in London at Wembley Stadium.

In the Northeast, where a majority of the rival teams are close, it is not uncommon to see teams like the New York Giants, Washington Redskins, and Philadelphia Eagles travel by either a bus or charter an Amtrak train along the Northeast Corridor.

Aircraft required to fly these teams tend to vary but the go to is usually widebody fleets. The most common aircraft are the Airbus A330 and Boeing 767 but it is possible to also see a team use a Boeing 777, Boeing 757 or Airbus A321 to get to the game.

When flying, seating is usually determined by either the coach or the management. The choice of who flies in first class is also determined and can either be the important players, the coaching staff or the linemen, who are often considered underappreciated.  Depending on the aircraft size, teams might have extra seats which would be distributed to either family members or media who work with the team. Onboard teams are usually given a wide variety of snacks and meals as a way to keep these athletes well fed, sometimes picked by the coach to ensure his team is getting a well balanced or high carbohydrate meal.

Airlines have supplied teams with numerous options but unlike other leagues like England and Wales’s Premier League which sees teams play each other twice, the NFL breaks teams up into division, with each team playing in their division twice and then teams from two other divisions once, leaving teams travelling different amounts of miles per season.

Over the course of this NFL regular season and playoffs, teams travelled anywhere between 6000 and 36,000 miles. The top five teams that travelled the farthest were the Los Angeles Rams (36,000 miles), Oakland Raiders (34,000 miles), Seattle Seahawks (32,300 miles), Miami Dolphins (27,600 miles), and the San Francisco 49ers (25,800 miles).

On the contrary, teams in the Northeast and Midwest dominated the shorter distance with the Cleveland Browns (6,000 miles) travelling the shortest distance followed by the Baltimore Ravens (7,100 miles), Pittsburgh Steelers (7,600 miles), Chicago Bears (8,800 miles), and Tennessee Titans (10,600 miles). With the 2016/2017 season nearly in the books, airlines and a majority of the teams can relax as they prepare for a busy summer and another NFL season starting in September.

Ian McMurtry

Ian McMurtry

Ian has been an avgeek since 2004 when he started spotting US Airways Express planes at Johnstown Airport in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. He now lives in Wichita and enjoys spotting planes in Kansas City and Wichita as well as those flying at high altitudes over his home. He is a pilot with more than 40 hours of experience behind a Cessna 172, Diamond DA-20, and Piper PA-28. He flies Southwest Airlines on most of his domestic flights and Icelandair when flying to Europe. Ian’s route map spans from Iceland and Alaska in the north to St. Maarten in the south. He is a student at Wichita State University, where he will study aerospace and mechanical engineering.
Ian McMurtry
  • BernieFlatters

    Do the team members get frequent flyer miles on those flights?