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New England Patriots, Eastern Airlines Face Off in Lawsuit
The charter operator demanded more money to fly the NFL team.
Moving NFL teams is a massive logistical challenge. Teams need to move hundreds of players and staff and thousands of pounds of equipment every time they go on the road, and they often fly business class to accommodate the large size of many players.
The business of moving sports teams is so lucrative that major airlines have aircraft specially dedicated to moving the teams they’re partnered with. However, in recent years, some NFL teams have reverted to buying their own airplanes to cut the middleman and handle travel themselves.
The Patriots’ Team Jets
One of the most notable teams to do so was the New England Patriots, who in 2017, purchased two Boeing 767-300s and painted them in a unique livery featuring six Lombardi trophies. The team hired Eastern Airlines in 2020 to operate the flights, and the airline has since used the planes on cargo and charter flights during the NFL offseason to make extra money.
The contract that the Patriots signed with Eastern was for six seasons, which should have gotten them through the end of the 2026 season. However, the team alleges that Eastern violated that contract by threatening to stop operating the flights without more money. According to the New York Post, the Patriots cut ties with the airline and subsequently filed a $22.8 million lawsuit against Eastern in Manhattan court, along with a holding company that leased the planes to Eastern for the originally agreed-upon six seasons.
“If the [New England Patriots] did not pay Eastern more than provided for in the parties’ agreement, Eastern would simply walk away from the agreement, leaving the Patriots without an airplane operator on the eve of the upcoming NFL season, and with no plan in place to transport the Patriots’ sizeable contingent of players, coaches, and other personnel across the country,” the Patriots allege.
While the lawsuit is pending, the Patriots will go back to chartering American Airlines jets for the season. The iconic Patriots jets will sit idle until a resolution is reached.
Economics of Private Team Jets
Purchasing a jet is not a bad idea for sports teams that have the upfront capital to do so. Buying jets, even ones as old as the Patriots’, is not a cheap endeavor, but if a team could afford the upfront cost, they would save on operating expenses by handling many of the costs of travel themselves.
However, airplanes only make money when they’re actually flying. This is one of the great perks of working with an operator like Eastern. Not only would the Patriots not take on the additional hassle of hiring crews, worrying about currency, and paying to maintain the jet themselves, but the plane could more easily make money during the offseason by utilizing the established connections the operator already has.
Thus, the Patriots are losing out on a lot of money with their jets sitting on the ground, as they still need to pay for maintenance, to store the aircraft, and to keep the aircraft properly registered. There are also additional checks that must be completed on planes long sitting idle before they can be returned to service later on.
These effects are compounded by the fact that the Patriots own not one but two planes, apparently so they would have a backup available if one plane encountered maintenance issues at an inconvenient time. So the airline needs to maintain not one but two idling jets as they work out the lawsuit with Eastern and find a new operator.
Eastern Airlines’ Situation
Why exactly Eastern demanded more money is as of yet unclear. One must wonder, though, whether the carrier is in financial trouble and saw this demand as one of the few ways they would bring on additional capital. If that is the case, though, it didn’t work, and the lost flight time would only compound any potential financial issues the airline has.
What’s clear is that Eastern has big plans for its future. The airline is currently in the process of starting its second regularly scheduled route: flying from New York to Wuhan, China. The airline’s only scheduled route connects Miami with Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. Perhaps that has unexpected costs that the airline wanted to offset, or maybe they see their services in higher demand due to the plans for the scheduled route and felt they had to charge more for services that draw resources away from their new scheduled operations.
At the time of writing, Eastern has not commented on the suit, so we do not really know why exactly it demanded more money or how they plan to respond to this suit.
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