Delta bumps passengers for UF basketball team


In this file photo, a plane breaks free of heavy fog as it makes its way to Gainesville Regional Airport on Nov. 5, 2013.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, December 2, 2013 at 9:45 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 2:09 p.m.

Travelers at the Gainesville Regional Airport were forced to reconfigure their plans Sunday afternoon after Delta Air Lines canceled their commercial flight to Atlanta so the University of Florida men's basketball team could use the airplane.

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In this file photo, a plane breaks free of heavy fog as it makes its way to Gainesville Regional Airport on Nov. 5, 2013.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun

A maintenance delay grounded the aircraft meant to carry the team from Gainesville to Storrs, Conn., for its Monday-night game against the University of Connecticut, which was scheduled to start at 7 p.m. The airline canceled Delta Connection flight 5059, which had been Atlanta-bound, and used the aircraft for a charter flight for the team instead.

Delta spokesman Michael Thomas told The Sun in an email that the passengers from flight 5059 were accommodated on other flights and given vouchers valid for use through Delta for future trips.

The airplane originally meant for the basketball team required maintenance, he wrote, and, "due to operational need and aircraft routing requirements as a result of the busy travel holiday," Delta decided to use the other airplane and cancel the commercial flight for which it had been initially scheduled.

"Delta apologizes to those customers on Delta Connection flight 5059, operated by ExpressJet, who were impacted by the resulting cancellation of their flight," he stated.

Laura Aguiar, spokeswoman for the Gainesville Regional Airport, said the passengers were booked on different flights, the last of which left Monday. The flight was originally scheduled for around 3:30 p.m. Sunday.

She said the airplane was a 50-seater but wasn't sure how many people were scheduled to be on the commercial flight before the change in plans. Thomas stated he believed it was a full flight.

Team spokesman Denver Parler wrote in an email he wasn't aware of the situation a Sun reporter described, which involved passengers being put on later flights so the team could use the other airplane.

Any decision on plane use would be made by Delta, he wrote, not by the team or the University Athletic Association. He said he didn't have details on the university's agreement with Delta on Monday afternoon but estimated there were about 35 people, team included, who went on this trip.

"We generally fly private charters, although we do bus one or both ways for some games that are closer to home," he wrote.

A passenger who was supposed to be on the flight to Atlanta before it was canceled and did not want to be identified told The Sun passengers were told there was a mechanical difficulty, but some of them noticed the Gators basketball team boarding the plane meant for them out the window.

People were upset as they scrambled to rearrange their travel schedules and some had to be driven to airports in Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa to catch other flights, she said. A passenger who was moving from Salt Lake City to New Jersey was going to miss the moving truck, so he had to find someone else to meet the driver instead. A student's father had to drive her to Atlanta so she wouldn't miss an event she needed to make. Another passenger missed a funeral.

"It just felt like the wrong decision made by somebody who didn't think it through," she said.

It was just an inconvenience for her. "But for some people it was an important inconvenience," she said.

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gainesville.com.

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