Delta: Gators had no role in decision to swap planes


Florida's head coach Billy Donovan coaches up his players, left to right, Will Yeguete (15), Michael Fraizer II (20) and Casey Prather (24) late in the second half of a game against FSU at the O'Connell Center in Gainesville on Friday. The Florida players had to be loaded onto a different jet after problems with the team plane on Sunday.

Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Su
Published: Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 1:46 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 5:15 p.m.

Fallout from Sunday’s swap of a disabled airplane for a working one to allow the Gator’s men’s basketball team to get to Connecticut for a game — at the expense of dozens of bumped passengers — continued to grow Tuesday as the incident drew national attention.

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Florida's head coach Billy Donovan coaches up his players, left to right, Will Yeguete (15), Michael Fraizer II (20) and Casey Prather (24) late in the second half of a game against FSU at the O'Connell Center in Gainesville on Friday. The Florida players had to be loaded onto a different jet after problems with the team plane on Sunday.

Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Su

In a statement, Delta Air Lines said that “the University of Florida in no way participated in the decision-making process.” It added that an internal review is underway into the events on Sunday.

A maintenance delay grounded the airplane scheduled to take the team from the Gainesville Regional Airport to Storrs, Conn., for its Monday-night game against the University of Connecticut, which was set to begin at 7 p.m.

The Gators ended up losing that game 65-64 on a last-second shot.

The airline eventually canceled Delta Connection Flight 5059, which had been Atlanta-bound, and used the airplane for the team’s charter flight.

The switch left 50 passengers scrambling to find alternate transportation on the busiest travel day of the year. Some passengers had to be driven to other airports to catch flights, while others missed connecting flights and, in one case, a funeral.

Delta spokesman Michael Thomas told The Sun in an email on Monday that the passengers from Flight 5059 were accommodated on other flights and given vouchers they could use in the future through Delta.

Morgan Durrant, another Delta spokesman, said Tuesday he didn’t know the specifics of how much the vouchers were for, explaining that voucher values can vary from passenger to passenger.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has regulations on how much compensation customers are eligible for if they are involuntarily bumped from an oversold flight, but that wasn’t the case here, Durrant said. This scenario doesn’t fall under DOT regulations, he said.

“This situation is different because it ultimately resulted in a cancellation due to maintenance reasons,” Durrant said.

As far as Durrant knew late Tuesday afternoon, Delta had not received any formal complaints from the passengers of Flight 5059, although that avenue is available to them.

Responding to media requests from around the country, Delta on Tuesday released a more detailed statement about the situation:

“Many of you have expressed concern about accounts of an Atlanta-bound Delta Connection flight that was delayed and eventually canceled after the aircraft required unscheduled engine maintenance while a charter flight carrying the Florida Gators Basketball Team departed on-time.

“Delta Connection partner ExpressJet, which operated both the charter as well as the regularly scheduled flight, made the operational decision to swap aircraft as the maintenance work was expected to be done quickly. “Unfortunately, it was not, and Delta flight 5059 was canceled. Delta made every effort to re-accommodate those customers on alternate flights, and we apologize to the 50 customers who were inconvenienced.

“An internal review is underway to understand the specific circumstances around this aircraft substitution, but it is clear that the University of Florida in no way participated in the decision-making process. Our efforts to better serve our customers are constant, and a well-intentioned operational decision unfortunately did not work as planned. We continually look for ways to improve the customer experience, and again, we apologize to those customers who were inconvenienced.”

In an interview with The Sun on Tuesday, Durrant emphasized this wasn’t a case in which there was a hierarchy where one set of passengers was valued over the other.

The charter portion of Delta’s operation is small, while the commercial side is its primary business, he said.

The Sun requested information on and a copy of UF’s contract with Delta for the basketball team but had not received either by Tuesday evening, and ExpressJet Airlines’ corporate communications department told The Sun the company was referring all media inquiries to Delta.

The Gators were supposed to depart at 3 p.m. on the charter flight, while those scheduled for Flight 5059 were set to leave for Atlanta at 3:26 p.m.

From an operational standpoint, making the switch was meant to allow the basketball team to leave almost on time — the Gators were in the air just after 3 p.m. — while the commercial flight wouldn’t need to be delayed for too long, Durrant said. But the maintenance work turned out to be more extensive than had been anticipated.

“Had we known that that issue was not going to be resolved, something could have been done in terms of getting another aircraft or getting some sort of other re-accommodation option into play, but that didn’t happen,” he said.

Delta fell short of providing the service these passengers paid for and was sorry about that, but the decision was made with the best intentions at the time, Durrant said.

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