Bowl games and holidays, why don’t airlines add flights?


As college football nears its bowl season, many commentators are discussing the fact that bowl committees make decisions based on how a team’s fans travel. Whether you agree or disagree with that rationale, from a profit or even breakeven perspective, they have a point. No one wants to hold a game in a half-empty stadium.

Adding to the problem of filling stadiums, most of these games are held in warm weather destinations, during the busiest travel time of the year. This means that getting to the games can be as much of a “can’t” as a “won’t.”

Even fans who would gladly pay the ticket prices, and drive an hour to get a less expensive hotel, may be stuck when it comes to airfares.

For a prime example, look at the Orange Bowl, which will be held January 3, 2011 in Miami. Already flights to and from Miami and nearby airports are nearly sold out. (Especially from Northern California, where Stanford is a possible bowl candidate, though airports near most other universities aren’t a lot better.)

A similar problem exists for Wisconsin Badgers fans, who just learned based on yesterday’s game that their team is likely to go to the Rose Bowl. They have a snowball’s chance in Los Angeles of finding a decent fare returning to anywhere near Madison on January 2.

Now, I understand the logistical issues with adding extra flights, and realize it’s something that is difficult for an airline to do overnight.

Although routinely, when several flights are canceled due to weather or a single incident, airlines will put on an “extra section,” often a larger plane, to get the backlog of stranded passengers all together to their destination.

So with nearly a month’s notice, why don’t airlines consider adding an extra plane or two to get fans from their hometown to the game site?

Pricing could be relatively straightforward, one price for coach, another for first class, and nonrefundable with the suggestion that passengers buy travel insurance.

Admittedly not all fans would depart from the same city, but for most colleges and universities, a large number tend to be relatively local.

My sense is such a roundtrip flight, with perhaps a two day stay, could be priced to make a profit, even covering crew layover costs, and would sell out in less than a day. (While business is improving, it’s not like all the major carriers are using all their crews and airplanes full time.)

Admittedly, such an idea would work best for games with plenty of advance notice, at least a few weeks, although the Super Bowl, with the passion it inspires in some fans, might be another option.

In that case, the airlines would have just less than two weeks notice, but the “cost-is-no-object” mentality would probably make it easy to fill a plane at higher prices.

Years ago, in fact, before the airlines started canceling unticketed reservations and cracking down on name changes, many travel agents used to hold phony reservations, at full fare, to the Super Bowl city when a particular team had a good chance of going.

In fact, a coworker, who shall remain nameless, did that for San Francisco fans. (Yes, it was a long time ago.) She was once told by a United employee that they had confiscated two tickets from two passengers whose agent had stupidly issued the tickets to Mr. and Mrs. Fortyniner Fans.

A similar situation and potential solution exists for places like Hawaii around the holidays. Right now there are hotels with space between Christmas and New Years, but no flights, unless travelers want to go in the middle of the week, and return no earlier than January 4th or 5th.

Those seats, however, could be sold cheaply, while the flights to the islands on December 26 returning January 2, could be easily sold out many times over for over $1,000 a person.

I realize there are logistical issues with added flights for any event or holiday, but American businesses routinely gear up for special events, especially when there’s a serious profit to be made. Why not the airlines?

  • Doug

    Nobody has ever accused airlines of operating logically.


    Don’t a lot of schools offer charter flights?

    In my limited experience, most athletic departments work with local travel agents to offer packages to and from the bowl sites. And it is generally a lot better deal than finding your own flights as you generally only get a 3-4 week window from the bowl invitation to the game.