How important is a college basketball game? More important than whatever 50 or so Gainesville Regional Airport passengers were planning on doing Sunday afternoon.
At least, that was the message conveyed at the Delta Air Lines terminal in Gainesville Sunday, when, according to the Gainesville Sun, a maintenance issue in the charter plane Florida planned to take to Storrs, Conn., for its Monday night game against Connecticut grounded the Gators. In response, Delta cancelled a commercial flight, delaying its paid passengers, and let the Gators take the aircraft instead:
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.
A Delta spokesman, who also apologized, told the Gainesville Sun "passengers from flight 5059 were accommodated on other flights and given vouchers valid for use through Delta for future trips." Florida's team spokesman said the program had no idea of the situation, and that "any decision on plane use would be made by Delta."
Outrage about this situation would not be hard to muster. Some passengers -- who planned to leave at 3:30 pm Sunday -- were stuck waiting for a flight as late as Monday. Besides, everyone's had their fair share of airport rage. In this instance, at least, you could forgive the angered travelers. Everybody just wants to get home.
More than likely, though, Delta's decision came down to a charter agreement between the airline, the Gainesville Regional Airport, and the University of Florida. Such agreements can include provisions and requirements in regards to timely departures, because, after all, that's kind of the whole point of flying a charter aircraft: avoiding the vagaries and hassle of commercial flight. It would make sense for Florida to have such an agreement. Its teams can't show up late to games. Rest assured it pays for the privilege.
Still, the portrait of a basketball team sneaking on an aircraft while outraged commercial passengers know they're being lied to does not exactly provide the optics any school or airline is hoping for. The least the Gators could have done was win.