You Are Grounded

Athletes are given preferential treatment all the time.  But allow me to pose a simple question:  Are athletes entitled to preferential treatment above the rest of us?  Regardless of an athlete’s perception that he or she is owed deference, I know there is a line where they should not be indulged.  That line became clear over the past few days.

Our journey begins on Sunday, December 1st in Gainesville, Florida.  The 15th ranked University of Florida Gator Basketball Team was scheduled to fly from Gainesville to Storrs, Connecticut to play the 12th ranked UConn Huskies on Monday.  Big game (which, by the way, the Gators lost 65-64), right?  Well, the measure of just how big a game it was became tested on Sunday afternoon, which happened to be one of the most heavily traveled airline days of the year.

The Gators chartered a private flight and, I must assume, their bags fly free.  When the team arrived at the airport, they found that the chartered plane had mechanical problems.  Fear not, Gator Nation, because Delta Airlines came to the rescue to ensure that the team suffered no inconvenience.  Delta procured a plane that was scheduled to leave for Atlanta and allowed the team to board that plane and take off virtually without delay.  The airline apparently concluded that delaying the players’ departure for a game that was not to be played until 27 hours later was a worse choice than delaying a commercial flight booked by 50 paying customers who had varying plans and obligations.  Phew.  Heaven forbid the group of 18-22 year old basketball players be inconvenienced as they prepared to do battle against UConn.

Delta believed that they could fix the mechanical issues and then use the repaired plane to transport the 50 paying customers to Atlanta following a “minor” delay.  One problem: they couldn’t make the repairs and the flight was later cancelled.  It has been reported that one of the stranded passengers missed a funeral, another had to be driven from Gainesville to Atlanta by her parent so as not to miss an important event, and another was not at their new home when the moving truck arrived.  No big deal; it’s not like they missed the morning walk-through the day of a non-conference basketball game.

Allow me to educate Delta on how a problem of this nature should have been handled.  Another group of athletes (New Orleans Saints), had their butts kicked by the Seahawks on Monday night.  After the thumping, the team arrived at the airport in Seattle for their flight back to the Big Easy (New Orleans).  Lo’ and behold, they found that their chartered flight had mechanical problems.  Was the solution to kick other passengers off their commercial flights when the Saints came marching in?  No.  The team booked hotel rooms in town and the players and staff flew home on Tuesday morning after the repairs were completed.  (One of the Saints’ players purportedly commented that “things could not get any worse.”  Really?  There we go with that sense of entitlement.  Did the cancelled flight prevent you from attending a funeral?)

Two stories; same problem; two different solutions; one handled atrociously wrong and the other handled properly.

Oh, but do not despair for the stranded passengers of Delta Flight 5059 from Gainesville to Atlanta.  Delta offered those Atlanta-bound bumped passengers travel vouchers for future flights.  Maybe after they pay their condolences for a lost loved one or get settled into their new homes, they can use the voucher to book a flight to see the Gators play Mississippi State in Starkville, Mississippi on January 30, barring mechanical problems.