Dozens of commuters missed connections Sunday night when Delta Airlines kicked them off their Gainesville-to-Atlanta flight to accommodate the University of Florida men's hoops team.
The Gators were slated to travel for a Monday game at the University of Connecticut, but their plane was delayed for maintenance trouble, according to the Gainesville Sun. So Delta canceled the heavily booked Flight 5059 and quietly re-designated it as a charter for UF's complement of 35 players, trainers, and coaches:
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.
A Delta spokesman did not go into details about how the carrier arrived at its decision, but did say it offered the bumped passengers vouchers for future travel. Several were stuck overnight awaiting replacement flights out of the small regional airport:
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.
No. 15 Florida lost the game, 65-64, on a buzzer-beating jumper by No. 12 Connecticut's Shabazz Napier.
[Photo credit: AP]
Update: Morgan Durrant, a Delta corporate communications representative, writes in to explain how this happened:
On Sunday, 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 cancelled. Delta made every effort to reaccommodate 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.