How do pro sports teams travel around?

I’m talking about teams like NFL, Major-League baseball, NBA, NHL, etc.

As a kid, I remember when the westernmost MLB team was in Kansas City and they all took trains (with private cars). When the Dodgers and Giants moved to California, jets were introduced.

Do all/some teams have their own private jets? If so, what does the darn thing do between gigs. If the Yankees have a 3-game road trip in Atlanta, does the jet just sit on the ground (and the pilots on the payroll) for three days? Does the plane just sit on the Albuquerque desert during the off season? Do the teams “rent” their planes to airlines/charter_companies when not in use by the team?

Do charter companies have contracts with the teams? Does (for example) a charter company fly the Bears from Chicago to Dallas and then deadhead to Providence to fly the Patriots to Denver (and then sit around for the rest of the NFL week?) Are the planes substantially modified to hold sports teams? Even a 120 seat 737 probably has many of the seats removed. (They may be so modular that a modification may only take a few hours).

Since they (especially baseball) have pretty tight schedules, how are weather delays handled? If the Islanders run into a snow storm traveling to Montreal, do they divert to Burlington, VT, and hire a bus? Has a pro-game ever been canceled because one of the teams just-couldn’t-make-it?

If there’s a long time between gigs, do the players come home. For example, if the Redskins play in San Francisco on Monday and then play in San Diego the following Sunday, do they return to Washington for a few days, or do they stay on the west coast?

Do any teams travel commercial? If not, what’s the largest pro-sports team that does use commercial?

I am very proud to say that I was the first to view this vital question.

At least some teams have private jets. Here’s a blurry picture of the NY Giants’ jet (you can still make out the team logo on the tail).

A better pic of the tail section of the Dallas Cowboys’ private jet, and of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ jet.

I can’t speak for all teams but the Chicago Bears charter flights (I know they use United a lot and presume they have a contract with them). They’ll charter a flight to the destination then one back (they always return to Chicago after a game). Whether the charter company lets the plane sit waiting or uses it for other purposes I have no idea. I presume if they can squeeze in another flight they will do that. They just need a plane to take the team back at the appointed time.

Pro teams, especially football, has a lot of people to move. No way they are buying tickets on a scheduled flight.

Many (most?) teams travel by charter aircraft - the plane does not belong to the team. The Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and Raptors, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks all use Air Canada Jetz (I wonder what the Senators use?). There was a bit of an issue last summer with the FAA enforcing anti-cabotage rules, meaning that the Canadian-based planes couldn’t travel between two US points without first returning to Canada (you can imagine how this would screw up a sport’s team’s travel plans on road trips!), but I think certain exemptions were made.

I believe the Canadiens use a bus to go to Ottawa for games against the Sens, though, since it’s really only a 2 hour drive.

NFL teams invariably come back home between road trips AFAIK. In the other three major North American pro sports (NBA, MLB, NHL), teams will, of course, play multiple opponents in different cities on a single road trip.

Several team planes turned up in a Google Images search of the simple terms “team plane”. The Dallas Mavericks (NBA), Detroit Pistons (NBA), Phoenix Suns (NBA), and Seattle Seahawks (NFL) team planes are pictured on pg 1 alone.

Almost all professional teams have private jets due to the nature of their travel. Some teams own their own jets, other teams use charter companies like this one, or charter private jets with regular airlines.

I would imagine it depends on the circumstances. If they charter a private plane with an established airline, I would imagine the plane goes whenever the airline needs it to go. If they own the jet, the owner probably does whatever they want. It’s just a (relatively small) cost of doing business.

In 2001, I flew on an Air Canada charter flight to the Bahamas using the same plane used by the Toronto Raptors for road trips (at least that’s what someone told me).

You would not believe the legroom on that flight. Just about spoiled me for life. :slight_smile:

I had the thought that the NHL teams would have a lower proportion of teams owning planes than the other three North American leagues. The Florida Panthers do have a jet, at least.

The pilot and crew would probably be on some kind of retainer/annual salary set up anyway, right?

How do pilots get paid by commercial airlines? Does a pilot who flies, say, 60 flights in a year make some more than a pilot that flies 57 flights because of those extra three flights? Or is it done by time … paid by hours in the air? Or some other way?

That’s nearly always the case. There have been a few cases in which, for example, an East Coast team has two consecutive games on the West Coast, and will find a place to stay and practice on the West Coast during the intervening week (rather than subject the team to four 5-7 hour flights over the course of a little over a week), but that’s pretty infrequent.

Yup. In those leagues, most teams have road trips with several games (series in baseball) in a row. Often, the schedule-makers will try to place some level of proximity on those trips – for example, a Midwestern team might play several West Coast opponents in a row during the same road trip.

Another one: Seattle Mariners’ (MLB) team plane.

You do occasionally have instances of teams whose travel gets disrupted due to weather…just like any business traveler, they try to find another option to get to the destination on time.

You’ll very rarely see a game not go off because one of the teams is stuck, due to weather or mechanical problems (they usually do pad the travel schedule, for that reason). When that happens, the game will almost always be postponed until a later date.

The topmost picture here is listed as “the Houston Rockets team plane”, and yet it is simply painted white all over. No logo or anything. I wonder if logos & paint were applied later.

EDIT: A pic of the Miami Heat’s team plane.

Here’s an American Airlines charter bringing the St. Louis Rams to Appleton, WI before a game with the Green Bay Packers. 757’s aren’t the usual traffic for that airport.

Very occasionally in the winter NHL teams will run into trouble flying into and out of cities and you’ll hear the announcers discuss “such-and-such team didn’t get into town until three o’clock this morning,” or whatever. Policy tends to depend on the coach’s ideas about how fresh the team is–the game won’t be cancelled or forfeited, but the coach may very well dump a morning practice or change the time to let the players get more sleep.

NHL teams just about invariably leave town the same night as their game–many, many night flights for these guys. The schedule can be tight, but not nearly as tight as baseball, and I believe the league has a rule designed encouraging teams to leave the night of a game specifically so weather will be as little of an issue as possible.

Most teams use charter planes.

I’m sure circumstances vary, but anecdotally, I can say with some confidence that the Dallas Mavericks do have people on their payroll. Not sure how much, or how they are paid, but I believe they work when Mark Cuban travels, and if for some reason, he decides to loan/rent out his jet as well.

I believe commercial pilots are paid a salary based on a set number of hours with limited overtime being paid for anything above that. Salaries would likely be based on experience, seniority, etc. I am sure a pilot will be along to correct or expound upon the above.

I was under the impression that the NY Rangers use charter buses for local games and will let their players take the subway to play games in Long Island.

At least they used to. They very well may have their own jet by now. Of course, they’d still have to take a bus to LaGuardia/JFK…

My Dad once saw former Ranger prospect Jamie Lundmark on a flight to training camp, but that probably doesn’t count. He also saw Henrik Lundqvist flying business class, but I’m not sure if it was mid-season or not.

I found this link along the way. It gives the impression that most teams charter flights with specific companies: