When passengers who were supposed to be on Delta Airlines flight 5059 looked out the window at Gainesville Regional Aiport on Sunday afternoon, they were undoubtedly surprised by what they saw.
Members of the Florida basketball team were boarding the plane they were supposed to be taking to Atlanta.
The Gainesville Sun reported Monday night that Delta cancelled the Sunday afternoon flight from Gainesville to Atlanta so the Gators could use the plane instead to fly to Storrs, Conn., for their game against UConn. A maintenance delay had grounded the charter flight the team was originally scheduled to take.
Asked to explain why Delta appeared to give priority to a college basketball team over the 50 regular customers on the Atlanta-bound flight, spokesman Morgan Durrant told Yahoo! Sports that Delta's intention was to try to get both flights off the ground as close to on time as possible.
Florida's charter flight was originally supposed to take off at 3 pm. and the flight from Gainesville to Atlanta was scheduled for 3:26 pm. Delta hoped to accommodate Florida by having them use the aircraft originally bound for Atlanta, then fix the mechanical issue with the other plane in time for the Atlanta-bound passengers to take off with minimal delay.
"They used that aircraft to cover the charter because they were confident they could rectify that mechanical issue and then it's a win-win," Durrant said.
"Maybe you take a slight delay on the scheduled side, you protect the charter and everyone is happy. That was the intention behind which that decision was made, but unfortunately the issue with the other aircraft was not rectified and ultimately the delay became a cancelation as a result of the mechanical issues.
"I want to emphasize this was done without the team's knowledge. From their perspective, they had signed up for a charter and in cooperation with Express Jet, we got them an aircraft. We had to make an equipment swap, but they were not aware there was a mechanical issue that was going to drive cancelations over on the scheduled side of our business."
That a college basketball team received better treatment than regular paying customers has sparked headlines on numerous national sites Tuesday morning.
The Sun reported some passengers had to be driven to airports in Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa to catch other flights. One was going to miss the moving truck scheduled to take his furniture to to his new home and another missed a funeral.
Durrant said that the 50 passengers from the cancelled flight were able to get on other flights later Sunday or Monday and were given vouchers valid for use through Delta for future trips.
If it's any consolation for the passengers who had to reconfigure their travel plans, the Florida basketball team surely didn't enjoy its trip to Storrs. UConn beat the Gators 65-64 on a Shabazz Napier jump shot at the buzzer.