With the demand for travel typically low in January and February (even prior to COVID), charters are a good supplement for flying additional trips and earning revenue for Delta.
At Delta’s request, Endeavor has been operating charter flights for NCAA sports teams since December 2020– including basketball, volleyball and hockey – averaging between two and four charter legs daily.
Charter flights take a lot of teamwork, coordination and flexibility, and this new mission has been challenging, and very successful. Endeavor operated a total of 121 charter flights in January and February alone.
“It’s a lot of different hands in the pot requiring a lot of planning between Endeavor’s OCC team and Delta’s Charter coordinators,” said Greg Uribe, Director, OCC, who oversees the operation by making sure Endeavor has available aircraft, suitable airports to operate from and crew resources to ensure an OT departure.
The Endeavor OCC Team works with the Delta Charter coordinators, who plan everything from ground handling, parking information, deicing, fueling and more. Delta’s charter desk also manages the contract relationships with the universities, coordinating the game times with the schools.
“Everything you need to get a flight off a gate is planned by the Delta Charter desk and put into action by the Endeavor OCC,” Greg said. “Charter flying is a priority and all departments have worked hard to make it such a success.”
Flexibility in scheduling
Flexibility is key, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. When players have tested positive for COVID or have been exposed to the virus, games have been postponed, requiring charter flights to be rescheduled.
Still, there are times when Endeavor has little notice before departure time.
“Charter requests may happen within 24 hours, due to game time changes,” Mike said. “Delta will reach out to the OCC team and myself to make changes. There’s not a lot of pre-planning for charters, as it’s much closer than our normal planning process.”
Mike Holcomb, Manager of Network Scheduling, is the point person for making sure the schedule that Delta wants Endeavor to fly works for our operating groups. Mike works with crew scheduling to make sure the schedules are legal and there are no issues.
Since these are high-profile flights, Endeavor carries a mechanic on each of the charter legs. The mechanic rides in the jump seat and makes sure there are no maintenance issues. In addition to the mechanic, Endeavor requires its regular crew of pilots and flight attendants.
“These charter flights are definitely a different environment. The players board the plane together and enjoy each other’s company – it’s more of a big family atmosphere,” said Kristen Robinson, FA, DTW. “I’m excited that we get this opportunity and hope to provide more interaction once COVID is somewhat past us.”
In spite of the unique flight environment, the crew members’ responsibilities remain the same.
“We are always representing Endeavor and Delta, so we perform our usual duties and make sure the aircraft is presentable. We monitor the cabin, collect trash and make sure they’re compliant with FARs,” said Gabrielle Hill, FA, DTW.
Positioning the airplanes
One challenge to operating charter flights is that the majority of the locations are not part of Endeavor’s existing network.
“Our airplanes aren’t located at all of the universities’ hometowns, so we have to position airplanes from a base, usually from Detroit or Atlanta,” explained Mike. “We will reposition the airplane to wherever the school is, and pick up the team and take them to the opposing school.”
“These cities are not in our off-specs, so that brings up certain challenges,” Greg said. “These challenges could be associated with ramp operations, not knowing the airport performance, and trying to follow the non-standard procedures of flying to offline locations.”
Hotel and transportation
Lisa Behlke, Hotel Program Manager, coordinates the booking of any ground transportation and overnight hotel accommodations for the crew, if needed.
“I make note of where the crew is taking off or landing, and whether or not it’s at the airport or the special FBO location,” Lisa said. “I make sure that information is sent out to crew scheduling and API as well, so they’re all up to speed on who’s going where and when.”
Due to frequent game time changes, Lisa starts coordinating only a few days in advance.
“As long as you let the hotel know the day prior, there’s almost always going to be availability, as hotels aren’t completely full due to COVID,” said Lisa. “In a normal world, we would want to verify availability a week in advance.”
Compliments to the crew
“Captain Mike Walcott, FO Joseph Pyka, Flight Attendants Kristen Robinson and Brooke Wilson, and Tech Ops Rob Roocraft were absolute rock stars! They ensured that with the provisioning issues on the trip, everything was just as it was supposed to be. The pilots ensured that they had everything they needed, so when we shut the door, they were ready to start the engines and go. They were one of best crews I’ve had the pleasure to work with!” Sean said.
Although the charter flights have been smooth from start to finish, a crew did run into a problem one night when the team’s screeners mixed up the flight departure dates. The DL Charter coordinator, Sean Escoe, had nothing but compliments for the Endeavor crew.
The Benefits for Endeavor
The charter operation presented a big challenge to the Endeavor team – and Endeavor people rose to the challenge and delivered excellent service.
“It definitely gives our crew good opportunities for additional flying and it shows what we can do. We’ve been successful operating these charters starting in December, so I think it’s good with our standing with Delta,” Greg said.
“[Charter flights] show Delta how good of an operator we are and how we can support them,” Mike said.