The National Football League (NFL) is preparing to kick off a new season with current champions the Kansas City Chiefs facing off against the Detroit Lions.
But how do the 32 teams within the NFL travel to games? Ahead of the start of the 18-week season, AeroTime takes a closer look.
Some teams will cover more than 25,000 miles (40,233 kilometers) during the football season. For example, the Seattle Seahawks are scheduled to travel a whopping 31,600 mi (50,855 km).
Other teams, like the Cincinnati Bengals, will fare better, with a schedule resulting in a total travel distance of 11,942 mi (19,218 km), making them the team with the fewest miles to cover, according to a chart prepared by Bookies.com.
The chart does not include the possibility that teams could stack travel when playing back-to-back games within the same region.
Only two private jets
Out of all 32 teams, only two, the New England Patriots and Arizona Cardinals, have their own aircraft.
The New England Patriots, based near Boston, the United States (US), bought a pair of Boeing 767-300ER aircraft in 2017. The two twin-aisle jets, registered as N225NE and N36NE, were delivered to American Airlines in 1991 before eventually being phased out by the airline in 2016.
According to ch-aviation data.com, as of May 31, 2016, N36NE had 99,342 Flight Hours (FH) and 15,656 Flight Cycles (FC), while N225NE had 99,267 FHs and 15,902 FCs.
However, neither of the aircraft joined the Patriots for the NFL preseason games. While one game (versus the Houston Texans) was played at home, images shared by their media team showed the Patriots traveling to Green Bay to play the Packers on a Delta Air Lines aircraft in mid-August 2023.
Both of the Patriots’ Boeing 767s are operated by Eastern Airlines and are currently undergoing maintenance at Kansas City International Airport (MCI), ch-aviation.com data showed.
Meanwhile, the Arizona Cardinals bought a Boeing 777-200ER in 2021. At the time, the team’s owner, Michael Bidwill, said that the ex-Delta Air Lines bird “will not only provide major convenience but also maximum comfort for our players when getting them to and from road games”.
Now registered as N867DA, the aircraft has been with the team since December 2021. While the Cardinals have played both of their preseason games in Pheonix, Arizona, so far, they will have to travel to Minnesota to face the Vikings on August 26, 2023.
According to flightradar24.com data, the Boeing 777-200ER moved from Roswell International Air Center Airport (ROW) to San Antonio International Airport (SAT) on June 30, 2023.
Several airlines over the years have introduced special liveries to commemorate their partnerships with NFL teams or to try to appeal to passengers within those teams’ home markets.
For example, the New York Jets have a partnership with JetBlue dating back to 2009, when the team named the carrier its official airline. A year later, JetBlue re-assured its commitment to the New York Jets by introducing the “JetGreen” livery, dedicated to the team.
In 2017, the airline unveiled an updated “JetGreen” livery on an Airbus A320, registered as N746JB.
Las Vegas Raiders’ colors can also be seen on an Allegiant Airlines Airbus A319, registered as N328NV, introduced in 2021, and a Viva Aerobus Airbus A320, registered as XA-VAK, introduced in 2022.
In 2014, Boeing painted one of its Boeing 747-8F aircraft with a special Seattle Seahawks sticker to celebrate the team reaching the Super Bowl.
According to planespotters.net data, the Seattle Seahawks livery was briefly sported by the aircraft between January and May 2014.
US Airways, which eventually merged with American Airlines, had several special NFL liveries, including paint jobs dedicated to the Arizona Cardinals, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Carolina Panthers.
AirTran, which merged with Southwest Airlines in 2014, displayed liveries featuring the Atlanta Falcons, the Baltimore Ravens, and the Indianapolis Colts.
Nowadays, teams favor wide-body aircraft that are chartered to travel to away games.
Chartering to games
NFL entourages are huge. Team rosters alone are filled with 53 players, not to mention the coaching, medical, communications, and technical staff traveling to away games either eight or nine times per single regular season.
According to a Bleacher Report article from 2016, the Baltimore Ravens traveled with around 185 passengers on a trip. Bob Eller, the team’s then-senior vice president of Operations, told the publication that there were “more people involved in game day” that year than during previous NFL seasons.
In March 2023, Miami Dolphins published a behind-the-scenes video on YouTube which showed the team’s travel day logistics in partnership with Atlas Air. According to Scott Bullis, the senior director of Team Operations at the Miami Dolphins, the team hands over its schedule to Atlas Air the moment NFL publishes the schedule for the upcoming season in May in an attempt to reserve aircraft beforehand.
“We travel with approximately 180 passengers on the aircraft, about 69 players, 30 coaches, 70 support staff, and 10 media,” Bullis added. “We load approximately 10,000 pounds [4,535.9 kilograms] underneath the aircraft.”
The team travels with a specially configured Atlas Air Boeing 747-400, which has more business and first class seats.
“Normal 747s at Atlas [Air] have 477 seats and this one has 189,” David Mercado, a captain at Atlas Air, explained during the video.
Typically, though, NFL teams will use the services of the large scheduled commercial airlines in the US, including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines, which have wide-body aircraft to comfortably accommodate large traveling parties.
For example, the New York Jets flew on United Airlines charter flights during the 2022 season despite JetBlue being the official airline partner for the team.
Photographs taken when the team were heading to a game against the Denver Broncos in October 2022 show players boarding an aircraft with the old United Airlines livery. This includes an all-white top side of the fuselage with a grey bottom side separated by a golden stripe, as well as an all-blue engine cowling.
However, all of JetBlue’s engine cowlings have “jetblue.com” written on them, something that cannot be seen in the images.
When the Green Bay Packers traveled to London to play the New York Giants at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, pictures shared by local Green Bay news site showed that the team chartered a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 to cross the Atlantic.
Other teams travel with airlines whose hubs coincide with the teams’ home cities, like Minnesota Vikings and Delta Air Lines, which has a hub at Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport (MSP). Another example is the Dallas Cowboys traveling with American Airlines to their preseason game in Seattle, with the airline’s main network hub being Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW).