The New England Patriots might not be feeling elated after their stunning Super Bowl upset, but they’re still flying high, thanks to the recent purchase of a pair of Boeing wide-body 767s (one as the chief in-season aircraft, and the other as backup).
The Pats aren’t the first pro sports team to take the private aviation route. Simon Moore, Senior VP Commercial Jets, US, for Air Partner, notes that elite athletes have been flying privately “pretty much as long as charter has been around.” While professional football, basketball, and major-league soccer teams were the first sports groups to travel privately, college teams have gotten in on the trend in recent years. “When their schedules don’t match with what’s available for commercial flights, if there aren’t enough seats available, or if they need to fly into a smaller regional airport, they’ll look into private charter,” says Moore.
While Air Partner has chartered flights for dozens of international sports teams—everything from a small 30- to 50-seat aircraft for a quick hop from the south to the north of England, to an A380 jumbo jet for transporting premier teams from Europe or the United States to Asia—athletes and their trainers aren’t the only industry figures booking private jets. Moore notes that Air Partner sometimes provides flights for major event sponsors seeking the VIP treatment, and even organized (and rather dedicated) groups of soccer fans.
Private jet price tags vary widely depending on whether the aircraft is new or pre-owned, its age and condition, its maintenance record and amenities, and the number and type of upgrades and special equipment. The Patriots’ main 767—a line originally manufactured in the 1980s, and discontinued by Boeing just a few years ago in favor of more modern, fuel-efficient, narrow-body planes—was built in 1991. Conservative approximations put both of the team’s jets between $5 and $65 million apiece.
Operating costs also vary according to how much the aircraft is used, and can be pricey for large, older jets. But since the Patriots are likely using it for only a few trips per year, the cost isn’t bank-busting. Moore estimates that the Patriots’ trip to Minnesota, for example, cost $20,000 to $30,000 per hour of flight time, plus additional for on-the-ground time.
And while that might make a private jet seem extravagant, it’s a smart purchase, according to Chris Brenner, Jetcraft Senior Vice President Sales—Americas, and not just because a private aircraft is recommended for those who fly more than 150 to 200 hours per year. “It makes good sense for a prominent professional sports team like the Patriots to own their own aircraft,” he says. “They need the capacity to transport many people together; the efficiency of minimized time in the air and at the airport in order to maximize their playing and practice time; the comfort to limit any extra strain on their bodies; and the privacy and security to protect the players, staff, and owners who are well-known public figures.”
Owning two of their own aircraft also means the Pats aren’t at the mercy of availability, peak days, or mechanical issues.
Unlike most private jet owners, the Patriots don’t have to worry about hangar costs—officials at the team’s preferred airport, T.F. Green International in Warwick, Rhode Island, say they’re not charging for storage because the positive PR they’re getting from the partnership more than offsets the costs. But maintenance costs, which depend largely on the number of flight and flight hours, are still a reality. The team could recoup some of this by making their aircraft available for chartering in the off-season, but Brenner says it’s unlikely because of the team’s branded paint scheme—including 5 Vince Lombardi Trophies emblazoned on the tail—and customizations.
When it comes to customizations, Moore notes that Air Partner’s chartered flights typically work with a fleet of aircraft specifically configured for comfort, such as all-first-class seating. They provide a full crew, including flight attendants and an in-flight concierge. Catering is tailored to whatever food and drink the teams require, and tips toward the luxury end of the scale. But with a privately owned jet, customizations can go even further.
For the Pats—whose plane transports not just the team, their coaches, and their equipment, but also traveling media—this translates to “Patriots’ Class” seating, with the widest first-class seats available configured with 5 to 6 inches of additional leg room, plus WiFi and extra baggage space. Their menus are also custom-tailored for athletes. The protein-packed, multicourse menu for the flight to the Super Bowl, for example, included nut butter sandwiches, Angus burgers, Cajun chicken breasts, beef stir-fry, apple crisp, ice cream, and a slew of sweet and savory snacks. And for maximum privacy and safety, their 767 flew directly into a private hangar at Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport. The arrival was even given the play-by-play treatment in a live post on the team’s Facebook page.
While the Pats’ return home may be slightly more subdued, at least they’ll be traveling, in true Patriots fashion, in maximum comfort, style, and convenience.
Read this other article to find out how fans traveled to the Super Bowl on private jets.