Delta Air Lines canceled a commercial flight on Sunday after allowing the University of Florida's men's basketball team to use the airplane, according to the Gainesville Sun.
When a maintenance delay grounded the plane scheduled to fly the Gators to their Monday night game against UConn, the airline commandeered the plane for Florida's charter flight. But the airline said in a statement Tuesday that the team was not given preferential treatment.
A passenger from the cancelled flight told the Sun that the change forced passengers to drive to airports in Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa, and some decided it was easier to drive to Atlanta.
"It just felt like the wrong decision made by somebody who didn't think it through," she told The Sun.
Delta spokesman Morgan Durrant told Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Eisenberg that the airline believed it could fix the mechanical issue in time to get the passengers off the ground.
Florida's charter flight was originally supposed to take off at 3 p.m. and the flight from Gainesville to Atlanta was scheduled for 3:26 p.m. 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.
In a later statement, the airline reiterated that the university had no role in the decision-making process.
“Delta Connection partner ExpressJet, which operated both the charter as well as the regularly scheduled flight, made the operational decision to swap aircraft as the maintenance work was expected to be done quickly,” the airline said. “Unfortunately, it was not and Delta flight 5059 was cancelled. Delta made every effort to re-accommodate those customers on alternate flights and we apologize to the 50 customers who were inconvenienced.
“Our efforts to better serve our customers are constant and a well-intentioned operational decision unfortunately did not work as planned,” the airline said. “We continually look for ways to improve the customer experience and again, we apologize to those customers who were inconvenienced.”
The No. 15 Gators lost to UConn, 65-64, on a buzzer-beater by Shabazz Napier.