A full flight of passengers got bumped Sunday so that the University of Florida men’s basketball team could get to Storrs, Conn., on time for a Monday night game — which they ended up losing.
Delta spokesman Morgan Durrant confirmed that the 50-passenger flight, Delta Connection 5059, flying out Florida's Gainesville Regional Airport was canceled after the Express Jet plane the team had chartered for the flight experienced a mechanical issue.
“The charter jet was supposed to leave at 3 p.m., and Express Jet thought they could quickly fix the mechanical issue,” said Durrant.
The mechanical problem was not easily fixed, however, so to protect the on-time departure of the charter, Express Jet put the Gators on a Delta Connection plane that was supposed to leave for Atlanta at 3:36 p.m.
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Express Jet, which operated both the charter as well as the regularly scheduled flight, is a regional airline that operates through capacity purchase agreements as American Eagle, Delta Connection and United Express.
Passengers on the Delta Connection flight were rebooked. Most passengers got out on Sunday, and Durrant said a few may have waited to depart until Monday. The passengers were offered travel vouchers as compensation.
“The team didn’t know this was happening,” said Durrant. “All they knew was that when they got the airport, they had an aircraft and departed. They were unaware of the consequences.”
Team spokesman Denver Parler told NBC News via email, "We do not have anything further to add."
A passenger on the canceled flight told the Gainesville Sun that they were told their plane had a mechanical difficulty — and at the same time, some of them looked out the window and noticed the Gators basketball team boarding the plane meant for them.
“It just felt like the wrong decision made by somebody who didn't think it through," she said.
The Connecticut Huskies ending up beating the Florida Gators 65-64 with a buzzer-beating jump shot.
Harriet Baskas is the author of “Hidden Treasures: What Museums Can’t or Won’t Show You,” and the Stuck at the Airport blog. Follow her on Twitter at @hbaskas.