Airline scrambles to get football fans aloft

Posted: September 02, 2012

A full US Airways flight of football fans saw its plans to watch a highly anticipated college football matchup frustrated Thursday evening by mechanical failures and then cancellation.

Many of the passengers on the scheduled 9 p.m. flight from Philadelphia to Dublin were fans heading to watch Saturday's game between the University of Notre Dame and the U.S. Naval Academy.

The Notre Dame-Navy contest, billed as the Emerald Isle Classic, brings the storied college rivalry to Ireland for the first time since 1996.

But for the passengers of Flight 722, mechanical issues delayed the flight for several hours. By the time the plane was cleared for departure, the flight crew had reached the end of its FAA-regulated work period. No replacement crew was available, US Airways spokesman Todd Lehmacher said, so the flight was canceled about 1 a.m.

US Airways initially tried to get everyone to Ireland by routing passengers on more circuitous flights on other airlines, according to Lehmacher. Friday's daily flight was already fully booked, Lehmacher said, but many passengers took US Airways up on its offer to fly them through other carriers.

One core group of 49 fans left the airport without travel plans but returned Friday afternoon. Lehmacher said US Airways put the group in the Philadelphia Airport Marriott for the day and handed out meal vouchers before a special flight initially scheduled to leave Friday at 11:30 p.m.

Friday afternoon, the special flight was moved to an earlier time to ensure the group would make the game. At 8 p.m., a Boeing 757 took off from Philadelphia International Airport. Flight 9010 was on its way, with scheduled arrival in Dublin at 7:45 a.m. local time. The game is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. Dublin time.

US Airways is paying for the hotel, the extra flight, meal vouchers, and other expenses, Lehmacher said. The airline is also considering how to reimburse passengers for the "inconvenience cost."

"We needed to do right by this group of customers," he said. "The important thing is to accommodate our passengers for any inconvenience and to apologize for that."

But one family says the airline failed at that mission.

Christopher McBride, 32, said he and his family were traveling as a group of nine on Thursday's flight when passengers were told about the cancellation at 2:30 a.m., and airline representatives did not offer to fly his group through other airlines.

On Friday, representatives continued to say that flying Sunday was the only option, McBride said. By the time the McBrides learned of the special alternative flight, he said, the flight had already been moved up. An airline representative did not offer a refund or other compensation, McBride said.

US Airways did not respond to multiple requests for comment Friday night on the McBrides' assertions.


Contact Jonathan Lai at 215-854-5151, jlai@philly.com, or follow on Twitter @elaijuh.

Inquirer staff writer Sean Carlin contributed to this article, which contains information from the Associated Press.

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