college football

Airports score touchdowns with football fans

GAMECOCKS souvenirs

For most airports, the holiday season is the most hectic and festive time of the year. But in many communities, the terminals also dress up for the college football season. Here’s how airports around the country accommodate traveling fans with football fever:

In South Carolina, Columbia Metropolitan Airport considers itself Gamecock Country. “We have a phenomenal relationship with the University of South Carolina football program and see many Carolina fans in Gamecock gear come through the airport to attend games throughout the season. On big game weekends, fans will arrive in groups and the PA announcements from the head football coach, Steve Spurrier, will sometimes elicit loud cheers,” said airport spokeswoman Kaela Harmon.

Auburn University football fan at BHM Airport 2011

At Alabama’s Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport (BHM), airlines take on several charter flights to accommodate football teams and fans for the Blazers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the Crimson Tide at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, and fans of the Auburn University Tigers.

The recent success of the Crimson Tide has been a boon for the airport. “We have had up to an additional 27 flights added to our regular flight schedule during the national championship game,” said airport spokeswoman Toni Herrera-Bast. “Some fans leave the evening before to arrive at their destination in time for kick-off then turn back around after the game and come home,” and during last year’s national championship game the airport brought in musicians to play for passengers while they waited to depart for the big game. “We also had mini cupcakes with the university’s emblem waiting for fans in baggage claim area after the win,” said Herrera-Bast.

During college bowl game season, plenty of football fans wearing team shirts and hats promoting their alma maters can be spotted in the terminals at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. “It creates a fun, festive atmosphere and airport employees really enjoy it,” said PHX spokesperson Julie Rodriguez. “One memorable moment occurred after a game in the Bowl Championship Series a few years back when fans for the winning team were having the quarterback for the losing team paged. We have both audio and visual paging, so the name was displayed on monitors throughout the terminal,” said Rodriguez.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, fans from five major league sports team and two major college football teams pass through Oakland International Airport (OAK) and the airport serves as the official hometown airport for Cal Athletics from the University of California at Berkeley.

The airport has a multi-year partnership that extends through all 29 University of California at Berkeley Athletics programs with a specific emphasis on football.

During the current football season, the airport has fixed, video, animated and rotational signage, announcements and promotions, and in-stadium game offerings that include “Tweet-to-Win” promotions for flights from Oakland to destinations as diverse as Las Vegas and Aukland.

Of course, it’s not just college football that brings fans to and through airports around the country. Plenty of fans travel for NFL games too.

Indianapolis International Airport, which had more than 500 aircraft on the ground during the Super Bowl in 2012, also gets quite busy during the annual NFL Scouting Combine.

“We see a spike in charter and general aviation traffic and have extra volunteers, welcome tables and live entertainment in Civic Plaza for arriving guests,” says airport spokesman Carlo Bertolini.

Green Bay Packers cheesehead

At Austin Straubel International Airport (GRB) in Green Bay, Wis., every TV in the terminal is tuned to football whenever the Green Bay Packers are playing and the gift shop does a brisk business selling foam cheese heads, T-shirts, can cozies and “everything else in stock that screams Packers,” said assistant airport director John Reed.

Delta, one of the commercial airlines serving Green Bay, switches from regional jets to larger A-320s for the morning departure slots after each game and during important or playoff games the airport hosts hundreds of private and charter jets. “We close taxiways during heavy games to allow for parking of aircraft,” said Reed.

In addition to rental cars, there are two bus lines, plus taxi and limousine companies providing game transportation to and from the stadium.

“Here at the airport we hope for wins every day,” said Reed, “Because that means more people flying in to Green Bay. And that’s serious business for our community.”

(My story about airports and football fans first appeared as my “At the Airport” column on USA Today)