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Delta: No special treatment for Florida Gators basketball team

By Steve Almasy, CNN
updated 10:33 PM EST, Tue December 3, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Delta say team got new plane because it was supposed to take off first
  • 50 passengers on second flight had to be rebooked when engine problem couldn't be fixed
  • Team says it was not involved in the decision to swap planes
  • Florida lost to UConn by one point on Monday

(CNN) -- Delta Airlines said Tuesday that it didn't bump 50 passengers just to accommodate the travel plans of a nationally ranked college basketball team on Sunday, one of the busiest travel days of the year.

A spokesman for the carrier said the plane the 15th-ranked University of Florida Gators were supposed to use had an engine problem, so the carrier put them on another jet out of Gainesville while workers tried to fix the issue.

When the problem couldn't be solved, Delta booked many of the 50 passengers headed to Atlanta on a later flight. A handful of passengers left on flights Monday, Morgan Durrant said.

The story made national sports websites Monday with headlines like "Delta bumps entire flight to accommodate the Florida basketball team," but Durrant said the fact that it was a charter flight played no role in the plane swap. Flight schedules weigh heavily on operational decisions, he said.

The Gators were due to take off at 3 p.m., and the commercial flight was scheduled to depart about a half-hour later. ExpressJet, the regional carrier that operated both flights, assured Delta that it would have the problem solved in time, Durrant said.

"We don't bias toward the chartered side of the business," Durrant said, pointing out that such flights make up a tiny percentage of Delta's business. "All of our customers have somewhere to go."

Earlier, Durant told CNN that none of the 50 passengers had been pulled off their original flight, and they were all offered vouchers toward a future flight.

A spokesman for the Gators said they had no idea the planes had been swapped.

"UF was not part of the decision-making process," Denver Parler said. "We arrived, boarded and departed as we normally would."

The Gators lost the Monday game, by the way, dropping a last-second 65-64 decision to the Connecticut Huskies.

CNN's Alina Machado, John Couwels, Jill Martin and Meridith Edwards contributed to this report.

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