Onboard Delta’s Bizarre Buzz-Generating New York Rangers Fan Flight
With a hastily planned, extraordinarily unusual but fun promotion, Delta had — during the age of the baggage fee, the buy-on-board meal and a generally negative zeitgeist toward airlines — pulled off the unthinkable: Rank-and-file passengers were suddenly rooting for an airline the way they do their favorite hockey team.
Minutes later, the same chanting New York Rangers fans — about 80 of them — boarded a Delta Air Lines Airbus A319 (N319NB) at LaGuardia Airport, bound for Newark Liberty International Airport. Great Circle Mapper pegs the airport-to-airport distance at 17 miles. On Google Earth, I measured 15.7 miles as the crow flies from the departure end of our departing runway (31) to the approach end of the runway we landed on (29).
Anyone with tickets to Saturday’s NHL Playoffs matchup between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils was eligible for the free ride, so long as they added themselves to the list a couple of days ahead of time. Even when accounting for horrid New Jersey traffic, flying would not save any time in getting to the 1pm game, but that wasn’t the point. Rangers legends Rod Gilbert and Ron Duguay greeted passengers at the gate, Delta-Rangers t-shirts and goodie bags were distributed to all who wanted them, two autographed Rangers jerseys were handed out to fans who correctly answered Rangers trivia questions, and one lucky seat on the plane was chosen to receive a pair of tickets to a Rangers away game, with round-trip travel provided by Delta.
On the fuselage, a temporary decal bearing the New York Rangers logo and “Official Airline” was placed just behind the front left door. Onboard, the cabin was decked out in Rangers-colored streamers and Rangers pennants and posters.
The last time an airline operated a flight carrying passengers flew from LaGuardia to Newark is unknown, but never is a distinct possibility (not counting the rare but occasional flight diversion or emergency landing). No one I spoke to at Delta or MSG would take full credit for the concept, but a mad idea like this could only have been generated by a hockey fan doing double duty as an aviation geek in Delta’s marketing department.
Short flights on big planes exist predominantly in the fantasies of the aviation enthusiast and the PC flight simulator crowd. On various aviation message boards, the world’s shortest (and longest) scheduled airline flights are a frequent topic of discussion. In case you were wondering, the quickest scheduled flight currently operated by a jet aircraft, according to Wikipedia, is the 30 mile Alaska Airlines Flight 65, from Wrangell to Petersburg, Alaska, while the shortest overall is the 2-minute, 1.7 mile Britten-Norman Islander service Loganair flies connecting Scotland’s Westray and Papa Westray islands.
Delta Flight 8857 pushed back from Marine Air Terminal’s Gate 1 a few minutes ahead of its scheduled 10:00 am departure. We quickly taxied to the opposite end of the airport for departure from Runway 31, but with only one runway in operation due to construction, waited about 10 minutes before pulling onto the runway.
Barely two minutes after the landing gear was retracted, crossing Rikers Island, upper Manhattan and the Hudson River, we abruptly stopped climbing around 3,000 ft, swung a left turn and the flight attendant announced that we had begun our final approach into Newark. The gear came down, and after a sharp circle-to-land approach to Runway 29, we touched down, by one passenger’s calculations, exactly 7 minutes after we had left the ground in Queens.
After a 10 minute taxi, the customary trek through the terminal was forgone in favor of luxury buses that pulled up right next to the plane’s air stairs to carry the fans to the Prudential Center in downtown Newark. The same would ferry them back to LaGuardia following the game. (No, they didn’t get to fly back).
Soon, everyone was on their way to what would be a decisive 3-0 Rangers victory over the Devils, not only taking a 2-1 lead in the series, but reinforcing whatever positive brand-association vibes Delta had earned Saturday morning.