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United Airlines Has an Offer for College Football Fans

The airline is adding over 120 flights between popular college football towns this fall.

Anyone who has flown recently will know that it has become, ahem, not as pleasant as it once (if ever) was. Flights get held up for hours and often even cancelled entirely while airports like London's Heathrow and Los Angeles' LAX have entire spaces full of baggage that was separated from their owners.

The reason for the organizational mess taking place at hundreds of airports both big and small has to do with disproportionate demand — as the country tumultuously emerged from a pandemic, demand for travel soared while most airlines did not rehire the staff that were laid off in 2020 fast enough to meet it.

To minimize chaos at the airports, some airlines and airports have been taking drastic steps of capping the number of flights or departing passengers.

In a cap just extended to last until October, airlines in London Heathrow are required to start rejecting bookings if the number of passengers coming through the airport risks surpassing 100,000 on a given day. A similar cap was also put in place at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport in July.

Flying Is A Mess But United Is Betting On Football

While capping flights has been the strategy in Europe, the American style has been true to form in that airlines have largely continued working through the chaos.

After suspending a number of routes earlier this spring, United Airlines  (UAL)  announced that it is adding 120 others — in advance of college football season, the airline is launching direct round-trips flights between cities where popular college teams are slated to play in the fall.

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These include a flight between Birmingham, Alabama and Austin, Texas on Sept. 10 to see University of Alabama's Crimson Tide play at the University of Texas Longhorns in Austin and a round-trip between San Jose, Calif., and Seattle to see the Stanford Cardinal play at the University of Washington Huskies on Sept. 24.

"We're flying nonstop to some of the most historic football towns in the country, including South Bend, Columbus and Baton Rouge, and also significantly expanding our service on the West Coast to help more PAC 12 fans travel to cheer on their teams," Michael Weeks, managing director of domestic schedule development and publication at United, said in a press release.

Who Flies Just To Watch Some Football? A Lot of People

The routes are done specifically for the football games and will not be available once the playoffs are over. The last flights will be between Nov. 25 and 27 flying from South Bend, Ind., to Los Angeles for the University of Southern California Trojans vs. University Notre Dame Fighting Irish battle.

It takes some understanding of college football culture to see why adding so many flights for one- or two-day events is profitable for a company as large as United — the airline says that it surveyed customers who are avid football fans and found that 80% said that they were likely to fly for a game this season.

Meanwhile, college games are taking place farther and father away from their hometowns. A recent analysis by news site FiveThirtyEight found that, between 2005 and 2019, college teams traveled more than 1,000 miles from home for 38.2 percent of their games while the fans, or at least the die-hard ones, follow.

Air travel will also get longer for USC and UCLA fans after those schools enter the Big 10 Conference in August 2024 and they begin playing almost half their games in the Midwest where their new conference opponents are located, such as in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.

For those interested in the schedule, the full list of routes can be found here.