Super Bowl draws epic air show of private planes to Phoenix

Feb 6, 2023, 4:00 PM

PHOENIX (AP) — Former NFL player Jim Bob Morris is heading to the Super Bowl in Phoenix from Bloomington, Illinois, in a newly refurbished set of wheels. His ride has new paint, new seating and even a new bathroom.

Morris, who played for the Green Bay Packers, Houston Oilers and was even with the Kansas City Chiefs briefly, is CEO of several companies including Morris Packaging and El Bandido Yankee tequila. He and seven other executives will arrive at Scottsdale Airport on Tuesday on the company’s Cessna Citation Excel. The midsize jet has chairs that recline far enough for comfortable sleep. There are tables and internet so that everyone can pull out laptops and cellphones to work. Morris plans to fill in as the flight attendant and serve everyone.

“I know where everything’s at,” Morris said, chuckling. “I know where the vodka is at. I know where the El Bandido is at. We actually do serve other spirits other than just El Bandido — if anybody has the courage to order it.”

Private jet-setters are the reason every Super Bowl comes with super-size air traffic. Officials expect over 1,000 additional planes to descend on metropolitan Phoenix’s eight airports and beyond this week for the matchup between the Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles as well as the Phoenix Open, which wraps up on the same day. Many of them will be carrying entertainers, sports figures and corporate VIPs who don’t have to deal with long security lines or cramped coach seats. Instead they’ll be sitting back eating filet mignon and imbibing. Even with the expected long line of airplane departures after the game and high airport fees, some say nothing beats the convenience.

More than 4,000 additional takeoffs and landings and nearly 1,100 additional aircraft parked at Phoenix-area airports are expected during Super Bowl week, according to the FAA. Over 1,000 additional takeoffs and landings are anticipated at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport during the weekend, said Heather Shelbrack, an airport spokeswoman. Compare that to February 2022 when there were nearly 2,000 aviation operations total for the month.

Scottsdale Airport, which is closest to the course where the Phoenix Open is played, is expecting a huge turnout, airport spokeswoman Sarah Ferrara said. She had no estimate on how many more planes would be present this week. But in 2015 — when Phoenix last hosted the Super Bowl — there were 1,189 operations during the weekend.

All reservations for arrival and departure times are handled through fixed-base operators at the airports. It’s imperative travelers don’t miss reserved time slot since so many flights are scheduled out. And on a high-traffic periods like right after the game, the takeoff fees for private planes can be sky-high. That’s why Morris plans to leave early next week rather than be caught in the “air show” of nonstop departures Sunday and Monday.

Morris played in the NFL in the ’80s and actually started out as a free agent with the Chiefs but was released due to injury. But he’s not coming just to cheer them on. He also is attending two dozen events for El Bandido for Super Bowl and the Phoenix Open. The company’s ambassadors include former Chiefs players Bill Maas and Dino Hackett. Nick Lowery, former Chiefs placekicker. is a minority owner.

Flying privately is the way Morris typically does business. In the past year alone, he has logged over 400 hours of travel on one of his company’s three planes.

“People think it’s sexy and there’s certain elements of it that can be,” Morris said. “So, my deal is about compressing time.”

For some travelers, the luxury and perks are the appeal. Ion Jets, a brokerage firm that acts as an agent for members looking for private flights, has received over 175 inquiries for Super Bowl weekend. They don’t stop at just booking the flight, said CEO Todd Spitzer.

For example, a longtime client and current NFL player will be flying on a Gulfstream Jet with seven family members. Since his birthday is around that time, his favorite foods — filet mignon and lobster tails — will be served. They’ve even booked the family a house in the posh Phoenix suburb of Paradise Valley with a private chef.

Ion does not own or operate any aircraft. They work with a network of 5,000 aircraft globally, Spitzer said.

“If somebody owns an aircraft and its ability to be chartered, we keep it busy and we help people who own aircraft offset the cost of their ownership,” Spitzer said. “It’s not just the flight. From ground transportation, hotels, catering, we’re setting up people right now for Shaq’s Fun House … it’s ground-to-air concierge.”

Since the pandemic, Spitzer has noticed more interest in private aviation. It might have been out of fear of COVID-19 in the beginning. But now, they are driven by other issues like the wave of cancellations that hit Southwest Airlines in December.

“We’ve seen just a huge change in the reason why people are flying privately. It used to be mostly for ease and convenience,” Spitzer said. “And it still is, but it’s actually turned into more of a necessity now.”

Private jets have come under more scrutiny in recent months by climate change advocates after a highly publicized unofficial study of celebrity travel. One reason it’s so concerning is that an airplane can produce higher amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, which linger in the air for literally hundreds of years, according to Sonja Klinsky, an associate professor at Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability. On a private aircraft where there are fewer people, the emissions per person will be higher.

So, a rising demand for private aviation is “exactly the wrong trend if we’re worried about climate change.”

“If we have limited atmospheric space, what kinds of activities are we as a society willing to use our limited emissions for? That is a complicated and very important question,” Klinsky said.

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Super Bowl draws epic air show of private planes to Phoenix