For some travelers visiting Arizona for the Super Bowl, the trip may be just as memorable as the game.
Hundreds of luxury jets will arrive at the eight airports around metropolitan Phoenix by kickoff Sunday, adding to the thousands of flights expected over the weekend. The Federal Aviation Administration and area airports have been planning for the influx for the past year.
Private jet-setters will receive VIP treatment. Many travel with companies that allow individuals and businesses to own a portion of an aircraft or to buy flight hours and that lavish perks on customers including goody-filled swag bags, a concert by country group Lady Antebellum, complimentary cocktails and high-end catering once they emerge from their Lear Jets and Gulfstreams.
“We’ve got a team that greets every airplane. We do roll out — it’s maybe not red carpet — but there is carpet that’s rolled out,” said Eric Lampert, vice president of flight operations for NetJets, a Berkshire Hathaway company.
The boost in private jet traffic for the Super Bowl is a sign of how the big game has increasingly become a VIP event, from the many celebrity parties to tickets running several thousand dollars.
Starting Thursday, NetJets will have a temporary furnished lounge where customers can relax with complimentary food, drinks, television and Wi-Fi. They will also get a Super Bowl goody bag and admission to a party Saturday night in Scottsdale with Lady Antebellum as the headline entertainment.
Dallas-based Flexjet has hired Press, a Phoenix-based food truck, to serve complimentary Italian street eats to passengers starting Thursday. The specialty menu will include mini sausage-bread-pudding muffins, caprese salad skewers and raspberry-filled bombolones, which are Italian doughnuts.
“These little details really matter,” said Megan Wolf, Flexjet’s vice president of customer experience. “They’ll remember years later that we had this really great food truck and how fun it was, and they’ll tell their friends. So, it makes a difference.”
Commercial travelers should not worry that their departures Sunday or Monday will get pushed aside in favor of their luxury counterparts. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, the main hub, has parking space for 250 private jets. The movements of private jets will be based around commercial traffic, which has priority, airport spokeswoman Heather Lissner said.
The area will be inundated with between 1,200 and 1,400 private and commercial flights, but plans are in place to handle the load, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said.
The FAA, airport operators and aviation businesses have collaborated on a reservation system to manage the flights, especially on Sunday with many of the expected departures. Every flight will be scheduled in an orderly fashion to prevent air traffic control systems from getting overwhelmed, Gregor said.
The FAA will add staffing and operating hours at air traffic control facilities as needed, he said.
The Super Bowl is the grand finale in a week that includes the Waste Management Phoenix Open, a golf tournament in the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale. Both events will have the Scottsdale Airport dealing with an expected 54 percent increase in corporate jet traffic, meaning more than 520 additional aircraft.
That was the increase seen when both events took place in Arizona in February 2008, airport spokeswoman Sarah Ferrara said.
Ferrara, who was not employed by the airport in 2008, said she is looking forward to seeing two to three flights taking off every few minutes.
“I just hear the departures are going to be fantastic — these beautiful jets departing one after another,” Ferrara said.