The hometown airline is no longer flying the home team. For the first time in the team’s 17-year history in the Valley, America West Airlines will not fly the Arizona Cardinals to out-of-town games this season.
Instead, Minneapolisbased Northwest Airlines is expected to be the team’s charter airline even though America West is the Cardinals official carrier — at least on paper.
"Basically, the Cardinals were not able to meet our required deadlines for scheduling charters, so we just went in different directions for this year. But that doesn’t mean we won’t bid for flying in the 2006 season," said Phil Gee, America West spokesman.
Airlines often bid for the charter flights on an annual basis, he said.
"The crews bid for flights, whether they be charter or commercial flights, months in advance," Gee said. "We schedule aircraft months in advance. We need ample enough time to be able to do that, and we don’t have a huge pool of pilots and flight attendants on reserve . . . nor do we have several aircraft."
Ron Minegar, team vice president of marketing and sales, said the Cardinals were evaluating bids about 10 days ago when America West informed them it couldn’t hold dates for preseason games in August.
"We needed a couple of more days for the evaluation process," he said. "The August dates weren’t available, and it’s not one of those things where we can have two separate charter companies during the course of season."
The charter deal does not jeopardize a marketing agreement between the two that allows America West to call itself the Cardinals official airline.
"We continue to view it as a very positive relationship and expect to be doing business with America West for years to come," Minegar said.
Gee said the two sides are close to a long-term marketing deal, and an announcement could come within a couple of weeks. America West has been the team’s charter carrier since 1988.
Northwest provides charters for the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles, Indianapolis Colts, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and St. Louis Rams.
Every year about three NFL teams change airlines, but charter service rarely changes among teams where the local airline has a hub, said Bill Wernecke, Northwest Airlines director of charters.
Tempe-based America West has hubs at Phoenix Sky Harbor International and in Las Vegas.
"The (Chicago) Bears have been with United for a million years, the Lions and Vikings with us, the (Denver) Broncos with United, the (Atlanta) Falcons with Delta and the (Dallas) Cowboys with American. Typically, where there are hubs, they tend to stick, so . . . America West has had them for a quite a while, and this is a little bit more unusual because they have more service there."
Northwest has been flying the Vikings since the 1960s.
"We’ve got a past history with (Cardinals coach Dennis Green) with him being up with the Vikings," Wernecke said.
Besides the Cardinals, America West is the official airline for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Phoenix Coyotes and Arizona State University Sun Devils athletics teams.
The carrier also owns the naming rights to America West Arena, home of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, the Arena Football League’s Arizona Rattlers and the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury.
Two years ago the Suns dumped America West as its official airline, inking a longterm deal with low-fare arch rival Southwest.