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Friday at 4: $4,000 to get off a relevant flight

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After months of speculation and idle chatter, the exodus north appears to be a reality. Georgia fans are flocking to South Bend, and they presumably made their travel plans long before any hurricanes began threatening the Southeast.

There will never be a truly accurate totaling of just how many Bulldogs fans fill up Notre Dame’s campus. The best metric will be rough estimations of how many of Notre Dame Stadium’s 79,622 seats are filled with red-and-black attire. It will be at least 10 percent, given Georgia was allotted 8,000 tickets for the occasion. Most expect those estimates to clear 20 percent. If the supply-and-demand market of airline seats is any indication, the Bulldogs fans may account for a higher figure than that.

Yes, airline seats. First of all, I’ll be honest, I did not know there were direct flights from Atlanta to South Bend. By the looks of it, Delta offers a few a day, each taking just less than two hours in the air.

Second of all, I’ll admit if this story involved United Airlines, I probably would not acknowledge it out of lasting principles. (To find this tweet, I went to twitter[dot]com and searched @D_Farmer @united and I must say, I stand by everything I said Oct. 31, 2014.)

Apparently, a Friday morning flight from Atlanta to South Bend was overbooked. That should not surprise anyone. Overbooking flights actually makes some legitimate sense, as frustrating as it often is.

What should surprise is what it took to solve the overbooking. Presumably, Delta started out by offering a more reasonable number than the $2,200 that led Zach Klein (of the Atlanta ABC affiliate) to tweet out the absurdity of the situation. Whatever Delta started at, clearly that attempt was fruitless, hence Klein’s chance at comedy.

By the end of the staring match, a Georgia fan finally blinked at a $4,000 flight voucher and a ticket on a flight to South Bend only 10 hours later.

Bulldogs fans were not willing to sacrifice a Friday afternoon in Indiana for the option of $3,000 in flights. Kudos to them.

It is also a kudos to Notre Dame.

“We take it as a great compliment that a great program like the University of Georgia would want to be a part of Saturday’s game and make the trek up here,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Thursday. “… We take it as a great compliment that we’re having that kind of draw. It’s exciting for our players, as well.”

Some Notre Dame fans may cringe when they see entire sections of the upper bowl filled with red tomorrow. I would wager there is a good chance those watching on television will wince every time the cameras pan to the new video board. They won’t flinch out of objection to the video board. Rather, logic would indicate the sections beneath it, in particular, will be completely filled with Georgia fans.

“We’re excited that Notre Dame provides that kind of draw to the stadium,” Kelly said.

If this were Wisconsin or Washington State, such a traveling fan base could be marked off as par for the course. Those two in particular are notorious for their ability to relocate to remote locations for a weekend. When discussing Georgia, that is a bit of an unknown — the Bulldogs have not ventured north of the Mason-Dixon Line in more than 50 years. Most of their fans have not had to consider more than a moderate drive their entire lives.

Notre Dame changes that in two ways, both cited by Kelly. First of all, the football program as it stands these days is still worth scheduling on its own. Secondly, the opportunity to see the home of Knute Rockne, the Word of Life mural and 11 national championships is enough of an enticement to fill planes. Literally, it would seem.

Every few years, a “relevance” discussion begins anew around the Irish. Perhaps most infamously, Rick Reilly made the claim Notre Dame no longer held coast-to-coast sway only a month before the Irish commenced a perfect 2012 regular season.

“I hear what the Domers are saying. They’re saying, ‘Notre Dame doesn’t have to be in a conference. Notre Dame is unlike any other football power. Notre Dame is a national brand.’

Sure, and girls are still wearing leg warmers.”

Simply by writing the column, Reilly undercut his thesis. If the Irish were enough of a talking point to warrant 1,000 words, then it stands to reason Notre Dame was still the national brand he insisted it was not.

One of the regulars in the comments below and this scribe debated this very point earlier this week. It comes down to defining relevance. Merriam-Webster goes with, “practical and especially social applicability.”

The Irish could certainly be better on the field. They went 4-8 a year ago. Yet socially, Notre Dame remains a driving point of applicability to college football. Do you really think it would have taken $4,000 to get a Georgia fan to skip a few hours in [insert Big Ten city here]?

If I were that fan, I would have gone to the nearest airport bar, found a beverage and commenced searching flights to purchase two first class seats to a Honduran island for the week of Christmas. Missing familial chaos would have been only an additional benefit.

Plus, that 7 p.m. flight would have still delivered me to the South Bend bars six hours before they closed. I wonder if any have open stools right now.