The Eagles are on the road this Sunday to kick off the 2020 regular at the Washington Football Team. It will be the first of at least (fingers crossed for playoffs!) eight road trips that will span 18,972 miles this season. The Eagles will truly be "on the road" for a total of 262 hours from wheels up to wheels down for all of their trips, including nearly two full days of transit time (47 hours and 15 minutes).
Over the past few seasons under Head Coach Doug Pederson, the Eagles have had some memorable road trips with American Airlines. In 2017, the Eagles moved their operations to Los Angeles for an entire week and left with the division title after an emotional win over the Rams. To cap off that historic season, the Eagles successfully managed not only to accommodate the football team in Minneapolis, but travel plans and logistics for the front office staff and all of their families. The end result? The first Super Bowl Championship in franchise history. Just eight months after hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, the Eagles embarked on their first international regular-season game in London, a win over Jacksonville.
Through it all, American Airlines has been in lockstep with the Eagles to ensure that the team can focus on the upcoming opponent.
"American Airlines has a great operation that they run. They know exactly what's going on. We've had the same coordinators and operations people for years now, so they're truly a part of the team," said Dan Ryan, the Eagles' director of team travel and football logistics. " We have a ton of confidence in American Airlines that they can deliver the experience that we need."
There is no week-long or international trip on the docket for 2020. The next 17 weeks will determine whether Ryan will work with American Airlines to coordinate any playoff trips. But there is one opponent that has altered the travel plans for all 32 NFL teams this season – COVID-19. There will be changes in how the Eagles move from city to city and stadium to stadium. Ryan's goal is to keep the team safe, first and foremost.
"Safety is the most important thing that we're looking at," Ryan said. "The travel experience is not going to be identical, but it's our goal to make it as close to that as possible while staying safe as possible."
Ryan's mind is helped put at ease by American Airlines' Clean Commitment. American partnered with leading health and safety institutions to support its efforts by providing guidance on health matters and cleaning procedures. American implemented multiple layers of protection for all travelers – not just the Eagles – that include clean airports and airplanes, and measures focusing on the well-being of its passengers.
In a typical year, Ryan's busiest months from a travel-planning standpoint are in May and June as he's working with American Airlines on reserving planes (the Eagles will fly in the new 787-8 Dreamliner wide-bodied plane this season), hotels for meeting space and rooms, and buses for local transportation. He had the typical conversations with all of the travel partners, but couldn't sign any contracts because the COVID-19 protocols were being formalized.
When the NFL and the NFLPA agreed upon the protocols to open Training Camp in late July, Ryan sprinted into action to finalize the deals. But first, he had to make sure that the changes to the layout at the NovaCare Complex that allowed for physical distancing to take place in the meeting rooms could be replicated on the road. Ryan, who transitioned from the business side of the team to travel operations in 2016, compared this experience to the planning for the Super Bowl as there was a lot of work to do in a little amount of time.
The Eagles typically reserve close to 200 hotel rooms on the road. That number, due to the restrictions put in place by the league to limit the size of travel parties, will be closer to 140. There will be around 25 fewer people joining the team on the road. The difference is that some of the front office staff and corporate guests are being replaced by members of the practice squad, who will travel this year unlike in past seasons. The Eagles have staff members helping out in other ways, such as the strength and conditioning coaches will aid the equipment staff in getting things ready at the stadium. The video crew will aid in getting the players set up at the hotel.
"We're all coming together. It builds that camaraderie from department to department, and it makes the best experience for the players so that we're not missing a beat." Ryan said. "This is a business trip. We're there to win a game and then come home. That's the goal."
The Eagles open on the road in Washington. Typically, the team would bus from the NovaCare Complex to Philadelphia's 30th Street Station and take a train to Washington D.C. before boarding another bus to the hotel. The Eagles, instead, will take six buses (to allow for more spacing, usually it's five) directly to a different team hotel. It's those little differences that fans don't know about that unsung heroes like Ryan and American Airlines will help navigate together.
And if all goes according to plan, the fans will get to see an entire season of Eagles football in 2020.