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How Gonzaga travels: Behind-the-scenes look at how the Bulldogs take to the sky

By Story Rob Curley | Photos Jesse Tinsley | Graphics Chris Soprych The Spokesman-Review

Most college basketball teams fly to games. Commercially. In the same planes we all do. But one of the perks of playing for one of the nation’s elite college basketball programs is traveling on privately chartered jets. That rarefied company includes Gonzaga.

No security. No lines.

Yep, you read that right. It might be the ultimate perk. When people list the reasons they hate to fly, it’s the modern airport security processes that people typically list first. And for good reason: they’re stressful.

That’s one of the biggest differences between flying commercially and flying the way the Zags do. There is no TSA line. There is no bag check. The team’s bus drives directly from campus to the plane’s door. The team members will grab their bags and place them next to the plane, then get directly on the plane.

The Gonzaga Bulldog womens team climbs aboard their charter flight Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019 to go to San Jose from Spokane International Airport. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
The Gonzaga Bulldog womens team climbs aboard their charter flight Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019 to go to San Jose from Spokane International Airport. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Welcome aboard

There is a flight attendant onboard the Zags’ privately charted jet. The job is remarkably similar to what a flight attendant does on commercial airlines. There are the pre-flight safety announcements. There are updates from the flight deck. Mostly, it’s about making sure everyone is safe and as comfortable as they can be when they’re much taller than the people the plane was really designed to accommodate.

The flight attendant checks the stock of soft drinks on a charter flight of the Gonzaga Bulldog women Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. Among the drinks availabe to Gonzaga basketball teams on their charter flights are sodas, chocolate and regular milk and Gatorade. When the Gonzaga basketball teams travel, they charter this Dornier 328JET to take them to their university opponents, mostly in California. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
The flight attendant checks the stock of soft drinks on a charter flight of the Gonzaga Bulldog women Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. Among the drinks availabe to Gonzaga basketball teams on their charter flights are sodas, chocolate and regular milk and Gatorade. When the Gonzaga basketball teams travel, they charter this Dornier 328JET to take them to their university opponents, mostly in California. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Pick your seat

Just like Southwest, it’s open seating for the Zags. Typically, the players are in the back, the coaches are in the middle and team officials and administrators are at the very front of the cabin.

The menu

At least for Gonzaga, there aren’t a lot of surprises. Most the snacks available to the team and coaches are a whole lot like what you can get on some commercial carriers. Except that they’re full size and basically unlimited. Even the soft drinks are the same, except the Gonzaga women’s team also requests Gatorade, milk and chocolate milk. The men’s team also requests strawberry milk. All from Darigold in Spokane.

A tray of sweet snacks, including king-size candy bars, and a tray of salty snack are all thats packed for a Gonzaga Bulldog womens team trip to San Jose aboard their charter airplane Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
A tray of sweet snacks, including king-size candy bars, and a tray of salty snack are all thats packed for a Gonzaga Bulldog womens team trip to San Jose aboard their charter airplane Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Women and men

The men’s and the women’s teams both use the private plane, but there are noticeable differences. The men’s team will put on the headphones and rock out or take naps. The women’s team is all business. Flight time is time spent doing homework.

The Gonzaga Bulldog womens team take the seats in the back of the team charter plane, a Dornier 328, and leave the front seats for coaches and their families, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019 at a private terminal at Spokane International Airport. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
The Gonzaga Bulldog womens team take the seats in the back of the team charter plane, a Dornier 328, and leave the front seats for coaches and their families, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019 at a private terminal at Spokane International Airport. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Shepherding Few

Gonzaga Coach Mark Few leaves McCarthey Athletic Center with his dog Stella on his way to Phoenix for the Final Four in 2017.

Gonzaga Coach Mark Few leaves McCarthey Athletic Center with his dog Wednesday, Mar. 29, 2017 on his way to Phoenix, Arizona for the Final Four Wednesday, Mar. 29, 2107. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga Coach Mark Few leaves McCarthey Athletic Center with his dog Wednesday, Mar. 29, 2017 on his way to Phoenix, Arizona for the Final Four Wednesday, Mar. 29, 2107. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

College basketball’s blue bloods: the University of Kansas

About 10 years ago, a Sports Illustrated reporter embedded with the Jayhawks on a road trip. It was every bit as sweet as you think it would be.

It was a 76-passenger, all-first-class-seating, chartered 737 jet. Along with being elegant and loaded with features, even the snacks were special. The reporter noted that when the team was served cheese and crackers, the cheese was custom-cut in the outline of a Jayhawk. If players wanted to watch movies, there was a massive selection to choose from.

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The plane

Charter Alliance Group flies different types of planes — including the Dornier, which was designed for regional, short-haul flights. The 328’s unusual streamlined fuselage is optimized for high cruising speeds, and, its “supercritical” wing design gives the plane both excellent cruise and climb capabilities. According to Deutsche Aerospace, the 328 offered the “lowest noise level, widest cabin, highest standing room, widest cabin floor, and widest seats in the three-abreast class.”

Get comfortable

The only clues that the Zags use this plane are the headrest covers that have the team’s logos on them. Everything else is standard … as in for normal-sized people, meaning there isn’t much leg room. Taller players will typically sit in the aisle seats and the aisle will be filled with legs after takeoff. Don’t even get them started on the very modest — and very small — bathroom inside the jet.

Flight deck

Captain Jonathan Thorne prepares to fly the Gonzaga women’s team to San Jose, California, to face Santa Clara University by filling out all of the flight-planning documents in the cockpit of a Dornier 328. The team flies out of Spokane International Airport, but leaves from Signature Aviation, a private terminal at the airport.

Captain Jonathan Thorne fills out flight planning documents in the cockpit of a Dornier 328 Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019 at Signature Aviation, a private terminal at Spokane International. Thorne, flying a charter jet, was preparing to haul the Gonzaga Bulldog womens team to San Jose. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Captain Jonathan Thorne fills out flight planning documents in the cockpit of a Dornier 328 Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019 at Signature Aviation, a private terminal at Spokane International. Thorne, flying a charter jet, was preparing to haul the Gonzaga Bulldog womens team to San Jose. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Upgrade

The Dornier jet is based on a turboprop plane that was first produced in 1991. Due to public perception of noise and reliability issues with turboprops, Fairchild-Dornier developed the turbofan-based 328JET.

Construction

The 328 reportedly made greater use of composites than any of its direct competitors at launch; the use of the Kevlar-carbon fiber composites, titanium and aluminum alloys reduced its weight by 20 percent.

How the Dornier 328JET compares

It’s way smaller than you think it would be. Most people who fly from Spokane to Seattle know the size of the smaller jets that typically make that flight. This plane is much smaller than those.

In nearly every way.

Sources: Paramount Business Jets, Charter Alliance Group, Deutsche Aerospace, the schools

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