Away we go: Delta to charter U.S. Olympians to Beijing

·2 min read
In this photo provided by Delta Air Lines, Delta Air Lines unveils its custom Team USA aircraft livery Friday, Dec. 17, 2021, at Delta TechOps facilities in Atlanta. This year, Delta began its sponsorship of the U.S. team that will make it the team's official airline through the LA Olympics in 2028. (Chris Rank/Delta Air Lines via AP)

ATLANTA (AP) — The U.S. Olympic team's airline partner will charter a flight from Los Angeles to Beijing to bring about half the American athletes to the Winter Olympics.

U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland said Friday that the federation had reached a deal with Delta Air Lines to bring between 80 and 100 Olympians straight to Beijing at the end of January.

This is a major breakthrough for the U.S., which had been dealing with logistical challenges because of the shutdown of routes between the U.S. and Beijing. Those flights all but stopped in the wake of schedule changes prompted by COVID-19, and haven't resumed.

The USOPC did not divulge the exact date of the charter, and while the charter solves a major logistical problem for the U.S. team, it does not eliminate all challenges. Normally, athletes tailor their flights to fit their specific competition schedules — for instance, building a schedule that ensures they'll arrive with plenty of time to acclimate to the time change.

“Some will be there for a shorter time than they'd prefer and others longer,” Hirshland said. “But it's helpful to get some certainty so you can give everyone the ability to plan.”

Most of those not on the charter will get to Beijing from Europe, where they are in the middle of their winter seasons. Still evolving are the USOPC's plans to get dozens of coaches and support staff to Beijing. Most of the Beijing Organizing Committee's travel instructions have revolved around people making connections in Tokyo, Hong Kong and other countries outside North America.

News of the charter came the same day that Delta unveiled a Team USA-branded aircraft. This year, Delta began its sponsorship of the U.S. team that will make it the team's official airline through the LA Olympics in 2028. The deal was worth a reported $400 million and also had tie-ins with Olympic TV partner NBC.