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Travel nightmare: Penn men’s basketball team got stuck at airport for 22 hours

Talk about a Thanksgiving travel nightmare.

Max Rothschild probably made a similar face when he heard the news Penn's flight was getting pushed back once again.
Max Rothschild probably made a similar face when he heard the news Penn's flight was getting pushed back once again.Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

The Penn men's basketball team escaped town last weekend, trading in Philadelphia's chilly weather for sunshine and 80-degree temperatures to the U.S. Virgin Islands, where they played in the Paradise Jam tournament.

After three games — a win over Northern Iowa, then two losses, to top-15 Kansas State and Oregon State — the Quakers were ready to head home.

American Airlines had other plans.

The saga began at 4:30 p.m. local time on Tuesday (3:30 p.m. in Philadelphia) when the team had to disembark its flight to Miami because of a "mechanical error."

Later, after the team had already spent several hours at the airport, they got word that a Tuesday evening departure seemed unlikely.

For the record: an unplanned extra day in the U.S. Virgin Islands is good. An unplanned extra day in a U.S. Virgin Islands airport: not so much.

Brad Fadem, Penn's director of basketball operations, was tasked with trying to get the team off St. Thomas and back to Philly.

Here's the thing: the Quakers weren't alone. Also trapped in the airport was the Old Dominion team, which was in town for the Paradise Jam tournament. And both teams were pretty hungry. And getting pretty angry.

Penn's director of athletic communications was not pleased. "No food. No water. Wait until it's too late for anyone to get a hotel for the night …" he said about American Airlines' response to the situation.

The food situation was rectified by the organizers of the Paradise Jam tournament, thankfully.

Yes, they have Domino's on St. Thomas.

Things kept getting weirder. The new plane sent to rescue the players was smaller than the original one — meaning a handful of people might need to get bumped. That wouldn't work.

After securing enough tickets for the team and its traveling crew, things were looking up. People were standing around, getting ready to board.

Not so fast.

Then, other passengers — even those outside of the Penn and Old Dominion crew — got word after midnight local time they wouldn't be leaving that night.

There wasn't much to do other than get comfortable.

(That doesn't look comfortable.)

Eventually, this journey began turning into a Thanksgiving nightmare — being stuck at the airport for hours on the busiest travel day of the year? No thanks.

By Wednesday morning, things were starting to get drastic. Steps were being taken, like looking into a possible charter to get the Monarchs and the Quakers back to the continental U.S.

But less than an hour later … success!

Senior forward Max Rothschild confirmed the team had landed in Miami a few hours later.

These travel circumstances are pretty incredible, but this story almost pales in comparison to the one Mike Mahoney, the director of athletic communications, told about the trip to St. Thomas.

The team tried to leave last Thursday morning. The key word there is tried.

After a still-unexplained delay at the ticket counter at Philadelphia International Airport that resulted in just coach Steve Donahue and radio analyst Vince Curran making the original planned flight, 26 travel partners — players, managers and staffers — sat around while Fadem tried to find a way to get everyone to the Virgin Islands in time for Friday night's game.

Oh, and then it started snowing. Between de-icing and refueling, delay after delay piled up. It took 15 hours from the time the team arrived at PHL via bus to get the final members of the traveling party on a flight out of town.

Eventually, one group flew from Philly to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Another flew to Puerto Rico. A few went through Charlotte. And they all ended up in St. Thomas with a half-day to spare before tipping off against Northern Iowa. You can read Mahoney's tale here.

So sleeping at the airport in St. Thomas, or being stuck at Philadelphia International for 15 hours: which would you pick?

The Quakers return to the court on Saturday at 2 p.m., when they host Division-II Stockton at the Palestra. No need to worry: the Ospreys will probably travel by bus.