The first time I traveled on the Bills team plane a person from the organization told me something that I still find amazing to this day. The goal is to have six hours between kickoff and takeoff. Yes that is right, 6 hours after kickoff to be back on the plane flying home. Let that sink in. And guess what? Sometimes it is even faster, NFL teams do not stay overnight after a game. It actually did happen to me once in of all places Cleveland. There was so much snow we had a second night there. (it is one time the famous Marv Levy line of "where would you rather be than right here, right now " would have been open to the answer "anywhere else". But weather issues and extra nights in Cleveland aside, regular NFL travel is an amazing combination of planning, experience and cooperation that you really have to experience to believe. I will try to give you a little peek at it.
Let's start with the simple fact that NFL teams leave for road games the day before they are scheduled to play. On rare occasions when an eastern team is headed west they might leave on a Friday, but that is a rarity. Even when say the Eagles play at the Giants and it's only a 90 minute ride up the New Jersey Turnpike, they still keep the routine and arrive the day before the game, following NFL rules. For the Bills preseason game at Minnesota the players, coaches, staff members and media all arrive at the location (at an airport, but not in the general commercial gate area) in the early afternoon on Thursday. Parking is easy and convenient and while everyone goes through TSA screening it's a much faster and smoother operation than anything you experience at a regular airport.
The plane is a chartered jet. Don't go driving around trying to find one with a Bills logo on it. It's a standard commercial 767. The seating arrangements are pretty simple. The coaches and management of the team sit in the small front section. The staff and media members sit in the middle (with assigned seats) and the players have the entire large back section of the plane to sit where they would like. My assumption is some veterans get whatever they choose back there, but it's a guess because we have no reason to go back into their area.
I can't go into detail on the food on the plane but it would be very safe to say no one goes hungry. I will tell you this, 13 years ago on my first flight, I thought they were playing a trick on the new guy when one of the Bills staff members told me to "save room for the shrimp" as I gobbled down a sandwich. I laughed. 10 minutes later the stewardess was handing out shrimp cocktail. I gave mine to the former Voice of the Bills Van Miller who seemed to have a real fondness for the stuff. Many times you see the rookies carrying food they have had to pick up for the veteran guys. That just seems to be part of the initiation to the league.
The best part of the flight happens once the team arrives at the destination city. Waiting on the tarmac are 5 buses, first 3 having a sign in the window for players, the 4th bus for staff and the final one is for the equipment managers and the equipment for he game. What the team equipment staff does is amazing. While the other four buses head to the hotel they go right to the stadium to set up for the next days game. They have the entire process down to a science.
So now we are on he bus head to the team hotel. When we arrive there are almost always Bills fans or just autograph seekers hanging around the hotel. The players have been given their room keys and usually head, en masse, to the elevators. It seems to me that one of the most important features a team hotel needs to have is meeting space. An entire floor is set up for film sessions, player position meetings, team meals and even chapel or Catholic Mass. The players have a pretty detailed schedule from the time they arrive in a city. It's pretty obvious that NFL teams make sure every player knows its a business trip.