As any graduate of the University of Michigan can attest, Saturday afternoon games at The Big House were the stuff of collegiate nirvana. The weather was crisp. The beer was flowing. Even though I had no clue what a chop block or a flea flicker was, the kinetic camaraderie was enough to draw me week after week.
Yet, as the decades flew by, I attended few games. For starters, the drive from Chicago to Ann Arbor – through the factory belching gray expanse of Gary, Indiana and charmless towns in Michigan like Paw Paw and Jackson (home to multiple prisons), ate up 8 hours round trip. The bigger issue? As a travel writer traversing the globe in search of splendor, I could not bring myself to spend the night in a skanky small town hotel.
Then I heard about Big Game Air , a company orchestrating same day, game day travel to Big 10 games on private jets plus transportation to and from the stadium and, often, a tailgate. Private plane? A 10 hour day all in? This was a game changer. With the Michigan State vs. University of Michigan game looming, I signed on.
Luxury can be a five star hotel. A meal denoted with Michelin status. Or, clothing from a celebrated fashion designer. But equally luxurious is avoiding crowds and hassles. So, the scant ten minutes it took to park my car, check in and board the twelve seater Falcon 900-after a pre-flight toast of Dom Perignon Vintage 2009 -was a thrill. No chaotic TSA security check point. No waiting for throngs of passengers to take their seats. No waiting period.
Ensconced in my extra wide creamy leather swivel seat, chatting with Super Bowl champion (Indiana Colts) and former University of Michigan captain Marlin Jackson (Big Game Air often has “celeb players” aboard) about his Fight For Life Foundation, I almost wished the 38 minute jaunt to Willow Run Airport had been longer. That thought was echoed by my fellow fliers, all University of Michigan alums, cheerily quaffing mini bottles of craft vodka gimlets and reminiscing about halcyon days in the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity.
From the airport, we were whisked to Ann Arbor in a private van and deposited smack in front of Michigan Stadium which, four hours pre-game, was a beehive of maize and blue. Big Game Air piggybacks on the tailgate of former Wolverine quarterback John Wangler, a set up easily identifiable by hulking former players noshing on subs, burgers, hot turkey sandwiches and cupcakes. Accessing a tailgate is a huge perk for fans to tap into the local verve of a campus. But, I had my own friends to find. So, after a beer (tough after the bubbly), I located my crew in a tent kitted out with kegs and the kind of speakers that made listening to 80’s hits obligatory.
The game? It was filled with super charged Michigan moments: the marching bands grand “take the field” entrance. The Star Spangled Banner. The homage to UM athletic champions past. The celebratory “Victors’s Song”. We lost. But, since socializing was my focal point, it didn’t put a damper on my day. At 11:30 p.m., the Big Game Air group reconvened and waded through the masses to a waiting car. We were on the plane within forty-five minutes and back in Chicago exactly thirty-eight minutes later, my dejected fellow fliers slightly more upbeat when the scotch debuted in-flight. The lone female on board, I was thankful for the clean and thoughtfully stocked bathroom. And, the Kit Kats.
FACTS: Big Game Air currently flies out of Chicago, Detroit and Columbus. New York City (Teterboro) will be added by the end of November. The schedule of events features collegiate (including national championship playoffs) and professional football as well as baseball, basketball, hockey golf and high profile sporting events like the Kentucky Derby, NCAA March Madness and bowl games. Game tickets are not part of the Big Game Air package. Though, staff can help you to source them. Flights and experiences like custom tailgates can also be curated for groups. Flights are priced at$1200-$2200 per person round trip.