Featured Image: Stansted Airport

The Air Logistics of the 2024 UEFA Champions League Final

DALLAS – Each year around June, Europe gathers around for 90 minutes and puts all its eyes on one single event: the UEFA Soccer Champions League Final. This match is, by far, the most famous and iconic soccer match in Europe, and happens every year in a different city on the continent.

This year, the final was celebrated this Saturday, June 1, at the legendary Stadium of Wembley, in London, between the two clubs Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid C.F. All these ingredients, added to the great number of followers of both teams around Europe, created one of the largest and most complex air logistic campaigns of the year.

Airways, in collaboration with the flight tracker AirNav RadarBox, has compiled the statistics, flights, and passengers that took part in this massive operation. London Stansted Airport (STN) was, by far, the largest host of charter flights dedicated to the 2024 UCL Final.

Flight path of IB2800, flying the winner, Real Madrid, from Madrid to London-Luton Airport on board an Iberia Airbus A321. Image: AirNav RadarBox.

Flying to London on Regular Flights

The total attendance of fans at the match has been confirmed at 86,600 people. Given that none of the two finalist teams were local from the United Kingdom, we could estimate that at least 80,000 followers flew to London either via regular services or charter flights organized by travel agents or their clubs.

In terms of regular flights, Madrid and London are two cities connected by a vast airbridge held by the International Airlines Group; the parent company of Iberia (IB) and British Airways (BA). This segment between the Madrid-Barajas (MAD) and London-Heathrow (LHR) airports is also supported by additional point-to-point flights by low-cost airlines to the other five airfields of London.

This busy network translates into more than 20 daily flights between the two cities that could be used by Real Madrid C.F. fans to travel to Wembley and enjoy the match.

As usual, the Borussia Dortmund players were transported to London by Eurowings on board their dedicated Airbus A320. Photo: Johann Heske/Airways.

On the other hand, followers of Borussia Dortmund could choose from a wide range of options within 100 miles of the German city. From the closest airfield Dortmund Airport (DTM) to the farthest in Frankfurt (FRA), including Cologne (CGN) and Dusseldorf (DUS) as well, a total of 38 routes are being operated by Eurowings (EW), Lufthansa (LH) or Ryanair (FR) to all airports in the capital of the UK.

However, assuming that every flight is operated by narrow-body planes, like the Airbus A320 or Boeing 737, this would mean that only around 10,000 seats are offered per day from Madrid and Dortmund to London. This number is very far away from the 80,000 tickets sold out for the UEFA Champions League Final.

Air Europa EC-NBM Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. Photo: Fabrizio Spicuglia/Airways

A Mindblowing Charter Campaign to the UK

When regular flights are not enough to cover the demand for travel, agencies and airlines look at the other large section of the aviation market; charter flights. These services were the true supporters of the logistic operation behind the UCL Final.

Given the large seat capacity required on flights between Germany and the United Kingdom, regular routes were barely enough to fulfill the rise in demand for travel to London on June 1st. In fact, few charter flights to the city were operated, but we were able to highlight one interesting exception to the rule.

Operating as flight ZT243, a Titan Airways Airbus A321neo, registered as G-OATW, was chartered for this special occasion. This particular unit has had a peculiar operational past, as it served as an official British Government airplane between April 2022 and September 2023.

Afterward, it was reconfigured back into a standard Economy Class configuration and nowadays flies ACMI and charter services for airlines and travel agents.

Iberia EC-MIL Airbus A330-202. Photo: Alberto Cucini/Airways

The Role of Iberia and Air Europa

The largest air charter campaign took place, however, on the rival side of the UCL Final. Between May 31 and June, and without taking into consideration any of the regular passenger flights, more than 100 charter flights were operated by a total of 17 different airlines from around the world, which briefly drifted away from their typical networks to help carry thousands of Real Madrid C.F. fans to Wembley.

Air Europa (UX), BA, and IB, all upgraded the majority of their daily flights to London airports to widebody planes, including the Boeing 787-9, Boeing 777, and Airbus A330, respectively.

Despite this, the two Spanish carriers organized up to 30 additional hops to Stansted (STN) and Luton (LTN) to deal with the large wave of passengers. Of these two airports, STN saw 16 departures to MAD in a row, one after the other, between 1:00 and 4:00 A.M., as soon as the match ended.

In a span of three hours, 16 total flights were scheduled to depart from Stansted to Madrid immediately after the match. Image: AirNav RadarBox

All the UX and IB aircraft flew their passengers in the early morning of June 1, so as to not disrupt the regular banks of European flights. All these aircraft then returned to the hub to perform their regular flights and returned to London in the evening to pick the football fans and fly them back to MAD the next day.

Apart from the immense campaign led by the two Spanish carriers, other airlines also joined the logistic operation for the event. These include ITA Airways (AZ), TUIfly Netherlands (OR), Enter Air (E4), Iberojet (E9), Privilege Style (P6), and even Ethiopian Airlines (ET). The African carrier used an Airbus A350-900, registered as ET-AZI, to operate an additional charter service from MAD to Birmingham (BHX) to fly fans.

All 17 airlines that took part in the transport of Real Madrid fans from Spain to the United Kingdom. Image: Airways.

Each Year, New Hosts, New Helpers

As the host of the UEFA Champions League Final changes every year, the airlines and companies that take part in this yearly operation vary.

Last year, when the match took place in Istanbul, Türkiye, the local carriers Turkish Airlines (TK) and Pegasus (PC) played a key role in the transport of fans to the city. Airways made a profound analysis of that year’s campaign, as well.

Next year, Munich, Germany, will host the most famous and iconic soccer match in Europe, also around June 2025. At that moment, who do you think will operate the largest number of flights of the logistic operation?

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