For super-rich sports fans, the path to the Super Bowl will be in a private jet.
More than 1,000 private jets are expected to fly into New Orleans this weekend, just under last year's tally of around 1,100 planes in Indianapolis – one of the biggest ever. So many Gulfstreams, Learjets and Citations will be landing in New Orleans that airport operators are having to close down taxiways to make room for private-jet parking.
"It's going to be a very busy weekend here," said Michelle Wilcut, deputy director of Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.
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About 200 private jets are expected to land New Orleans International and around 700 expected at New Orleans Lakefront Airport, which is the main private-jet airport. Up to 100 planes could be arriving at other, smaller airports nearby.
Lakefront is closing one of its taxiways to make room for private-jet parking. And other airports are shuffling planes and tarmac space to make room for the flock of planes.
Private jet companies say demand for this year's game has been dampened somewhat by the lack of a New York team in the big match-up. Since New York's tri-state area is far and away the largest private-jet market, New York teams tend to be big winners for the industry.
Another big market for private-jet travel is Boston and the New England region. Last year's game between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots was a dream match-up for the industry.
While the San Francisco is a strong jet market, Baltimore is less of a draw. Flexjet "isn't seeing significant demand for travel to the Super Bowl this year – due to the participating teams," the company said in a statement, but added that travelers who are flying private to the game are going earlier and staying for a few days – a contrast to last year when they flew in and out the day of the game.
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"Based on what we've historically seen in the past, East Coast match-ups tend to generate the highest private jet travel demand," Flexjet said.
Others say last-minute bookings may push this year's total close to last year's total. And they say fans from around the country are flying private to the game.
Adam Johnson, senior vice president of sales, marketing and service at NetJets, said the company has about 120 planes going to New Orleans. He said the company "may see demand slightly above last year," since clients are flying in from around the country.
He said San Francisco and Baltimore account for only about 25 percent of the traffic, while the rest is coming from the Northeast, South and other areas.
"The traffic is coming from all over the country," he said. "It's such a popular event, that it's not limited to one area."
Many of the super-rich Super Bowl fans are asking jet companies to fill the planes with NFL swag, from T-shirts and jerseys to footballs and hats. Many are planning big feasts for the trip down, making for the ultimate jet-tail-gating party.
Catering companies say clients are ordering sushi, cheese plates, New Orleans-themed gumbo and oysters. But the big demand this year is for sliders, wings, nachos and pigs-in-a-blanket. And clients are often pairing the party foods with fines wines and vintage champagnes.
"This is a guy's weekend," said Todd Rome, president of Blue Star Jets. "They know how to order."
What does it cost to fly private to the game?
Rome said that for a light jet, the charge is about $2,800 an hour – as long as the round trip is the same day. That means a round trip from New York would run around $17,000. Larger jets cost more like $35,000.
Yet many private jet clients are staying in New Orleans overnight – given the city's legendary night life and flight restrictions that prevent jets from taking off from Lakefront before midnight on Sunday.
Johnson said that NetJets has set up private cars, catering and other services for its fliers over the weekend – whether they stay or not.
"We cater to whatever they want," he said.