(Picture (C) Finnish Ice Hockey Association. The semifinals of Youth Ice Hockey World Championship between Finland and Switzerland was played in Rogers Arena Vancouver on Friday Jan 4, 2019. Finland won 6-1.)
What has already been done and taken into account before an ice hockey team can travel to their tournament? Junior National Team Secretary Annika Tirinen from the Finnish Ice Hockey Association explains.
- On average, planning the trip starts approximately six months before the tournament, when the dates and location are known. We prefer direct flights to the destination whenever possible; however, sometimes the investigations begin with finding the nearest airport.
That's right. The tournaments are not always held in the largest cities, and all the luggage for an entire ice hockey team will not fit on a small plane. For this reason, simply reaching the destination may require careful planning by Annika and American Express GBT's specialised team that serves sports organisations like the Finnish Ice Hockey Association.
In Central Europe, for example, the closest airport may actually be in a neighbouring country, which warrants further study of the map. A tournament will be held in Northern Slovakia between Christmas and New Year. The organisers recommended Krakow Airport, but the planes flying there are too small. Larger equipment were available with a transfer in Munich, but reaching the destination would take all day. Budapest, on the other hand, is only a 4–5 hour bus drive away from the tournament, so it was chosen.
A travelling ice hockey team is a group of about 30 people: players, carers, coaches, physiotherapists... They have more than a thousand kilogrammes of luggage, all of which needs to arrive at the destination. It's difficult to play without your hockey sticks. This is why Annika carefully investigates the amount and size of the allowed luggage. Meanwhile, Sirpa and Ari from GBT's service team negotiate with the airline to get suitable equipment for the route. The size of the cargo hold is the decisive factor.
Annika always books tickets at group rates. – The team playing in the tournament is chosen a couple of weeks in advance, and we always monitor the situation up to the last moment in case of injuries and other potential issues. Group tickets are more flexible in terms of changes, and you can report the final names of passengers closer to the departure.
Despite the flexibility, issues may sometimes appear. Outside of working hours, Annika can contact GBT's on-call service which can help with additional routing even in the middle of the night. – A player was recently left behind due to a travel document issue. Luckily, we were soon able to solve the problem and he could fly to meet his teammates, even though his route differed slightly from the others.
Keeping everything in check is important, since there are always several junior teams on the road at the same time. At the time of the interview, Annika has just sent the U17 junior team to Canada. The U18 junior team will soon be on its way to Sweden, while the under 20 national team will be heading to a tournament in Helsinki. Meanwhile, a second group of under 20s has a training camp in the Czech Republic.
Annika uses the online reservation service for individual connecting flights and domestic tournament flights. Cooperation works well with the technology and the service team, which has a long history of assisting the Finnish Ice Hockey Association. – I love working together with them, Annika praises.
And the work is nowhere near done. During the season, players of all ages will fly to a total of 20–30 destinations, such as the youth World Championship in the Czech Republic, the U18 championship in the US and, of course, the adult World Championship in Switzerland. Safe travels!
American Express Global Business Travel is the official travel partner of Finnish Ice Hockey Association.