WNBA players say the league needs charter flights now, and they’re right
PHOENIX — Imagine this scenario:
You’re waiting in a three-loop-wide line to check in your carry-on bags because you accidentally packed your beauty products over the Transportation Security Administration’s 3.4-ounce limit. As you inch forward, wondering if you’ll get through security in time to catch your flight, you notice Candace Parker and the Sky checking their bags in front of you.
Their luggage far exceeds that of a standard passenger on a domestic flight, as they don’t just pack toothbrushes and a few extra pairs of socks. Their luggage contains everything a professional sports team needs to be ready for game day, and they entrust it to an airline.
As they walk away from their more than 10 extra-large rolling duffel bags dropped on the conveyor belt by an airline agent, you stop and think:
”WNBA players are like us. ”
This specific scenario might be fictional, but the travel issues for WNBA teams are real. If you missed the fact that the top women’s sports league in the country travels commercially, you’ve been living under a rock or haven’t met Parker at the airport yet.
WNBA travel issues take center stage every season. Several stories detailing gruesome travel experiences are relayed by players to the public via social media. I’m not talking about minor inconveniences; I’m talking about the kind of disturbances that would force even the most avid pilot to take a long break from the friendly skies.
Sky’s biggest travel hurdles this season have involved lengthy delays. One happened in July, when they were heading to New York on a 6am flight for a game that night after playing a game the night before. By the time they arrived in the Big Apple, they had about four hours before they needed to be at Barclays Center to play.
But the travelogues are getting worse.
WNBA Players’ Union President Nneka Ogwumike wrote a statement at 4 a.m. this week about the league’s travel accommodation shortcomings after two delays left the Sparks sleeping at the airport following a road game against the Mystics. After 40 minutes of physical exertion requiring rest and care, these pro athletes lay down on the cold floor of a Virginia airport.
“It’s time to allow teams to invest in charter flights between games, starting with the entire 2022 playoffs and continuing with a common-sense solution for the entire season in 2023,” wrote Ogwumike.
WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert has repeatedly said the cost of securing charter flights for all 12 teams for the entire season will put a financial strain on the league. Ahead of the All-Star Game this season, Engelbert said the league would host every WNBA Finals game.
The league’s collective bargaining agreement with players, signed in 2020 and effective through the 2027 season, does not include charter flights. Any team is prohibited from obtaining charters because they provide a competitive advantage, but there are owners in the league who push back against this constraint.
Earlier this year, it was reported that Liberty owner Joe Tsai laid out a plan to secure charter flights for all 12 WNBA teams after he was fined $500,000 for providing charters to his team in 2021. Engelbert and other league executives denied that a plan had been presented.
Beyond the health and safety concerns of those athletes crammed into restrictive airplane seats and lacking the rest and recovery needed to fly commercially, there are the risks that remain around the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19. Three Sky staff members have contracted COVID-19 this season, including managing director/coach James Wade, and have been forced to miss several games.
It’s unclear if they contracted the virus while traveling, but it’s another health risk that needs to be added to the list every time teams travel.
Engelbert hinted that charter flights might not be used until a new TV rights deal is negotiated. The WNBA’s current deal with ESPN runs through 2025, and a new deal is expected to provide a source of financial growth that will result in higher salaries and charter flights.
As Ogwumike said, however, players want charter flights now – and rightly so.
But, in the meantime, if you find yourself at the airport waiting to check in a bag or go through security, remember to look up. You might spot Parker, Courtney Vandersloot or Kahleah Copper. It might not be fair, but until the WNBA invests in private flights for its players, athletes are just like us.