May 8, 2024 

Players rejoice after WNBA announces plan for charter flights

Nneka Ogwumike: 'It is time to be transformational'

After years of contentious discussion between the WNBA and the league’s Players Association over the issue of charter flights, the league’s decision to offer those flights, first reported by Christine Brennan of USA Today on Tuesday, drew rave reviews from the players.

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Later on Tuesday, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert told reporters that the league will begin the program “as soon as we can get planes in places.” The league estimates the decision will cost $25 million annually for the next two seasons.

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Last year, the WNBA added charter flights for the entire postseason and allowed five teams to fly charter when they played back-to-back with travel between games. In the prior years, they allowed teams who participated in the 2021 and 2022 WNBA Finals and road team for the Commissioner’s Cup Championship game to travel by charter.

But the path has been fraught. The New York Liberty received a $500,000 fine for paying for charter flights, contrary to the league’s collective bargaining agreement, during the second half of the 2021 season, first reported by Howard Megdal. Last June, Brittney Griner and the Phoenix Mercury were targets of a harassment incident at the Dallas airport, which it sparked calls for heightened travel measures going forward.

“It’s the first that I’m hearing as well,” Breanna Stewart said of the charter flight plans at New York Liberty practice Tuesday. “And it’s something that we’ve been wanting and fighting for for a long time. But I have to imagine the WNBA will also be talking with the coaches, the front office and the [WNBPA] to make this happen, and let’s hope we can.”

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New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu, a veteran of charter flights from that 2021 Liberty season, expressed excitement about the move on her Instagram story.

“YES, YES, YES, YES, YES,” Ionescu wrote. “I’m so excited. Idk what else to say besides YES.”

For the second consecutive season, all 12 teams in the WNBA will play 40 regular-season games, and the upcoming season will also be an Olympic year.

“To continue to add more games into the season and change how the Commissioner’s Cup will be played this year,” New York Liberty forward/center Jonquel Jones told reporters on Tuesday, “it just adds a little bit more travel into our schedules. So we can try to find some help with our recovery and just being able to get rested so that we can put our best product on the court would be amazing for us.”

Seattle Storm forward Nneka Ogwumike, who serves as WNBPA President, is optimistic about the actions being taken by the league.

“I am thrilled to see a significant change in policy that will permit and provide charter travel across all teams throughout the 2024 season and going forward,” Ogwumike said in a statement. “On behalf of the players, I express my appreciation and support for a bold move by the Commissioner & team governors that in turn shows that they understand and value the health and safety of the players. It is time to be transformational. It’s time to bet on women!”

Jackie Powell contributed reporting to this story.

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Written by Aya Abdeen

Aya Abdeen is a student in sports journalism at Arizona State University and has been a contributing writer for The Next since December 2022. She is also a sports reporter for the Sun Devils’ women’s basketball team for The State Press. Her work has also appeared on AZPreps365.

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