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Friday, May 17, 2024

WNBA Commissioner Says League Will Finally Get Charter Flights This Season

  • Cathy Engelbert announced the WNBA intends to move entirely to charter flights this year.
  • Players currently fly charter for only the playoffs, midseason tournament championship, and back-to-back games.
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

In a major move for the WNBA, commissioner Cathy Engelbert said Tuesday that the league will finally move away from commercial flights.

“We intend to fund a full-time charter for this season,” Engelbert told sports editors, saying the plan will go into action “as soon as we can get planes in places.”

Engelbert estimated that charter flights will cost the league roughly $25 million annually for the next two years. The league spent $4 million on charter flights in 2023, according to the Associated Press. Under current rules, teams fly commercial with the exceptions of the playoffs, Commissioner’s Cup championship, and back-to-back games.

Upgrading travel has been a sticking point for players over the years, including in its most recent CBA negotiations in 2020 that made sure all players will be seated in premium economy cabins. The players’ association struck a partnership with Priority Pass last year to get airport lounge access before flights.

Players have started expressing their excitement over the news on social media. Retired WNBA legend Sue Bird simply posted the emoji of a pair of eyes, while New York Liberty forward Breanna Stewart posted a plane emoji and a question mark, and tagged the WNBA.

Caitlin Clark, who has accelerated coverage, ratings, and ticket sales in women’s basketball, was recorded by fans and the media walking through a baggage claim at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport ahead of her preseason game Friday. Brittney Griner and her teammates were harassed in the same airport in June by Alex Stein, a YouTube personality who pushed a team security guard and made “inappropriate comments” to Griner, according to a police report.

The league has come down harshly on team owners who have taken the matters into their own hands in order, it says, to maintain competitive balance. When the Liberty broke the CBA rules by flying their players charter in 2022, the league slapped them with a $500,000 fine, which was reduced from the earlier plans for a $1 million penalty.

The WNBA season begins next Tuesday, May 14, exactly one week after Engelbert announced the new travel plans.

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