The topic of charter planes has come up once more in the WNBA, but not for the reason that most people would assume.
Following Brittney Griner’s release from detention in Russia after being found guilty of bringing hash oil into her luggage, there are questions regarding her travel. The six-time WNBA All-Star was imprisoned for over ten months.
There are rumors that Griner will have to fly privately owing to security issues, which might cause issues for the entire league. Will the 6-foot-9 center, who is well-known, be able to fly alone and get away from the Phoenix Mercury? If the Mercury sailed together, would Phoenix have an obvious advantage over them? Considering fairness, is it possible for all WNBA clubs to charter?
It’s a challenging problem.
Breanna Stewart, a seven-year veteran who is the most well-known free agent this offseason and is allegedly considering offers to join the New York Liberty or stay in Seattle, tweeted on Sunday afternoon, “I would love to be part of an agreement that helps fund charter flights for the whole WNBA. To ensure that we all travel in a way that emphasizes player health and safety and ultimately produces a better product, I would contribute my NIL, posts, and production hours. Is anyone with me?
Many basketball players, including many WNBA players, responded to her message of support with the emoji of a woman raising her hand to suggest that they would also contribute. Elena Delle Donne, a forward with the Mystics, reacted, “I’m in! Regardless of the cost.
Even NBA players joined in, like guard Ja Morant of the Memphis Grizzlies, who stated, “Count me in.”
But WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert has rejected the notion, previously telling ESPN, “We’ve approached all the big airlines. Charter businesses have been questioned. Since the moment I joined the league, I have been working on this. It’s simply not possible right now without sponsors stepping up.
“If we could find some kind of sponsorship or funding… All ears, please. Since we returned to our 12 markets last year, I’ve had numerous calls concerning this. People never contact you again after they price it out.
According to Engelbert, it would cost more than $20 million to charter the entire season for all 12 teams. Engelbert previously stated in remarks to The New York Times that during the 2020 CBA negotiations, players “did not want first-class or charter transportation. They demanded a raise in pay.”
Agents, though, disagree with the idea that it can only be one.
Travel is the top concern for her clients, according to Jade-Li English of Klutch Sports Group, who represents many WNBA players, including two-time MVP A’ja Wilson. She stated that everything else, even expansion, should take a backseat to travel.
English texted the authority Sports, “It’s very disheartening to see the league not prioritizing player health, safety, and equity.” “NBA and WNBA leagues have a significant international following. I find it hard to imagine that they are unable to develop a single answer that will satisfy the requirements of these participants. It is false to imply that these women’s opinions on this matter have not been expressed.”
The WNBA and Engelbert declined to comment to USA TODAY Sports for this article, but it is anticipated that they will work with Griner and her representatives to keep her safe.
The WNBPA did not respond to specific inquiries concerning Griner but stated in a statement to USA TODAY Sports that the players union is “always looking for ways to help the group. Every year, we try to find innovative ways and tools to deal with the specific pain point of travel. For all of our members, we understand this to be a health and safety concern.”
A contentious issue in the league for many years has been charter flights. Despite being funded by the NBA, the WNBA still employs commercial airlines. The league and players agreed in the 2020 CBA that players will be upgraded to Economy Plus or Comfort seats to offer more legroom. Engelbert declared the league would be chartered during the five-game championship series before the 2022 finals.
However, issues exist. The WNBPA president Nneka Ogwumike documented the mishap last season when the Los Angeles Sparks were left stuck in Washington, D.C. after a flight was canceled and had to sleep in the airport.
When the Connecticut Suns were facing Dallas in the WNBA quarterfinals last year, then-coach Curt Miller claimed the team was unable to practice before Game 3 because, following the cancellation of a commercial flight and a last-minute rush to find a charter, the plane could not support the weight of the Suns’ luggage, including their practice equipment.
In 2018, a game against the Washington Mystics was postponed due to the Las Vegas Aces’ horrible travel day, which saw them delayed for nearly a full 24 hours.
When the league learned that New York Liberty owner Joe Tsai had chartered the second half of the season, it penalized him a staggering $500,000, Sports Illustrated reported in March 2022. Additionally, according to Sports Illustrated, the majority of the WNBA Board of Governors voted against the league’s full-time charter in a September 2021 meeting. The news was referred to as “disgraceful” by Mercury guard Skylar Diggins-Smith, who was among the players to express their outrage.
The Mercury has experience with private flights. Diana Taurasi hired a private plane to travel home to Phoenix and her wife, Penny Taylor after Phoenix defeated Las Vegas in Game 5 of the 2021 semifinals. Taurasi wanted to be there for the birth of their second child, a girl named Isla.
Longtime NBA assistant and Aces coach Becky Hammon complained about travel for the 2022 All-Star game.
Because it directly affects the product on the floor that you are selling to the public, Hammon added, “I realize we’re locked into the CBA we’re in right now, but we need to get these gals from A to B in the most efficient way possible.”