WNBA to begin full-time charter flights this season, commissioner says

"We intend to fund a full-time charter for this season,” WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a meeting with sports editors. The initiative will commit $50 million over two years.
WNBA charter flights
Posted at 6:02 PM, May 07, 2024

The WNBA plans to commit $50 million over the next two years to provide full-time charter flight service for its teams during the season, the league's commissioner announced Tuesday in a move that addresses years of player safety concerns.

"We intend to fund a full-time charter for this season,” commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a meeting with sports editors.

She said the league will launch the program “as soon as we can get planes in places.”

Engelbert said the program will cost the league around $25 million per year for the next two seasons.

The WNBA already had announced at its draft last month plans to once again pay for charter flights for the entire playoffs as well as for back-to-back games during the upcoming season that require air travel.

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The league's schedule features more back-to-back sets this season, with the WNBA taking a long break for the Olympics in late July and early August. The league spent $4 million on charters in 2023.

Engelbert said before the WNBA draft that the league needs to be in the right financial position to charter planes.

The WNBA is attracting more attention than ever thanks to rookies like Caitlin Clark, who helped the NCAA reach its best viewership in history for women’s basketball, with nearly 19 million fans watching the title game, along with Angel Reese, who went to the Met Gala on Monday night, and Cameron Brink.

Clark attracted attention walking through the airport with her new Indiana Fever teammates for a preseason game with the Dallas Wings last week. That exhibition sold out with fans lined up eager to get inside.

WNBA teams also have been moving games against Clark and Indiana to bigger arenas because of increased demand.

Minnesota Lynx forward Napheesa Collier said flying via charter planes is a safety issue as the names, stars and fans grow. She noted video showing Clark having bodyguards surrounding her at the airport and trying to protect Brittney Griner last year while traveling.

“All these players and these faces are becoming so popular that it really is about that as much as it is about recovery,” Collier said.

Flights have been an issue for the WNBA that only increased last year with the league working with Griner and the Phoenix Mercury. They had to go commercial air, and the All-Star center who had been detained in Russia for nearly 10 months was harassed by what the WNBA called a “provocateur.”

The league hadn't allowed teams to use charter flights except for when they have back-to-back games.

That forced players like Breanna Stewart, the 6-foot-4 forward for the New York Liberty, to squeeze past fellow travelers on commercial flights to fit into her assigned window seat. WNBA players also had to not only retrieve their own luggage but endure travel days that could stretch 13 hours with delays.