WNBA Players and Planes

By: Crina Mustafa
Posted: September 4, 2021

This isn’t a new topic. Commercial flights and the WNBA have gone hand and hand for decades now. If you search up the words “WNBA commercial planes,” you get an article from 2001 about the dream of getting these teams their own planes. The WNBA is a professional sports league. These players are travelling to games every single day on some pretty tight schedules, and then being expected to play at a very high level.  When you’re squeezing them into this situation, you’re bound to run into some problems. The most prominent example this season was the New York Liberty’s flight problems that spanned over 48 hours between games.

You can read the in-depth details of the situation here, but it was most definitely a mess. The Liberty players weren’t down though, as we were all able to get an inside look into their energy at the airport, thanks to DiDi Richards and her Instagram live.

Unfortunately, flight delays like these have been occurring for WNBA teams for years now. Other professional teams do not get the same treatment. The WNBA’s counterpart, the NBA, secured deals for 27 of its 30 teams back in 2015 with Delta Air Lines Inc. Teams that already had sizable airplanes for their teams were able to upgrade with these newer chartered flights. The NBA is one of the biggest professional leagues. Their players make incredible amounts of money, and teams are able to afford proper accommodations for their players and staff. The other major men’s leagues are in the same boat (or rather, flight). Although CBA rules and standards are different for the NBA and the WNBA, chartered flights are not something out of reach for the women’s league. 

According to Sherpa Report, an aviation guide, prices on various flights like the Boeing aircraft can range anywhere between $7,000-$15,000 per hour. There are other things included in these prices that are additions to the flight itself- such as catering and drinks. Teams can go even further with accommodations and purchase “napkins, blankets, pillows, headrest covers, and toiletries, and decals on the exterior.” The last part of this is interesting. Decals on the exterior of the plane allow teams to advertise themselves, especially if they are using these planes for the entirety of the season. This would be a major step in improving the marketing of WNBA teams and the league in general. 

Professional leagues aren’t the only sports leagues that give their teams chartered flights. Many collegiate teams are on the smaller end of the flight spectrum but nonetheless have the same goal. Get your team from one place to another without any delays or issues. There is no reason whatsoever that women’s professional leagues are still being forced to fly on commercial flights. It’s always been a problem, and now with the pandemic, there’s an added layer of difficulty. Chartered flights would be able to grant these players less exposure to the virus, ultimately making health and safety protocols run a lot smoother.

So, we have all these benefits, but why hasn’t anything been done to alleviate the problem? Well, here’s where we run into a little bit of a scuffle. In 2017, the Indy Star reported that the WNBA actually bans chartered flights, the reason being that not all teams can afford it. The goal is to make sure that all teams have an equal playing field, and apparently, that means risking the middle seat or hours of delays. The league has definitely grown since 2017, and since TV numbers are breaking records in 2021, we might be able to revisit the conversation. 

When the New York Liberty had their flight issues, Joe Tsai, Brooklyn Nets owner and chairman of Barclays Center, vowed to end this problem. 

This is interesting because of the league’s current ban on chartered flights, but he makes a good point.

When some of the Liberty players were asked about Tsai’s statement and whether or not things had changed for them, they could not speak on it at the time. It will be interesting to see if anything does start to change at this point, especially with the growing attention on the league and its players. 

There’s definitely been a push from players who have been frustrated with this situation. Kelsey Plum, Olympic Gold Medalist and player for the Las Vegas Aces, tweeted this out in August.

If that seems confusing to you, that’s because it is! We’re not the only ones confused either. 

It seems like there could be some steps taken to begin combatting this issue. The CBA states that teams can only provide ‘premium economy’ at this time, but hopefully the air travel section can start to expand. 

The WNBA is growing, let’s make sure the air circulation keeps up with it.

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Click here for more WNBA coverage by Venus Sports.

For more basketball thoughts and opinions from Crina, check out her Twitter.

(Photo via Instagram/sabrina_i)

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