So you’re wondering whether WNBA teams fly because of all the recent discussion around athletes staying in college for NIL and charter flights? The short answer is: yes WNBA teams fly to their away games. This year WNBA teams will play a record 40-game schedule as part of the upcoming 2023 season that begins on May 19 – including 20 home games and 20 on the road.
Furthermore, this year, the WNBA is expanding to new heights with its charter flights program for players, announced by the league on April 10. Coming on the heels of All-Star Breanna Stewart advocating for charter flights during the free agency period, tweeting, “I would love to be part of a deal that helps subsidize charter travel for the entire WNBA,” this is a welcome announcement.
The WNBA does not allow teams to charter private flights for regular-season games, because it could provide a potential unfair competitive advantage over franchises that can’t afford charters. Recently, the New York Liberty personally funded charter flights for the team, but that was in violation of the league’s collective bargaining agreement between the WNBA and the players’ union, resulting in the Liberty receiving a fine.
However traveling commercial remains hard on the athletes, even beyond scheduling and cancellations. As just one example, traveling with the general public has even led to some players entering health and safety protocols and missing games, such as the Washington Mystics’ Natasha Cloud.
“You try to show up and do the right things and be ready, but the scheduling is really hard. It’s about whatever it takes. It’s just part of the grind, we know that,” Minnesota Lynx shooting guard Kayla McBride said in July reported Winsidr. “Hopefully the league can figure things out logistics wise, because if they want the best product on the court, they have to provide those kinds of resources. We know that’s part of our lives and our journey, but it is hard. I’m used to playing year-round, but this is really really hard. You just try and give everything you have.”
Of course, travel is further complicated this year for one WNBA team in particular: the Phoenix Mercury. Because of WNBA All-Star and US Olympian Brittney Griner’s Russian detainment and the politicized circumstances surrounding her return stateside, she’s become increasingly recognizable, and ensuring her “safety and security” throughout the season has become a major concern.
The franchise is prepared to take every precaution necessary to protect its superstar — at its own venues, on the road, and everywhere in between — and Mercury President Vince Kozar told Insider, “there is a collective commitment to support” those efforts across the WNBA. They’ll likely approach Brittney’s security much like the NBA handles its biggest superstars’ safety, sources familiar with the situation, which could very well necessitate private flights to and from away games.
Starting with the 2023 season, players will now enjoy the comfort and convenience of charter flights for all postseason games, including the Playoffs and highly anticipated WNBA Finals, as well as for the WNBA Commissioner’s Cup Championship Game, and select regular season games with back-to-back matchups on the schedule.
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert expressed her excitement about the new travel plans, stating, “We continue the hard work of transforming the business of the league, and the ability to expand this program is a direct result of that.” She further emphasized her commitment to improving the overall player experience and making incremental improvements whenever possible. As always, it’s all about enhancing the game, on and off the court.
This move comes as part of the WNBA’s ongoing efforts to grow the league and provide the best possible resources for its players. In fact, the charter flights program was initially introduced a few years ago, and since then, it has been gaining momentum.
However Cathy has made it clear the league will not yet invest in charter flights for every regular season game due to financial concerns. “Look, if [the players] could get companies to step up — I think it would have to be a collective of companies, because $25 or $30 million a year is a big number — but if a bunch of players got a bunch of companies who wanted to help fund this, we’d absolutely partner with the players and talk to them about how it would work,” Cathy told Sportico.
Regardless, WNBA players will take to the skies in style for more games this season than ever before, enjoying the perks of charter flights as they compete at the highest level of women’s professional basketball. It’s a whole new ball game, folks.