WNBA starts chartering; travel plans still unclear for some teams

ByAlexa Philippou ESPN logo
Wednesday, May 15, 2024

The WNBA has started to implement its regular-season chartering program for the beginning of the 2024 campaign, with the Indiana Fever and Minnesota Lynx flying private for their opening-day games at Connecticut and Seattle, respectively.

But personnel from multiple teams told ESPN they have not received word from the league on when they will be permitted to charter as the WNBA prepares to kick off its 28th season Tuesday. Teams that have started chartering are still waiting to find out if they'll charter for subsequent away games, a source said.

"It's a good problem to have because we got here and we're talking about charter travel," WNBPA executive director Terri Jackson told ESPN Monday. "Now, in this moment, the league has found its pathway to yes. It just seems that the pathway has a few more bumps than perhaps were needed."

The league officially announced Thursday that a full charter program would be "phased in beginning with the start of the 2024 regular season," according to a release. The news first broke Tuesday when commissioner Cathy Engelbert told a group of sports editors the league was on the verge of moving to full-chartering "as soon as we can get planes in places."

The league's plan will cost $25 million per year for the next two seasons. Previously, WNBA teams only could charter during the postseason and for regular-season games on back-to-back days requiring air travel.

Details on the implementation of that plan began to come out Monday when Indiana guard Erica Wheeler posted a video from a chartered flight as the team headed to Connecticut for its season opener against the Sun. Minnesota also confirmed to ESPN it is chartering west to take on the Storm.

Two-time league MVP Breanna Stewart of the New York Liberty posted on social media that evening that New York is traveling via bus to Washington, D.C.; the team is currently set to fly commercially from the nation's capital to Indiana for its Thursday meeting against the Fever.

To round out the league's first two days of competition, the Chicago Sky travel to Dallas and the Atlanta Dream to Los Angeles via commercial flights. The Phoenix Mercury are also headed to Las Vegas, but it is unclear how they are traveling, as they were believed to have been flying more JSX public charters last season due to security concerns over Brittney Griner, although the team did not confirm that to media.

"2 out of 5 WNBA teams traveling today are on WNBA charters -- and that's a win. It could be a bigger one if the W allowed teams who were not offered League charters to secure their own until a full 12 team solution is ready," Stewart posted on social media.

"I think in the implementation there's an opportunity for us to be transformational together," Jackson said. "And I think there's still time for us to do that."

The WNBA did not have a comment when asked by ESPN.

The overwhelming sentiment around the league is gratitude that chartering will be implemented well earlier than expected, even if some teams must wait a bit longer to enjoy it. Some expressed a preference that all 12 teams would have been able to start using it at the same time, especially since the league has previously said teams can't fund their own charters because it would pose a competitive advantage over franchises who couldn't afford to.

"It seemed as, if they were concerned about a competitive advantage, that they would have rolled it out differently," Jackson said.

The lack of communication from the league, meanwhile, impacts both short-term logistical planning and prevents organizations from cancelling and getting any money back on commercial travel plans they'd made for the rest of the regular season.

"This is a big change, and it's a big deal," Jackson said. "And the more communication around it is what's going to be helpful, is what's going to be best."

ESPN's Michael Voepel also contributed to this report.

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