Unlike in the NBA, WNBA teams aren’t permitted to use charter planes for travel. And, much like other airline passengers flying commercial these days, that has caused headaches for WNBA teams in the midst of travel.
The latest example has come with the Los Angeles Sparks. One of their star players is Nneka Ogwumike – who happens to be the Women’s National Basketball Players Association president. After getting stuck at an airport overnight between games, she’s calling on the league to take action, saying in a statement, “A lot has changed in the commercial travel landscape since we negotiated our current CBA,” referring to the collective bargaining agreement that took effect in 2020.
After the Sparks defeated the Washington Mystics on Sunday, Ogwumike posted a video on social media early Monday while trying to fly home from Washington DC, saying, “We are roaming the airport. It’s the first time in my 11 seasons that I’ve ever had to sleep in the airport.”
But, based on travel, she later adds, “it was only a matter of time.”
According to the flight tracking website FlightAware, it was a miserable weekend to fly, as 951 flights were canceled Sunday across the United States, and more than 8,000 flights Sunday were delayed.
Ogwumike, who said in the video it was 1:44 a.m. as she was recording herself, said their flight was delayed multiple times before it was canceled at 1 a.m. The team was rebooked for 9 a.m. Ogwumike said there weren’t enough hotel rooms for the entire team, so half of the team stayed the night in the airport.
Later Monday evening, the WNBPA released a statement on Twitter from Ogwumike calling for the league “to permit teams to invest in charter flights between games, beginning with the entire 2022 WNBA Playoffs, and continuing with a common sense, full-season solution beginning in 2023.”
“And in the spirit of collaboration,” Ogwumike continued, “we call upon both private and commercial airline companies to recognize this bold opportunity to lead: American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, United, NetJets, Wheels Up, JetSuiteX, among others: We encourage you to meet us at the table and partner with WNBA players to help eliminate the toughest opponent they face each season: travel.”
The WNBA declined to comment when reached by CNN on Monday night. Last month at the WNBA All-Star Game, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said that the league will provide charters for both teams during the upcoming WNBA Finals.
“I think we’ll look for other opportunities to do charters like we have in the past,” Engelbert said at the time, on July 10. “People don’t know we did a bunch of charters during last year’s playoffs when we had a west to east with challenging one day’s rest or no days’ rest, so we’ll continue to look for those opportunities should our budget allow it. But we wanted to start kind of chipping away and do WNBA Finals.”
The Sparks are scheduled to host the Connecticut Sun on Tuesday.
The WNBA playoffs start August 17.