The current state of air travel, fraught with constant delays and cancellations, is stressful enough for even the most casual traveler. The WNBA — one of the few professional sports leagues whose teams travel commercially rather than via charter or private flights — has often faced travel issues in recent seasons.
This season, however, this hot topic has come even more to the forefront, even stealing the spotlight at times. For the league’s players and teams, the trials and tribulations of commercial flying cause an even bigger headache as upcoming games, road trips and fast turnaround times are constantly put in jeopardy.
The WNBA said it was working to resolve the issues and acknowledged that it was considering season-long charter flights in future years, which the league says. could cost more than $20 million per year. Most recently, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced that the WNBA providing charter flights to teams participating in the WNBA Finals.
Although these initial actions are steps in the right direction, no tangible change has yet taken place. The WNBA still faces a big problem when it comes to travel for its 12 teams, and something that should be getting better has only gotten worse — and could continue to do so in the future.
In 2018, the Las Vegas Aces spent more than 24 hours trying to get to Washington, D.C.., then spend the day dealing with flight cancellations and even sleeping in a Dallas airport before their final departure. A season ago, in 2021, the New York Liberty decided to personally finance charter flights for the teambut this constituted a violation of the league’s collective bargaining agreement, earning the Liberty a fine.
In May of this season, commercial flights and travel with the general public also caused some players to adopt health and safety protocols:an example being Natasha Cloud of Washington Mystics– leading to missed matches.
These issues have led several players and coaches to publicly express their dissatisfaction with the league and its lack of addressing travel issues. Becky Hammon, Las Vegas’ first-year head coach said earlier this season the WNBA must “address the travel issue,” adding that the travel situation must “be changed immediately.”
The public outcry has yet to have much impact when it comes to concrete changes from the league, and travel issues have persisted into the second half of the 2022 season. As of mid-July , the Minnesota Lynx had their flight from Indiana to Washington canceled as the team arrived in the nation’s capital early in the morning and was scheduled to play 12 hours later.
“I’ve been in this league a long time, leading a team for over a decade. If you do that long enough, you’ll find yourself in those situations,” Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said. “When it comes to challenges that arise, it’s all about leadership and your ability to collectively overcome a situation. In our situation, yes, it was difficult and disappointing to be in this situation.
– Mitchell Hansen (@M_Hansen13) July 17, 2022
Aside from the delays and cancellations the Lynx experienced during this trip, Reeve noted that there “had been no communication with management of the Minnesota Lynx,” adding that it took several attempts, along with others aboard the Lynx, to reach someone in the league office on the matter. the situation.
“Probably the biggest disappointment was the lack of support we felt in terms of insensitive messages to the league,” Reeve said. “For me, it’s an epic failure. When you go through these things, it’s unfortunate. No one blames anyone, but let’s go with it. It is unacceptable that this did not happen. I thought we deserved more respect than that and I thought I deserved more respect than that. … We are not happy that no consideration was given to us.”
Travel issues arose well before the 2022 season, but they only got worse this summer, and players and teams have had enough. Today, they are increasingly expressing their discontent.
Traveling can be taxing enough, whether due to jet lag, time zone changes, pick-up times or often short turnaround times, but add in those delays and cancellations, and even the usual aspects of seasonal life become unmanageable.
Players and coaches need to focus on their games and try to put the best product on the field. But the trade travel and headaches it represented for WNBA teams made it a difficult goal.
“You try to show up, do the right things and be ready, but the schedule is really tough. This is all it takes. It’s just part of the job, we know that,” Lynx guard Kayla McBride said in July. “I hope the league can find a logistical solution, because if they want the best product on the field, they have to provide those kinds of resources. We know this is part of our life and our journey, but it is difficult. I’m used to playing all year round, but it’s really very difficult. Just try to give it everything you have.
For teams playing on limited days off or traveling far from their home market, there has been a trend toward poor performance. This isn’t a rare thing to see, with many teams often ending up with better home records than away (and also having better records with extra days off), but when you add in problems travel, this makes things even more difficult.
For more than 80% of the regular season, WNBA teams hold a combined record of 92-88 for games played on zero days or one day off. When it comes to games played at home and on the road, the teams were 85-96 in road contests and an opposing mark of 96-85 on their home court. There was also an expected difference in the teams’ statistics in road games compared with at home matches this summer.
Of course, charter flights may not drastically correct or improve these stats, but a change in the travel experience would at least limit the added tension and stress for players already squeezed by a schedule tight.
Increased need for charter flights
Even though the WNBA desperately needs charter flights, introducing this change will not happen with the snap of a finger, as it is a complex issue.
First and foremost, it’s not cheap, assuming the league would pay for these travel arrangements. Up to $20 million in additional funding for travel represents a considerable expense for a league already trying to expand and increase player salaries, among other improvements. Yes, the billionaire owners of each franchise could help out, if they wanted. all research to do this, which is an avenue that deserves to be studied in the near future.
“We discussed (charter flights) with (the players’ association),” Engelbert recently said. “I think we will look for other opportunities to do charters as we have done in the past. People don’t know that we did a lot of charters during last year’s playoffs when we had a West to East (trip) with a rough day off or no day off, so we will continue to seek these opportunities if our budget is respected. Let this.”
Regardless, it’s clearer than ever that switching from commercial to charter travel needs to be at the top of the WNBA’s to-do list. The league has started to take steps, but it won’t be enough moving forward, and the league could face even more travel issues if a permanent change is not made.
In 2022, the league has already expanded the regular season schedule from 32 to 36 games, and this will expand to 40 games starting in 2023. The WNBA is also begin its new post-season format, which could total eight playoff games compared to previous seasons. This will mean more games over the same period of time, allowing teams to travel with faster turnaround times. These car trips cannot be made stuck at airports.
Shouldn’t the WNBA want to put the best product on the court every night? If so, a major way to help would be to provide these professional athletes with charter flights. It’s been a problem for years, has increased in 2022 and could get worse if the league doesn’t find a permanent solution to its travel woes.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are courtesy of WNBA Stats.