In a perfect world, WNBA teams would fly charter.
In this world, they don’t.
Because the prospect of only some teams chartering flights apparently represents an unfair competitive advantage.
OK, but isn’t playing a sixth game in 10 days and having to do it on airplane fumes also a competitive disadvantage?
That’ll be the Sparks on Tuesday when, with the season on the line, they’ll host the perennially championship-contending Connecticut Sun at Crytpo.com Arena.
Some WNBA teams have a dedicated practice space, some teams play in more appealing locales, but no team is permitted to charter the fastest and most fluid route from Point A to Point B.
You’d think, then, the league would be more tactful with its scheduling. That, at least, it would allow a little grace between a whirlwind road trip and the next tip-off.
Let the east coast tour begin …
With a 6hr flight after a game 6 hrs ago 😁
— Brittney Sykes (@BrittBundlez) August 1, 2022
You’d hope the Sparks wouldn’t play a game July 31, go straight into a four-games-in-six-days East Coast sprint that ended Sunday in Washington D.C. – and that they wouldn’t then have to cross their fingers in hopes they could avoid major delays on their way back to L.A.
Because if everything went according to plan, they were scheduled to get home late Sunday and then have one day to recover from a taxing trip while also preparing for Connecticut.
Naturally, everything did not go according to plan.
The Sparks’ flight out of Dulles International Airport following their 79-76 victory over the Washington Mystics was delayed multiple times before it was canceled outright just after 1 a.m., making it one of the 89 United flights canceled that day, according to flightaware.com.
It left members of the team stranded on the other side of the country for the night, deciding whether to get an hour or two of sleep in a hotel room or in the airport.
“It was basically, it was only a matter of time,” said Nneka Ogwumike, the president of the Women’s National Basketball Players Association, early Monday morning, noting that she was spending the night in the airport for the first time in her 11-year WNBA career.
She shared that insight in a video posted to Twitter that also featured her sister and teammate Chiney as they went “roaming around” a terminal in the middle of the night.
Everyone was exhausted regardless when the Sparks finally boarded a flight for home early Monday morning, touching down close to 11 a.m., half the day gone.
The WNBA has been called out for traveling issues before. In 2018, the Las Vegas Aces – in the thick of a playoff race – canceled a game against Washington after an exhausting, 24-hour odyssey that would have had them going directly from the airport to their game.
But Commissioner Cathy Englebert has said it would cost more than $20 million a season to fly all 12 WNBA teams by charter instead of commercially. That’s more than the league can afford, she said.
So, for now, if you’re a WNBA player, you’re holding your breath that you’ll be able to fold yourself into a seat on a commercial flight without significant delay.
“Traveling two hours takes 12 hours,” former Sparks coach Derek Fisher noted during his first season with the Sparks, when the longtime NBA player also marveled at the fact that players carry and check their own bags – a cumbersome process that can add close to an hour to the ordeal.
And in 2022, commercial air travel is less reliable than almost ever before. Federal transportation officials reported last month that 88,161 flights were canceled through May — the second-most in the first five months of a year since 1988, excluding 2020 during the pandemic.
On Monday afternoon, Nneka sent another tweet, noting that “a lot has changed in the commercial travel landscape since we negotiated our current CBA.”
She called for the league to permit teams to invest in charter flights, starting with the upcoming playoffs, and she invited airline companies to “partner with WNBA players to help eliminate the toughest opponent they face each season: travel.”
But so long as WNBA life doesn’t include charter flights, the league should at least be as intentional about building a buffer for the inevitable travel delays as it is about prioritizing weekend play and TV opportunities or navigating arena conflicts.
For fairness’ sake.
— Nneka Ogwumike (@nnekaogwumike) August 8, 2022
4am thoughts from the airport terminal. pic.twitter.com/GzrHkQ5FUA
— WNBPA (@TheWNBPA) August 8, 2022
us waiting for Cathy to wake up in the morning. pic.twitter.com/2mw0BI2tAl
— Lexie Brown (@Lexiebrown) August 8, 2022
wheeeew I’m tired but finally headed home after 12 hours of airport rest
— H O L L Y W O O D 🛬 (@ChennedyCarter) August 8, 2022
Let’s try again .
— Brittney Sykes (@BrittBundlez) August 8, 2022