- WNBA players have been lobbying the league to provide charter flights to travel between games.
- The league expanded its private flight offering for the 2023 season, but players still want more.
- Liberty star Breanna Stewart told Insider that her fight for better rides is about “setting the standard.”
breanna stewart is pushing the WNBA for “a little more” in its most controversial issue: charter flights, or the lack thereof.
The league’s 12 teams have long traveled from game to game on commercial flights, a reality that has resulted in nightmare journeys and endless hours spent coaching the best basketball players in the world each season. But the WNBA’s travel policies came under additional scrutiny in the wake of Brittney Griner’s return from Russian detention and Stewart’s successful free agency – in which he made private flights a major factor in his decision to join the New York Liberty.
Faced with mounting pressure on the issue, the league announced a revamped travel schedule in April. The WNBA resolved to fund charter flights for any team that plays games on consecutive days, all playoff contests, and the WNBA Commissioner’s Cup championship game.
At first glance, the new policy appears to be a complete overhaul. But in reality, the league will only charter a handful of flights during the regular season; less than half the teams in the league will fly privately between the end of the season and the start of the postseason in mid-September.
“Well, I’ll take the one,” Stewart told Insider when asked about the “small change” in policy during a press conference in New York, drawing laughs from superstar teammates Sabrina Ionescu and Jonquel Jones seated in either one. side of her
“Yeah, a little change,” Ionescu added with a smile.
Stewart and Liberty will be the recipients of one charter flight, an Aug. 17 trip from Las Vegas to Phoenix, over the full five-month period of the regular season. Ideally, the two-time WNBA champion and 2018 MVP said, the league would work with players and owners to make its charter program “something that continually grows.”
“The whole thing behind it is that we want to get to a point in the WNBA where our first answer to a question isn’t no,” Stewart said. “It’s a yes, maybe. Or yes, and.”
As recently as last summer, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said the estimated $20 million-plus price tag of the charter flights could “jeopardize the financial health of the league.” The league has also publicly clashed with its most ambitious franchise owners, namely Liberty’s Joe Tsai, who was slapped with a $500,000 fine last year – more unauthorized use of cards during the season
Engelbert has stressed the importance of the league’s “long-term growth” to “fund things like this,” as she said ahead of the 2023 WNBA Draft in April.
“This is something we’ve been working on since, I mean since I came into the league, but it’s certainly been tough in the last year,” Engelbert said.
“The transformation of the league is happening and it’s working,” he added. “I know a lot of people want instant improvements and change. I want that too, but I know that growing a business takes patience and time, and transformation is happening.”
But for Stewart and his colleagues who play night after night, not to mention all year long. competing for teams abroad — the need to improve travel accommodation is imminent. Players and their allies in the fight for charter flights argue that private planes help ensure that “our bodies rest and recuperate,” ultimately leading to a stronger in-game product.
“We want to be great on the court, and sometimes these places we go to don’t have direct flights, or we don’t all have good seats,” Stewart said. “So it’s part of raising the bar, setting the bar.”
“Hopefully we will have a little more than what we have now for next year,” he added.
Check out his full response below: