Health and Safety

Brittney Griner’s Experience Might Help Change This Outdated WNBA Policy

Following her 10-month detainment in Russia, Brittney Griner has been eager to get back on the court this season. But even as life returns to normal for the Phoenix Mercury center, one lingering consequence from her detention is opening up old wounds for the WNBA—the issue of charter versus commercial air travel.

According to sources obtained by ESPN, Griner herself has not asked for special travel arrangements. But security concerns relating to her detainment in Russia may necessitate private travel, which is technically against the WNBA’s collective bargaining agreement

While charter flights are usually a given in the NBA, the WNBA is restricted to commercial air travel, specifically Economy Plus or Comfort seats. This often leaves teams at the mercy of delays and cancellations ahead of a big game.

Commercial air travel has long been a sore spot for the WNBA. New York Liberty team owner Joe Tsai was recently fined $500,000 for booking charter flights in 2021. The issue became a scandal last year when an outbreak of COVID-19 was blamed on commercial air travel. “Shoutout to the WNBA for flying us commercial during a pandemic. (And no mask mandates),” tweeted Washington Mystics champion Natasha Cloud at the time.

The reason why charter flights are not allowed is expense and the unfairness that results when some teams can afford special treatment and others can’t. Essentially, it’s an all-or-nothing agreement. But that hasn’t stopped those in favor from floating options, particularly with Griner’s situation reopening the conversation.

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert told ESPN, “We’ve asked all the major airlines. We’ve asked charter companies. I’ve been working on this since the moment I came into the league. Without sponsors stepping up, it’s just not in the cards right now.

“If we could get it sponsored or funded in some way … I’m all ears. I’ve gotten lots of calls over the past year about this since we’ve been back in our 12 markets. Then when people price it out… you never hear from them again.”

Breanna Stewart, two-time WNBA champion and Finals MVP, has also backed charter travel. “I would love to be part of a deal that helps subsidize charter travel for the entire WNBA,” she tweeted on January 22. As one of the most highly sought after free agents in the current offseason, her support does carry weight.

The road to charter flights is a difficult one, given the exorbitant price tag for all teams. But there’s hope that Griner’s detention will finally get the gears turning.

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