Players union chief: WNBA ‘is scrambling’ on charter-flight rollout

WNBPA's Terri Jackson has been lobbying for a WNBA charter flight program since 2020, but she said the league is "scrambling" to put program in place.

NEW YORK — WNBPA executive director Terri Jackson said Thursday the WNBA has struggled to make good on its promise of charter flights for all teams so far this season as other issues with the flights have arisen. Several players have spoken out about the limited availability and quality of the planes.

“I recognize that the league was kind of scrambling to get this in place for the start of the season,” Jackson said to The Sporting Tribune. “Their decision-making came together kind of late in the process as I understand.

“(The league) is working as hard as they can to roll it out for everybody, so there’s some bumps and there’s some hiccups,” Jackson said.

The WNBA promised to make charter flights available to all 12 teams for player travel this season by Tuesday. The initiative marked one of the biggest wins for players in the league’s 28-year history and a professional victory for Jackson, who said she had been lobbying the league to make charter flights available to all teams since 2020.

Substandard flights

However, Phoenix Mercury guard Sophie Cunningham told reporters that her team did not have access to a charter plane to travel to Las Vegas for her team’s game against the Aces on Tuesday. She added that their charter flight home would be noticeably smaller than other teams’ planes.

“Our bags and some of our people can’t fly with us because our charter is too small while other teams get big planes,” Cunningham said. “If you want to talk about a competitive advantage, that’s one right there, that our team has to get split up and our bags can’t even travel with us.

“Social media makes everything sounds so great and so butterflies and rainbows but half the teams don’t even have a proper charter.”

Chicago Sky rookie forward Angel Reese complained about having to fly commercial for her team’s game against the Dallas Wings on May 15 in an Instagram post the day before.

“Just praying this is one of the last commercial flights the Chicago Sky has to fly,” Reese wrote.

The WNBA’s league-wide charter flight plan will cost $25 million per year for the next two seasons. Previously, teams only could charter during the postseason and for regular-season games on back-to-back days requiring air travel.

WNBA in transition

Teams that provided their own charter flights, including the New York Liberty, were fined for doing so as a violation of competitive balance rules in the league’s collective bargaining agreement. The Liberty were fined $500,000 for providing charter flights at their own expense to players in 2022.

Liberty forward Breanna Stewart voiced her displeasure with the league not allowing teams to provide their own charter flights to players early this season when the league has been unable to fulfill their promise in a post on X on May 13.

“Two out of five WNBA teams traveling today are on WNBA charters — and that’s a win,” Stewart wrote. “It could be a bigger one if the W allowed teams who were not offered League charters to secure their own until a full 12 team solution is ready.”

The league’s collective bargaining agreement is set to run through the end of the 2027 season, however there is an option for the union to opt out this year if they give written notice before the end of November.

Jackson suggested that an opt-out is possible if the players collectively decide it’s in their best interest.

“It’s up to the players,” Jackson said. “There’s an opportunity to opt out of this current CBA, let’s see what the players decide.”