Why Connecticut Sun will fly commercial to Indiana Fever game amid WNBA charter flight rollout

UNCASVILLE — The Connecticut Sun will take a commercial flight to face the Indiana Fever for their first road game of the season on Monday amid the WNBA’s clunky rollout of a charter travel program for the 2024 season.

The Fever and rookie superstar Caitlin Clark flew to Connecticut on a chartered plane for the season opener at Mohegan Sun Arena on Tuesday. The Minnesota Lynx also took a charter flight for their first game against the Seattle Storm, but all other teams flew commercially for their openers. All 12 teams are expected to operate with full-time charter travel beginning Tuesday — the day after the Sun play in Indianapolis.

The WNBA originally unveiled plans to institute full-time charters this season on May 9, five days before the first regular-season games. It announced that the program would be “phased in beginning with the start of the 2024 regular season.” Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said charter travel would launch “as soon as we can get planes in places,” but there was little further explanation. WNBA players held a town hall with Engelbert on Monday after it became clear that charter flights would begin immediately, but not for all road trips.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Engelbert told players the WNBA was prioritizing charter for trips that are “crossing multiple time zones or flights that usually require a connection.” Bradley International Airport, where the Sun typically travel from, does not offer any nonstop flights to Indianapolis on any airline.

“Yeah that’s disappointing certainly, considering not just our place to fly in and out of, but us to Indiana is almost the worst trip in the world,” Sun coach Stephanie White said. “I made that a lot of times on the other end, so I know that from experience, and certainly understand that it’s a tough one, so I’m disappointed.”

A WNBA spokesperson said the league will not comment on case-by-case travel situations.

Chartered air travel — or lack thereof — has long been a spot of contention between the league and its players. All 12 WNBA teams traveled to regular-season games on commercial flights under the current collective bargaining agreement last year, and the New York Liberty were fined $500,000 in 2022 for using charter flights provided by owners Joe and Clara Tsai.

Tensions spiked again in 2023 when Brittney Griner returned to the Phoenix Mercury after a highly publicized 10-month detainment in Russia. Griner was harassed by a right-wing social media personality at the Dallas airport while the Mercury were flying commercially for a game against the Wings last season, but only Griner was allowed to fly charter for the rest of the year. The league introduced charter flights for all playoff games in 2023, but Engelbert said as recently as the WNBA Draft on April 15 that the league was waiting for “the right financial position” to implement a full-time program.

That financial position apparently came sooner than expected with the arrival of one of the most popular rookie classes in WNBA history. Social media erupted with safety concerns for Clark over a viral video of her at the airport for the Indiana Fever’s preseason game, and Chicago Sky rookie Angel Reese is the most-followed active player in the league on Instagram with an audience of more than 3.1 million.