WNBA to start full-time charter flights for all teams this season

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced on Tuesday that the league will start using charter flights for all teams this season.

Teams previously frequently used commercial flights for travel, drawing criticism from players, coaches and fans.

"We intend to fund a full-time charter for this season,” Engelbert told reporters, per the Associated Press.

Engelbert said that the program is expected to cost roughly $25 million per year for the next two seasons. The league plans to launch the program “as soon as we can get planes in places.”

The regular season is scheduled to tip off on May 14.

Commercial travel has been a frequent pain point for players as the league has continued to grow in recent seasons. Players have repeatedly taken to social media to shine light on travel concerns that surfaced multiple issues including delays leading to long nights in airports and exposure to COVID-19 during the pandemic.

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced league approval for full-time charter flights starting this season. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced league approval for full-time charter flights starting this season. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Las Vegas Aces All-Star Kelsey Plum addressed the effects of a delayed flight in 2022 while advocating for dedicated charter flights.

“I think I’m the best conditioned player in this league, respectfully, and I feel like to play that type of game against Seattle (Sunday), then to get on a delayed flight for five and a half hours, fly across the country, wake up and play the next day, I mean, I was tired today. ...

"I mean, let’s be real, I mean, I’m not here to blame a charter flight for the reason that we lost, but normally a team would fly out that night, and have that whole day to rest and get your legs back under you and then go play the next day. So you know those little things make a difference. Hopefully we’re on our way."

Engelbert said in 2022 that issuing full-time charter flights for teams would jeopardize the financial health of the the WNBA.

“This is something that we’re not going to jeopardize the financial health of the league and be irresponsible about,” Engelbert said. “If we can get it funded by sponsors and supporters, great, but that’s not where we are. We do not have that.”

Charter flights were approved by the league in 2023 in certain situations, including back-to-back games and in the postseason. Even then, the postseason travel approval was subject to limitations. Teams were prohibited from booking charter flights outside of league parameters to avoid allowing a competitive advantage over teams that didn't.

Since then, women's basketball has seen an explosion in growth and viewer interest with dramatic increases in TV ratings for college games, especially those featuring former Iowa star Caitlin Clark. The decision to move to charter flights suggests that the WNBA anticipates financial growth to fund those flights as Clark and other college stars including Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso have joined the league as rookies.

Aces coach Becky Hammon praised the decision Tuesday afternoon.

"I think everyone's immediate response is great," Hammon said, per Ball is Life's Sara Jane Gamelli. "I think it's definitely a good thing. Everyone's very happy they're not going to have to stand in security lines as much."

New York Liberty All-Star Sabrina Ionescu likewise expressed her approval via an Instagram story.


"YES YES YES YES YES," she wrote. "I’m so excited Idk what else to say besides YES"

The WNBA released an official statement regarding the league's new use of charter flights on Wednesday. Engelbert stated in the press release that the plan is to launch "a full charter program as soon as practical for the 2024 and 2025 seasons," which will be primarily operated by Delta Air Lines.

However, as Yahoo Sports' Cassandra Negley points out, the WNBA did not include any timetable for implementing charter flights in its announcement.