be late be late Then, cancel. Germ bathrooms. Wrestling with yourself in a small bag for $4. Forgetting headphones and wanting to cry. Now the power plug in your seat doesn’t work and the people sitting next to you on the plane won’t stop coughing. do they have covid
Frequent flyers know these pains, and WNBA players have to deal with them too. WNBA players — they’re just like us, flying commercial airlines. But why?
The league, which was founded in 1996 and is in its 26th season, said there was a simple reason why players were not allowed to fly on chartered planes: unlike the NBA, a multibillion-dollar operation entering its 77th season, that charters players. The WNBA said there wasn’t enough money for it. WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said it would cost more than $20 million to fly her 12 teams on charter flights instead of commercial airlines throughout the season.
“We’re hoping that in a few years, when we get more viewers, more sponsors, better media deals, that this will be something we can afford,” Engelbert said in a recent interview. But he also said he would not jeopardize the “financial health of the league” by chartering players.
The WNBA’s finances are more precarious than other leagues, but it recently raised $75 million from investors such as Nike and Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state. Still, that’s a drop in the bucket compared to leagues like the NHL, which are expected to bring in $5 billion in revenue. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said his league had more than $10 billion in revenue for the 2021-22 season. The WNBA declined to disclose annual revenue.
Before Sunday’s WNBA All-Star Game, Engelbert announced the league would cover charter flights for teams during the Finals. The league has sometimes covered charter travel for teams during tight playoff schedules, but its collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union prohibits teams from chartering the flights themselves. The WNBA fined Liberty $500,000 for secretly traveling to several charter games last season.
WNBA players are speaking publicly about how their travel affects their game day preparation. But what can frequent commercial travel do to the body?
To better understand, it’s important to know how players travel while in the WNBA business. The collective bargaining agreement states that teams are allowed to book players in premium economy seats “or similar enhanced coach fares.” While a few US airlines offer true premium economy seats, they’re mostly available on international flights and include perks like amenity kits that aren’t offered on domestic routes. On domestic routes, carriers including American Airlines and Delta Air Lines offer seats with extra legroom.
For the gamer on the go, or on the way to the game, seats on Delta and American for extra legs can be the golden ticket. These tickets often offer a more comfortable flight experience than economy: more legroom, a seat closer to the exit, and free drinks and snacks.
For example, American Airlines flies its Boeing 787-800 aircraft – a wide-body aircraft with more than 230 seats – between cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles. American offers premium economy seats with a pitch — the distance between the seat and the same point on the seat in front of it — of 38 inches, and additional seats in the main cabin with a pitch of 35 to 36 inches. By comparison, the seats in the main cabin of the 787 have only 31 inches of pitch. On a United Airlines flight between, say, Newark and Seattle, a route operated by Boeing 737-900 aircraft, an Economy Plus traveler can expect three to four inches more legroom than a regular economy traveler.
Players can upgrade their seats on their own, but they care about the difference in cost or airline miles. Los Angeles Sparks center Liz Cambage, who is 6 feet tall, burst out The league tweeted about its renewal policy in February, saying, “I think I’ll spend another season upgrading my seat on a flight so I can get to the games out of pocket.”
JetBlue and the so-called Big 3 airlines – American, United and Delta – offer business or first class seats on some transcontinental routes. Some, like American, offer lie-flat products — seats that fold into full beds — on shorter routes, such as from New York to Miami. And on American flights over 900 miles, premium passengers get an in-flight meal.
The WNBA’s travel policy raises questions about players’ fitness on game days and the toll travel can have on the body. But the cost of these premium products can be high. Travelers without enough miles — or additional upgrades — can expect to pay, in some cases, hundreds of dollars or thousands of miles to upgrade seats.
Such prices could be prohibitive for the average WNBA player, whose minimum salary starts at around $60,000 for the 2022 season.
“The union asked for certain things,” Engelbert said, “and the players asked for more pay. They did not request first class or charter travel. They demanded more pay.”
Earlier this year, Terry Jackson, the executive director of the players’ union, said the players had a lot of goals going into contract negotiations and didn’t prioritize full-season charters, although they hoped to eventually be able to go that route.
“We didn’t go into negotiations to break the bank,” he said. “We care a lot about this league. But we want to support it.”
Experts have also expressed concern about the impact of commercial travel during the coronavirus pandemic.
A federal judge in mid-April struck down a federal mandate requiring face masks on public transportation, including trains and airports. Now it’s up to individual travelers. Air travel has almost reached pre-pandemic levels, with more than 2 million travelers passing through airport security every day, according to government figures. More than 2.4 million passengers passed through security checkpoints on Sunday – one of the busiest days since the pandemic began.
However, it is important to note that any type of travel – commercial or private – can result in a positive coronavirus test. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still advises travelers to wear face masks on airplanes and airports. And leagues that charter their players have not been immune from outbreaks. Virtually every major league has players in health and safety protocols. The NHL had to suspend the season in December amid an increase in positive cases among players caused by the Omicron variant. The NBA also postponed several games in December after the outbreak in the league.
With any commercial travel, there is a risk of flight delays, cancellations and diversions or in-flight diversions. But increased summer travel and persistent staff shortages have made air travel more frustrating as the WNBA continues its season.
More than 6,200 flights were delayed Sunday, in or out of the United States, and more than 2,000 flights were canceled entirely, according to the website FlightAware.com, which tracks airline delays and cancellations. And unlike charter planes, which are often nonstop, WNBA players may need to connect at other airports before reaching their final destination.
In recent years, travel delays caused by stopovers or flight cancellations have plagued the league. The 2018 game between the Las Vegas Aces and the Washington Mystics had to be forfeited after the Aces spent more than a day in transit delays getting to the game.
That travel stress, said Dr. Ida Bergstrom, an internal medicine physician at Farragut Medical and Travel Care, a travel health clinic in Washington, D.C., can tax athletes who are expected to compete at a high level once they arrive.
“If you’re traveling for 24 to 36 hours on business and the flights are delayed or you’re nowhere and you’re expected to be not only mentally but physically — it’s really hard,” he said.
And more trips are on the way: On Sunday, Engelbert said the season will increase to 40 games next season, up from 36 this year. It’s part of the league’s effort to generate more revenue to help fund charters. But in the meantime, players will still go through airports, just like us.
“You, physically, can’t perform well if you don’t have an opportunity to rest and regroup,” Dr. Bergstrom said.