WNBA is finally moving on chartered flights – thank you Caitlin Clark

Photo Credit: Lamar Carter

We are officially less than a week out from tip-off of the 2024 WNBA season. With all of the news that is coming out on a day-by-day basis, it is getting a bit challenging to keep up with it all. 

And while we expect news around this time of the year regarding roster cuts, games changing venues, television coverage and possibly halftime shows for the first slate of games, we did not expect the W’s ongoing debate over charter flights to re-enter the chat. 

News broke from a number of seasoned WNBA journalists that the league was in discussions to make chartered flights available for all 12 teams for the entirety of the 2024 season. 

The initial news broke around the same time the W held its preseason media availability session with coach Sandy Brondello as well as Breanna Stewart and Jonquel Jones of the New York Liberty. More social media posts then suggested that players as well as general managers were completely blindsided by this news although it was a pleasant surprise to players. 

Then, the league issued a press release stating a full charter flights program for the 2024 and 2025 seasons would be “phased in.” The primary operator? Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines which also has hubs in four other WNBA cities – New York, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Seattle.

We have been hard at work to transform the business and build a sustainable economic model to support charter flights for the long term. While we still have a lot of work to do to continue to execute our strategic plan, we feel confident that the time is now to institute a full charter program to demonstrate our commitment to leading with a player-first agenda.

–Cathy Engelbert, WNBA commissioner (press release)

It’s exciting to add the WNBA to our prestigious roster of sports charter partners as we participate in this historic advancement in women’s professional sports.

–Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Air Lines (press release)

On behalf of the players, I express my appreciation and support for a bold move by the Commissioner and team governors that in turn shows that they understand and value the health and safety of the players. It is time to be transformational. It’s time to bet on women.

–Nneka Ogwumike, WNBPA President (press release)

After all, players have been steadfast in their fight for chartered planes and it was likely going to be the reason why the WNBPA was going to opt-out of the current collective bargaining agreement. 

While we are certainly glad that commissioner Cathy Engelbert finally appears to be seeing the light on the subject of charters, we cannot be naïve about why this is finally taking place. 

Prior to the Indiana Fever’s postseason game with the Dallas Wings, there was a video tweeted by a WFAA-TV (ABC 8 Dallas Fort Worth) reporter of Caitlin Clark at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport that went viral. Given how CC’s gravy train is so massive where companies that did not touch women’s basketball before all of a sudden want to be a part of it, that video had to make many of those companies tremble. 

Clark – who has become a massive celebrity beyond basketball in her own right – going from flying charter as a collegiate athlete to having to fly commercial (security risks and all) as a WNBA player had to be seen by them as a bad look. The obvious consequence is this means the best women’s basketball players on this planet will finally travel like they are the best women’s basketball players on this planet. 

A’ja Wilson should not be flying coach. 

Breanna Stewart should not be flying coach. 

Skylar Diggins-Smith should not be flying coach. 

Arike Ogunbowale should not be flying coach. 

Diana Taurasi should not be flying coach. 

Alyssa Thomas should not be flying coach. 

Aliyah Boston should not be flying coach. 

The WNBA under Engelbert has greatly increased its sponsor base – and Clark is coming into the W with deals aplenty – including one with Nike where, yes, she will have a signature sneaker. That video of Clark at that airport probably produced panicked looks on the faces of many executives at these companies given how they see Clark as a cash cow. 

We do not know for sure if this latest development regarding charters is indeed a response to what happened at the airport, but the timing does make it curious. 

So does the location. 

Remember – last year at the same airport, Brittney Griner was harassed by some attention-seeking shock jock from a right-wing propaganda outfit. That coattail-rider accused BG of hating America as she was only a few months removed by being freed from Russia in a prisoner swap engineered by the Biden-Harris administration with the Kremlin. 

It was amazing how that incident was not enough for there to be movement on chartered flights given the obvious security risks last year involving Griner. Yet this most recent video involving Clark apparently has the WNBA ready to amend the CBA prior to its expiration date to allow for chartered flights for the entire season. 

Also – the Clark video was merely a matter of her walking through an airport and being recorded by a local news reporter. BG had her privacy invaded for purely selfish and political reasons.

While some are trying to toe a line where this is in response to supposed increased revenues that will surely be heading in the WNBA’s direction, the timing of this news is curious. It is occurring not long after that Clark video at DFW and roughly a week prior to the season not to mention how players and general managers were taken aback by the news. 

While the big headline is of course the news of the charters, this is a story with a very noteworthy domino effect. This is present in at least two areas. 

Firstly – if the Clark effect is the catalyst for the WNBA moving like it is now on the chartered flights issue, now we need to talk about the very possibility that league and players may actually achieve labor peace with more money, expansion and a new media rights deal on the horizon. 

Also – about those expansion prospects. Terri Jackson and Nneka Ogwumike know that if the WNBA wants to be in Toronto (especially now that we know there is a well-connected expansion effort to do just that) it has to fix its travel woes. Chartered flights are the solution to fix those. 

And yeah…this also massively vindicates Joe and Clara Wu Tsai at the Liberty. Remember that Howard Megdal report in Sports Illustrated that mentioned the Liberty receiving a massive reprimand from the WNBA for chartered flights? Remember how it mentioned how they proposed a solution to charter flights for three seasons but owners balked at it? 

Remember how it only made New York a more attractive destination for free agents such as Stewie and Courtney Vandersloot? 

Yeah…this development means that a massive apology needs to be directed to the Tsais. The Caitlin Clark effect is making them see the vision they should have had all along. 

Beggars cannot be choosers and we welcome all of the growth women’s basketball has received. But there are plenty of WNBA owners who should have always had that same energy. 

Or should we say…that same jet fuel.