The WNBA is expanding its charter flights program this upcoming season, the league announced Monday. It will include flights for all playoff games, the WNBA Commissioner's Cup Championship Game and select regular season games when teams have back-to-back games on their schedule.
"We continue the hard work of transforming the business of the league, and the ability to expand this program is a direct result of that," WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said via press release. "Since joining the league a few years ago, a goal of mine has been to enhance the overall player experience and, in that regard, make incremental improvements where we are able to do so and when we believe the economic model would support it for the long-term.
"I'm pleased that we are able to broaden the program this year for the players. As the league continues to grow, we will look to do more in the future."
The cost of the expanded program is expected to be around $4.5 million, according to the associated Press.
Charter flights have been aaround the WNBA because the current collective bargaining between the league and the WNBA Players Association does not allow teams to charter flights on a regular basis. The 12-team league does not have enough money to pay for all flights through the season, and owners are not allowed to just pay for their team's flights because of competitive balance rules.
Not having to fly commercial would obviously help WNBA players worry less about different aspects of their trips, such as delays and lost luggage. However, the return of Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner to the league has posed a more serious and immediate need around the charter flight conversation.
Griner missed last season while she went through a 10-month detainment in Russia after Russian Federal Customs Service discovered vape cartridges containing marijuana concentrate hashish oil in her luggage. Engelbert told the AP that the league already has a plan for Griner to travel safely, although she is not allowed to share specific details on how.
"We've been working with Brittney and Phoenix since she signed and our security experts," the commissioner told the AP. "Working on a plan, but we want it to be confidential. She wants to travel with the team sometimes. Work as much as we can making sure we are following advice of our team. We have a very good plan, but I'm not going to share more specifics."
The WNBA is set to tip off its 27th season on May 19.