Whether or not the team owners want charters, the players do. And, in a twist from even five or 10 years ago, they appear to have broad public support as female athletes speak up for themselves and women’s sports get more media attention. For some, the push for charters is about offering accommodations befitting professional athletes — “nice things,” as Brown said. But Jackson said it was mainly about players’ health and safety.
“Their bodies are their craft,” Jackson said. They need time to rest, leg room because they are tall and access to nutritious meals to perform at a high level, she said. All of that is compromised by spending hours in airports traveling commercially, sitting in cramped seats and not having proper snacks, she said.
It was worse just a few years ago, before the 2020 collective bargaining agreement went into effect with an allotment for upgraded seats. Liz Cambage, a four-time All-Star who is listed at 6-foot-8, tweeted last month that she had paid “out of my own pocket” to upgrade her seats. And yet, even now, players can find themselves stuck in coach.
Jackson said teams and the league had blamed overwhelmed staff members struggling to arrange travel and airlines that won’t allow large groups to book upgraded or exit row seats. Bringing the complaints to the league has helped — “Some teams got it together,” Jackson said — but she said the next step would be to file a grievance. The union did not do so last season, but upgraded travel will be a “point of emphasis” this coming season, she said. The league said it was “made aware” of complaints last season and will be auditing teams this season “to assure full compliance.”
How soon players can upgrade to charter flights — without teams incurring fines — is unclear because of the players’ and league’s conflicting views on how to pay for them, and when. Engelbert said the $20 million-plus price tag for full-season charters makes it unlikely that a sponsor will pick up the tab, though the league is open to that and the Liberty and other teams are exploring options.
“I don’t want to do things that jeopardize the financial health of the league,” she said, adding, “We are trying to build revenue and financial models that support better things for the players in the long term, but this is not something that we can afford today.”