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Wings’ Sabally sounds off at WNBA walking back use of charter flights throughout playoffs

“Don’t make promises you can’t accomplish.”

Commissioner Cathy Engelbert speaks at the WNBA Draft on Monday, April 10, 2023, in New York. 
(AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Englebert announced the expansion of the charter flights program earlier this year at the 2023 WNBA Draft. Teams could now fly privately chartered planes for back-to-back games and the playoffs. Engelbert reiterated the policy as recently as All-Star weekend last month.

However, on August. 30, WNBA players and the public learned the policy came with strings attached.

In a memo obtained by The Next’s Howard Megdal, the WNBA informed teams that some won’t be able to use charter flights throughout the playoffs. As the league put it, teams who win a series on the road and have their next series begin on the road can only charter one flight between cities.

Essentially, some teams will have to pick between flying directly from one road series to the other with no trip home or taking a commercial flight in addition to their charter flight. Some WNBA players, including Satou Sabally from the Dallas Wings, feel like the league misled them.

“Don’t promise things you can’t accomplish,” Sabally said. “This is something that is preventable. We [WNBA players] have been preaching all season long. Shoutout to our union [WNBPA]. They’ve done an amazing job being so vocal. We can’t rely on the league. Promises were made, and they aren’t being fulfilled.”

“So, highlighting the WNBPA right now is a good point in this situation for listening to what the players really want. Hopefully, we carry this to the next CBA. This is something that should be non-negotiable because we clearly can’t rely on the league’s promises.”

The memo read as follows:

“Between rounds, Teams will have the option to charter from the home market or directly to Game 1 of the following round (only one route permitted, not both). Therefore, teams will need to plan their own commercial flight(s) if and when necessary, depending on their choice.

“Example hypothetical scenario: if a Team wins Rd 1 in a sweep, and they have a week before their next game. Under the above scenario, the team is only granted 1 charter (either from Rd 1 city to home OR home to Semis OR Rd 1 city to Semis Game 1 city.) Therefore, this choice could result in a route being commercial (which would be reimbursed per Playoff reimbursement policy).”

This isn’t Sabally’s first time speaking out on the issue. She voiced her disappointment about playing four games in seven days and the lack of practice opportunities on August 9.

“I hate to make excuses that we’re tired, but reducing travel time increases recovery time,” she said. “The league has an issue with charters. The league needs to step up.”

Sabally and Trammell aren’t the only ones airing their grievances. Aces veteran forward Alysha Clark let her thoughts be known on X (formerly Twitter) Friday afternoon.

The WNBA is wrapping up the last two weeks of its longest-ever regular season (40 games). The timing of this new information is a cause for concern, especially after a recent ESPN article detailed the league’s top issues based on the point of view of 34 players. Travel remains a top concern as over half of the players selected it as the No. 1 issue.

League officials shared their frustration with The Next:

“Full playoffs should mean there are no commercial flights. No ‘fine print.’ I couldn’t believe it when I read the memo. A bunch of stipulations.”

“You’re trying to do the whole thing,” another team official said to The Next. “Go all the way!”

With the blowback at its highest level right now, only time will tell if the WNBA shifts course.