The Los Angeles Sparks didn’t have a good time Sunday night.
Half the team was forced to sleep at the airport after the Sparks’ 79-76 win over the Washington Mystics after their flight back to Los Angeles was delayed, then canceled at 1 a.m. and transferred to a new flight that didn’t depart. until 9:00
Sparks star and WNBA president Neka Ogumike tweeted a video, “This is the first time in 11 seasons that I have to sleep in an airport. “But based on the trip, it was not expected to happen, it was only a matter of time. So, we slept half in the airport. Half of us are in the hotel, there were not enough rooms. “
Nobody likes sleeping in an airport, but it’s worse for a team in the playoffs. At 13-20, the Sparks will compete with four other teams for the seventh and eighth seed in the WNBA playoffs. And with three games left in the schedule, every match is important. Now, they’ll have just over a day to prepare for a two-game home stretch against the Connecticut Sun that begins Tuesday night.
While waiting for his flight this morning, Sparks assistant coach Latricia Trammell explained just how bad the team’s sleep patterns are going to be.
Other Sparks players were happy with their luck:
Travel issues are not new to the WNBA
According to Ogyumike, there was only one time she had to sleep at the airport while waiting for a rescheduled flight. It’s just the most recent example in a long list of travel-related issues that WNBA teams and players have held steady over the years relative to their NBA counterparts.
Exactly four years ago to the day, the Las Vegas Aces lost a game against the Mystics because of concerns about the health and safety of their players after a 26-hour trip due to flight delays and cancellations. The team arrived four hours before the game was scheduled to begin, and after communicating with the players’ union and the league about the decision not to play, the WNBA ruled that the game should be suspended — the first such outcome in WNBA history.
The story continues
Things have not improved since then. Only in 2022, though, travel has become a conundrum for most WNBA teams.
Las Vegas Aces Kelsey Plum’s flight delays played a role in the team’s loss to the Mystics in mid-May. Plum joked that her toughest opponents later this season are the airlines.
The Connecticut Sun had to cancel their practice and media availability on May 23rd after the delays forced them to take an early morning flight after they overcame a fever the day before. The Chicago Sky, like the Sparks, were forced to sleep on the runway Sunday night between their late May game in Washington and their home game against the Indiana Fever.
There have been many instances of teams traveling on game day, especially in back-to-back games or three games in four days.
Minnesota Lynx forward Natalie Achonwa recounted how her team endured a ridiculous travel schedule that included three games in four days — the last one involving a canceled flight to Washington for a midday game.
After arriving in Washington, Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve said it was “challenging and frustrating” to deal with the travel issues and that “the biggest disappointment is the lack of support we’ve heard from the league regarding unresponsive messages.”
Phoenix Mercury star Skylar Diggins-Smith tweeted in June that flying on the same day as games wouldn’t be good for her for health and safety reasons.
” get back [sic] Away games should never be scheduled. Like we’re flying commercial (with no security),” Diggins-Smith tweeted in June. W wants quality/high level basketball, but doesn’t (seems to) value quality of life for players. .”
Covid-19 travel risks
Uncharted business travel has exposed WNBA players to the entire COVID-19 pandemic. Mystics guard Natasha Cloud called out the WNBA after becoming the first player to enter the league’s health and safety protocols. Seattle Hurricanes star Breanna Stewart did the same shortly after being added to the roster.
Charter fees for WNBA players
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like private flights are coming to the WNBA regular season anytime soon.
While the league has announced it will use charter flights for all WNBA Finals games, commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in March that it spends more than $20 million per season to charter each team during the season. That extra cost, Engelbert said, “would jeopardize the league’s financial health.” The league fined New York Liberty owner Joe Tsai $500,000 for allegedly paying to charter a private jet for his team.
Another example of the Sparks’ travel nightmare is certainly one the players can use when the league’s current CBA expires in 2028.