Nneka Ogwumike calls on WNBA to solve travel issues by 2023

Nneka Ogwumike and the Los Angeles Sparks experienced travel delays after beating the Mystics in Washington on Sunday. (Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)

WNBA Players Association president Nneka Ogwumike continues to speak out on the WNBA’s travel woes, calling on the league to provide charter flights for the 2023 season.

In a statement issued Tuesday via the WNBPA, Ogwumike called the issue of commercial travel for teams a “serious health and safety concern that must be remedied.”

Her statement comes after the Los Angeles Sparks spent the night in Dulles Airport outside Washington, D.C., due to flight delays. Ogwumike detailed the ordeal on social media, saying that half the team spent the night in the airport due to a lack of hotel rooms. The team is set to play Connecticut in Los Angeles on Tuesday.

The league’s most recent CBA details that teams can pay for premium economy seats on airplanes. Players have the option to pay out of their own pockets to upgrade to first class, but charter flights are not allowed. But as several teams around the league have dealt with travel issues this season, calls for charter flights have grown louder.

“‘Competitive advantage’ is a tired argument that has overstayed its welcome. It has become a phrase that impedes transformational growth across our league,” Ogwumike said. “The numbers and the trends suggest that The W is a smart investment with a measurable return. New and emerging ownership groups have demonstrated an ability and eagerness to invest the necessary resources to grow this league in the areas that require it most.”

While the league has said it will charter flights for the 2022 playoffs, it has penalized teams for opting to charter flights in the past. Last season, the New York Liberty were fined after owners Joe and Clara Tsai flew players to and from games in violation of the CBA.

But, as Ogwumike points out, the commercial travel landscape has changed since the WNBPA and WNBA negotiated the current CBA. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the required form of travel “remains a significant burden on our players and their bodies,” Ogwumike said.

The Sparks forward also called on private and commercial airline companies to step up and “recognize this bold opportunity to lead” in a partnership with the WNBA. Earlier this year, Delta and the NWSL announced a multi-year partnership, with Delta becoming the official airline of the league. No such deal exists in the WNBA.