WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert admitted to a "faulty rollout" of the new charter travel initiative on Thursday, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Ahead of Tuesday's season opener, it was announced that the only teams flying private this week would be Indiana and Minnesota. The announcement came mere days after the league made a new charter flight program for all WNBA teams public. At the time, they said it would be implemented "as soon as we have the planes."

But as two teams out of 12 chartered to their first games of the season, others like the Atlanta Dream and Chicago Sky were forced to fly commercial.

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A town hall meeting between Engelbert and the players was held in response to the confusion. Everything from the league's new media rights deal to private travel was covered in the meeting, with players submitting their questions ahead of time. Sky center Elizabeth Williams told Sun-Times reporter Annie Costabile afterwards that cross-country flights were prioritized.

"Flights that are across the country like [the Lynx] going to Seattle, crossing multiple time zones, or flights that usually require a connection, those were the priorities," Williams said. "That’s why New York didn’t go to DC with a charter, but Minny goes to Seattle."

What’s unclear under that metric is that the Atlanta Dream played the Los Angeles Sparks on Wednesday, which could technically be classified as a cross-country flight. 

On Tuesday, rookie forward Angel Reese shared a photo on her Instagram story lamenting the league's use of commercial flights.

"Just praying that this is one of the last commercial flights the Sky has to fly," Reese posted. The team still has at least three commercial flights awaiting them in the near future.

"Obviously, I think all teams should be able to get chartered," Reese told the Sun-Times. "But I know moving forward... going in the right direction, being able to have some teams [chartering] is cool. Within the next weeks, everybody will be flying charter, which will be really good."

On Thursday, Lindsay Schnell of USAToday Sports confirmed that the league intends to have all teams on charter flights by May 21st.

The WNBA’s promise of charter flights for “all postseason games” comes with a major asterisk, as teams learned this week.

As reported by The Next’s Howard Megdal, as many as six WNBA teams may have to take a commercial flight during the playoffs, according to an internal memo on postseason travel distributed to teams this week.

After each series, each team will be able to use one charter flight before the next round. So if a team ends one series on the road, then starts the next series on the road, that team has three choices:

  • Take a charter flight home, then take a commercial flight to the next round.
  • Take a commercial flight home, then take a charter flight to the next round.
  • Take a charter flight directly to the next round. (But this could mean a long break between rounds spent in a visiting city.)

Take the Washington Mystics, who would hold the No. 5 seed if the season ended today. If the Mystics swept the No. 4 seed Dallas Wings in the best-of-three first round in Dallas, the Mystics could take a charter flight directly to Las Vegas for their next series against the Aces. But the Mystics could face a long layoff between rounds, so if they instead chose to take a charter flight back to Washington, they would have to take a commercial flight across the country for their semifinal series.

When the WNBA unveiled its expanded charter flight program before the start of the season, it said the program would include flights for “all postseason games beginning with the start of 2023 WNBA Playoffs through the WNBA Finals.”

The WNBA is footing the bill for the flights in the program, with an estimated cost of $4.5 million for the 2023 season. But it has not offered teams the option to pay for additional charter flights during the postseason if needed.

In an ESPN survey of 34 players, 18 ranked travel as the league’s biggest issue. And playoff travel drama likely won’t change players’ minds.

“It’s crazy that I’ve been here for 14 years and nothing much has changed about the travel,” Connecticut Sun forward DeWanna Bonner told ESPN. “Hopefully within the next couple years it gets better, because I definitely think it can add some longevity to everybody’s career.”

The travel situation for Brittney Griner and the Phoenix Mercury had to hit “rock bottom” before the WNBA addressed the issue, Griner said Monday.

Earlier this month, Griner and her Mercury teammates were harassed by a right-wing YouTuber at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport en route to a road game. In the aftermath of the incident, WNBA players again called for better travel options — particularly for Griner, who was detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022 and has attracted increased attention since her return.

While the WNBA expanded its charter flight program for the 2023 season, most travel still comes on commercial flights in premium economy seats.

In addition to allowing charter flights for travel to back-to-back games, the WNBA also is allowing teams to fly on public charter service JetSuiteX. JSX offers preset routes and schedules but operates out of private terminals, which helps teams bypass airports and TSA security. But only a few WNBA cities are serviced by JSX, and the WNBA prohibits teams from working with JSX to create flights outside of its usual schedule.

“I’ll say this. I think we should have already had the option to use a different airline, a more private airline, charter flights,” Griner said Monday. “It’s a shame that it had to get to rock bottom, because I feel like waiting for something to happen and then making a change… You don’t know what that something is going to be. We’ve all seen what can happen in this world. And when you play the ‘let’s-wait-and-see’ game, you’re really playing with fire. You’re playing with people’s lives.

“So I’m glad that they finally got it together — and, you know, are going to allow us to do this. It’s just a shame that it took so damn long, honestly.”

While the airport confrontation brought the issue of the Mercury’s travel arrangements to the forefront, the WNBA and the Mercury have kept the details of the team’s travel plans private for safety reasons.

The Mercury have been allowed to use JSX flights for the entire team on “created” routes due to special circumstances, ESPN reported. Neither the league nor the Mercury have confirmed such usage.

Also according to ESPN, Griner was approved to fly privately for the entire season after the incident; according to the league, Griner had permission to do so since the beginning of the season.

While WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert told ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” that the Mercury had been told to do “anything you want to do” in terms of Griner’s travel due to the situation, a source told ESPN that that recommendation was not as broad before the start of the season. Per ESPN, the WNBA approved a “hybrid plan,” which included Griner flying on two preapproved charter flights, with the option to add more with the approval of the league.

The WNBA is allowing teams to fly on a public charter service this season, albeit with terms and conditions applied.

Teams can use JetSuiteX, which on its website bills itself as a “hop-on jet service that’s faster on the ground and more comfortable in the air.” JSX operates out of private terminals, which helps teams bypass airports and TSA security.

JSX planes can hold up to 30 people, which means teams have the option to buy out the flight, a league executive told ESPN.

The news of the expanded travel policy, first reported by the Washington Post’s Candace Buckner, comes after Brittney Griner and the Phoenix Mercury were harassed in a Dallas airport last weekend while waiting on a commercial flight.

But JSX isn’t available in the majority of WNBA cities. The airline has three hubs in Los Angeles, as well as hubs in Phoenix, Dallas, Las Vegas and Westchester County in New York. So the usage of such flights has varied by team.

Also, unlike traditional charters, JSX flights have pre-set routes and times, which the WNBA has told teams the cannot change, ESPN reported. And while the airline offers the ability to book flights outside its pre-set schedule, such a move is prohibited by the league.

The Las Vegas Aces attempted to work around that condition, the Washington Post reported, working with JSX to create publicly available flights in conjunction with their road game schedule. Those flights still appear on the company’s website as “pop up flights” available for anyone to book.

The Aces booked such “pop up flights” during a recent three-game road trip, but the team was told by the WNBA to cancel one of the flights (a June 4 trip from Indianapolis to Hartford, Connecticut).

“The WNBA approved that all teams can book JSX flights with certain protocols in place,” a WNBA spokesperson told the Washington Post in response to a question about the canceled flight. “Since this is a new program this year, we had to address a few matters with teams earlier in the season.”

The Aces are no longer taking such flights, but they are not facing a fine from the WNBA, ESPN reported.

Phoenix Mercury owner Mat Ishbia became the latest WNBA name to throw support behind charter flights.

While the league has expanded its charter flight program this season, teams still will travel on commercial flights to most of their games. Ishbia would like to expand charter flight coverage, telling ESPN on Sunday he would like to see the league move “in that direction.”

“I feel like you invest in the players, you invest in the team, you do all the right (things) and money follows,” Ishbia said. “Too many people think about the other way around, and, so, that’s my belief system.

“The WNBA is doing some good things and the commissioner’s doing good things to move it in that direction. And I respect what they’re doing and I’m definitely a supporter of getting there faster and sooner.”

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert has said that charter flights for every team for an entire season would total about $25 million.

For Ishbia, who took over as Mercury owner in February, the investment would be worth it.

“Everything matters. Every inch matters,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s the middle seat, whether it’s walking through a big airport, whether it’s having a bus somewhere, I don’t know what the inch is, but we want to fix all the inches to give us a best chance and that’s what we want to do. And so we got to follow all the rules. As the owner here, I learned a lot of the rules and make sure I follow them exactly to the T, and we’ll make sure we follow all the rules.

“But we’re going to make sure we do everything within our power, within the rules to make it of our women, our players have the best chance to (play at their) peak performance, whether it’s medically, whether it’s rest-wise, whether it’s in the hotels … I’m pushing all of the envelopes to make sure that our team has all the best of everything.”

The conversation around WNBA travel has grown over the past few seasons, and New York Liberty star Breanna Stewart made it a key topic in her free agency in the offseason.

Additionally, concerns have been raised about Mercury center Brittney Griner’s security after her 10-month detention in Russia in 2022. While the team hasn’t revealed their travel plans for Griner, the team is ensuring that she feels safe, Ishbia said.

“We’re doing everything we possibly can to make sure BG feels wonderful, feels safe, all our players feel that way,” he said. “And I think there’s a lot of things that we’ve done a great job of doing to put those concerns at ease.”