National Womens Soccer League

NWSL will be outlier now that WNBA is switching to charter flights for entire season

NWSL will be outlier now that WNBA is switching to charter flights for entire season

The NWSL is now the outlier.

With the WNBA announcing this week it will use charter flights for all games, beginning this season, the NWSL will be the only major U.S. professional league still flying commercial. The day is “fast approaching” that that needs to change, Meghann Burke, executive director of the NWSL Players Association, told USA TODAY Sports in an email.

“NWSL players fly tens of thousands of miles in a season across four time zones in a geographic footprint that spans up to 3,000 miles from point to point,” Burke wrote. “As players are apparently forced to fly in middle seats on commercial flights, the number of games increases, expansion results in longer distance and more frequent travel, charter flights aren’t a luxury — they’re becoming a necessity.”

While it would seem unlikely that anything would change before the current contract expires in 2026, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert took team officials and player representatives by surprise Monday when she announced the new charter policy. Engelbert said increased revenue and investment, which the NWSL is also seeing, made the change possible.

A spokesperson for the NWSL told USA TODAY Sports the league will continue to review its travel policies and work with the NWSLPA on them.

The NWSL has loosened its policies on charters. In addition to the playoffs, teams can use charters if they have midweek and weekend games in the same week or if there are no direct flights departing and landing between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Previously, both conditions had to be met.

Teams also can appeal to the commissioner in emergency or unforeseen circumstances, such as weather delays or high-priority medical circumstances. The Kansas City Current was given permission to use a charter last weekend, after a four-hour rain delay during Sunday’s game in Houston caused the team to miss its flight to Seattle, where it played Wednesday night.

“There’s so many things on the training scheduled in Seattle, so we’re not going to be able to do that. Obviously, we lost the whole day of opportunity to recover,” Current coach Vlatko Andonovski said before the team was cleared to take a charter flight.

“The schedule … it’s already challenging to start off with. We have by far the worst schedule in the league, and this just made it even worse.”

WNBA players had long argued that flying commercial posed a risk to both their health and safety. They complained of having to fold their large frames into tight spaces – most players in the league are 6-feet tall or taller, with Brittany Griner 6-foot-9 – and spending the days after their games traveling when they could have been getting treatment or practicing.

Security also increasingly became an issue. Griner, who spent almost 10 months in a Russian prison in 2022, was accosted last season in a Dallas airport by a right-wing provocateur. Last week, Caitlin Clark and the Indiana Fever were surrounded by fans at baggage claim after they flew to Dallas for their first preseason game.

“Our sisters in the WNBPA have blazed a trail on many issues, and among them is demonstrating that travel conditions are a health, safety and performance issue,” Burke wrote.

“At some point, the cost to player health, recovery, and performance is worth re-evaluating an approach that establishes a minimum standard rather than setting a limit on what teams are allowed to do. That point is fast approaching.”

With a team in Orlando, the NWSL actually has a larger footprint currently than the WNBA. Both leagues have teams in Southern California, the Pacific Northwest and New York.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: WNBA gives itself upgrade with charters. NWSL still flying commercial.

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