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Connecticut Sun players ‘motivated’ for WNBA charter flights

Connecticut Sun players ‘motivated’ for WNBA charter flights

UNCASVILLE — When Connecticut Sun guard Rachel Banham first saw the news on social media that the WNBA was launching a full-time charter program for the 2024 season, the eight-year veteran wasn’t not even sure if it’s real.

“I almost thought it was a joke,” Banham said, shaking his head. “It’s incredible. We knew it might happen, but we never knew when, so we’re all a little shocked. Everyone is so excited, and it’s so nice for those of us who have been in the league so long and have never seen it. To young people we say, “Be grateful for this, because this is not what we faced. »

Chartered air travel – or lack thereof – has long been a point of contention between the league and its players. All 12 WNBA teams travel to regular-season games on commercial flights under the current collective bargaining agreement, and the New York Liberty was fined $500,000 in 2022 for using charter flights provided by owners Joe and Clara Tsai.

Tensions rose again in 2023 when Brittney Griner returned to the Phoenix Mercury after a highly publicized 10-month detention in Russia. Griner was harassed by a right-wing social media personality at the Dallas airport while the Mercury were flying commercially for a game against the Wings last season, but only Griner was allowed to fly charter for the rest of the season. year. The league introduced charter flights for all playoff games in 2023, but commissioner Cathy Engelbert said as recently as the WNBA draft on April 15 that the league was waiting for “the right financial situation” to implement a full-time program.

This financial situation seemingly arrived sooner than expected with the arrival of one of the most popular rookie classes in WNBA history. Social media has sparked safety concerns about top draft pick Caitlin Clark over a viral video of her at the airport for the Indiana Fever’s preseason game and top pick Angel Reese tour of the Chicago Sky, is the most followed active player in the league on Instagram. with an audience of more than 3.1 million.

Star forward DeWanna Bonner expected to see a charter trip to the WNBA sooner rather than later, but it was a major surprise when the news broke just days before the start of her 15th season. Before the announcement, the veteran said she wondered if she would stay in the league long enough to see that kind of change take effect.

“You could feel it coming, probably over the next year, with the players that came in and got a lot of attention,” Bonner said. “Above all, they need to be safe. Everyone around women’s basketball is wondering if it’s going to be safe, so we feel like it’s coming… but it’s crazy that it took 15 years to get private planes. I’m just happy to still be a part of it and be able to reap a little bit of the benefits.

The WNBA remains vague on when it expects the $25 million charter program to be fully implemented. Engelbert said Tuesday during a meeting with sports editors that it would launch “as soon as we can get planes out there,” but the league faces a major time crunch with just six days until the start of the season. The Sun host Clark and the Indiana Fever for their 2024 opener at Mohegan Sun on May 14.

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Chartered flights are particularly impactful for the Sun, as they are the only team not to operate out of a major city. Teams traveling to or from Uncasville typically land at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, then must travel nearly 60 miles to Mohegan Sun Arena. Commercial travel also requires teams to spend an extra day on the road, and their routines are interrupted by unpredictable flight schedules and the chaos of airport public security.

“You deal with it, but one of the most annoying things about playing in Connecticut is the travel and having to go all the way to Hartford,” Banham said. “I don’t know what we’re going to do and stuff with the plans, but it makes things so much smoother… You’re not sleeping in your own bed, you’re always in hotels and waking up at crazy hours. different times to arrive at the airport, collect your luggage. The accumulation of all that sucks, so it’s going to make such a difference.