Picture LeBron James or Steph Curry boarding a plane and squeezing their legs into a coach seat the day before a road game.
It doesn’t happen.
But for the Washington Mystics and WNBA players, it’s part of their weekly routine.
“It’s trash,” Mystics point guard Natasha Cloud said.
Earlier this week, Indiana Fever forward Natalie Achonwa documented the team’s travel woes in a Twitter thread. It took her team 24 hours to get home.
“Where do you see that in the NBA?” Cloud said. “I know they play a lot of games, but we’re doing the same thing in a short amount of time in three and a half, four months. So it would make the biggest difference for us.”
The travel inconveniences happen all too often.
Forward Tianna Hawkins said before the third game of the season against the Connecticut Sun, both the teams' original and back-up planes to New York had technical problems, and they were delayed four to five hours.
The same thing happened last season. The Mystics needed a redeye flight from Las Vegas to Seattle, but the first trip was delayed, so the team missed its connecting flight and ended up stuck in Chicago.
“It’s hectic,” Hawkins said. “We go to the airport like ‘alright, I hope we don’t get a delay today.’ But we know that something’s gonna happen.”
Players said their travel experiences in college were better than they are in the WNBA. Now, road games present an unexpected hurdle for the professionals who want to play the highest level of their sport.
“It’s sad because I feel like the college days are better,” guard Shey Peddy said. “We had private planes. I don’t remember our flights being canceled at all. So it kinda feels like a step back when it should be a step forward.”
Cloud said there’s no reason the WNBA shouldn’t be chartering. Her alma mater, St. Joseph’s (PA) – “a mid-major with not a lot of money” could afford to charter.
But those private jets? They’re considered an unfair competitive advantage, according to the current collective bargaining agreement.
“It’s an unfair advantage for [Mystics forward] Elena Delle Donne, who’s 6-foot-5, to have to sit in economy in the middle seat of an aisle and then go perform,” Cloud said. “You expect us to perform, we expect to be able to have our bodies healthy and not lock up on planes.”
Because commercial travel is undependable, Mystics players have abundant advice for rookies on travel days: wear compression leggings, bring a gallon of water, keep electronics charged, pack a book and stock up on snacks and sandwiches – because “airport food is expensive, everybody knows that,” as Peddy puts it.
Cloud advises sneaking into a more spacious exit row.
But, changes could be on the way. The Women’s National Basketball Players Association will opt out of the current CBA after the 2019 season. The players hope to receive higher salaries and more accommodating travel schedules.
“I think we deserve it,” Peddy said. “I think if some of the [NBA] G-league players have [private jets], we should have that. Hopefully that’s a priority.”
Guard Kristi Toliver, playing in her 10th season, isn’t as optimistic.
“It is what it is, but it’s not changing soon,” Toliver said. “I would prefer to get paid more money than worry about travel.”
But still, when the schedule gets tough, she tells herself to keep her head up.
“Think gratitude. You get to play the game that you love.”
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