Los Angeles Sparks forced to sleep in airport after canceled flight

·6 min read

The Los Angeles Sparks did not have a fun Sunday night.

Half of the team was forced to sleep overnight in the airport following the Sparks' 79-76 win over the Washington Mystics after their flight back to Los Angeles was delayed, then canceled at 1 a.m. and rescheduled for a new flight that wouldn't leave until 9 a.m.

"It's the first time in my 11 seasons that I've ever had to sleep in the airport," Sparks star and WNBA president Nneka Ogwumike explained in a Twitter video. "But based on travel, it's not expected that this has happened. It was only a matter of time. So, half of sleeping in the airport. Half of us are at a hotel. There weren't enough rooms. "

Ogwumike then issued a lengthy statement through the WNBPA later on Monday afternoon.

"During these unprecedented times, that required form of commercial travel remains a significant burden on our players and their bodies," she said, in part. "It's not just a basketball issue, it's a serious health and safety concern that must be remedied.

"'Competitive advantage' is a tired argument that has overstayed its welcome. It has become a phrase that impedes transformation growth across our league."

No one likes sleeping in an airport, but it's even worse for a team on the cusp of a playoff berth. At Sparks 13-20, the Sparks are competing against four other teams for the seventh and eighth spots in the WNBA playoffs. And with three games left in the schedule, every match matters. Now, they'll only have a little more than a day to get ready for a two-game home stretch against the Connecticut Sun that begins Tuesday night.

Sparks assistant coach Latricia Trammell highlighted just how bad the team's sleeping conditions would be as it waited for the flight this morning:

Other Sparks players had fun with their misfortune:

Travel issues not new for WNBA

As Ogwumike noted, it was only a matter of time before she had to sleep in an airport while waiting for a rescheduled flight. It's sadly only the most recent example in a long list of travel-related issues WNBA teams and players have endured relative to their NBA counterparts over the years.

Almost exactly four years ago to the day, the Las Vegas Aces forfeited their game against the Mystics because players were concerned about their health and safety after it took them 26 hours to travel due to flight delays and cancellations. The team arrived four hours before their game was scheduled to start, and after speaking with the player's union and the league about their decision not to play, the WNBA ruled the game must be forfeited – the first result in WNBA history.

Things haven't gotten better since then. In 2022 alone, though, travel has caused upheaval for most WNBA teams.

Las Vegas Aces Kelsey Plum said flight delays played a role in the team's loss to Mystics in mid-May. Plum even joked later this season that her toughest opponents are the airlines.

The Connecticut Sun had to cancel their practice and media availability on May 23 after delays forced them to take an early-morning flight following their win over the Fever the day before. The Chicago Sky, like the Sparks on Sunday night, were forced to sleep in the airport between their game in Washington and their game at home against the Indiana Fever in late May.

There have been multiple instances where teams travel the day of games, particularly during stretches of back-to-back matches or three games in four days.

Minnesota Lynx Forward Natalie Achonwa recounted how her team endured a ridiculous travel schedule that included three games in four days – the last of which included a canceled flight to Washington for a mid-afternoon game.

After arriving in Washington, Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve said it was "challenging and disappointing" to deal with the travel issues and that the "greater disappointment was the lack of support that we felt in terms of unresponsive messages to the league."

Phoenix Mercury star Skylar Diggins-Smith tweeted in June how flying the same day as games doesn't sit well with her because of health and security reasons.

"Back to back [sic] away games should never be scheduled, considering we fly commercial (with no security)," Diggins-Smith tweeted in June. "The W wants quality/high level basketball, but doesn’t (seem to) value quality of life for the players."

COVID-19 travel concerns

Traveling commercial as opposed to charter also exposed WNBA players to COVID-19 throughout the pandemic. Mystics guard Natasha Cloud called out the WNBA after she became the first player to enter the league's health and safety protocols. Seattle Storm star Breanna Stewart did the same soon after when she was also added to the procotols.

Cost to charter WNBA players

Unfortunately, it doesn't sound like private flights are coming to the WNBA regular season anytime soon.

While the league did announce it would use charter flights for all WNBA Finals games, commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in March that it would cost more than $20 million each season to charter every team throughout the season. That added cost would, as Engelbert puts it, "jeopardize the financial health of the league." And when New York Liberty owner Joe Tsai reportedly paid to charter a private plane for his team, the league fined the Liberty $500,000 for violating the league's collective bargaining agreement.

The Sparks' travel nightmare is certainly another example the players can use when the league's current CBA expires ... in 2028.

The Los Angeles Sparks endured what has been too common of a travel nightmare in the WNBA. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)
The Los Angeles Sparks endured what has been too common of a travel nightmare in the WNBA. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)