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Los Angeles Sparks Players Sleep at Airport Following Flight Cancellation – NBC Los Angeles

Some Los Angeles Sparks players slept at Dulles International Airport in Virginia after the team’s flight home on Sunday night was canceled.

Following a victory over the Washington Mystics that kept their WNBA playoff hopes alive, the Sparks’ 10:30 p.m. ET flight back to Los Angeles was delayed twice. Then, at 1 a.m., the team learned their flight had been canceled and rescheduled for later Monday morning.

Sparks star Nneka Ogwumike posted a video on social media in the early hours of Monday morning saying half the team would be sleeping at the airport because there weren’t enough hotel rooms available.

“It’s the first time in my 11 seasons that I’ve ever had to sleep in the airport,” said Ogwumike, who is also president of the WNBPA. “… It was only a matter of time. Half of us are sleeping in the airport. Half of us are at a hotel. There weren’t rooms after our flight got delayed, delayed and then canceled at 1 a.m. It is now 1:44, and we are here until 9 a.m.”

ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel reported that every Sparks player was offered a hotel room, but not all at the same hotel due to a lack of available rooms. Some players opted to stay at the airport because of the late hour and quick turnaround for their rescheduled flight, per Voepel.

The team’s flight took off Monday morning and they were back in Los Angeles by around noon.

More than 900 flights were canceled and over 8,000 were delayed nationwide on Sunday, according to CNN. A total of 88,161 flights were canceled from January through May — the second-most in the first five months of a year since 1988, according to the Washington Post. The only year over that span with more cancellations through the first five months was 2020.

The WNBA does not charter flights due to prohibitive costs, and the Sparks are far from the first team to experience issues flying commercial. Just last month, it took the Minnesota Lynx around 12 hours of travel time to get from Indianapolis to Washington D.C. The Lynx finally got to their D.C.-area hotel at around 1 a.m. ahead of a 3 p.m. game against the Mystics.

The New York Liberty were handed a league-record fine of $500,000 earlier this year after team owners Joe and Clara Tsai chartered flights for players during the 2021 season. Under the WNBA’s collective bargaining agreement, which was struck in 2020, teams are not allowed to privately charter flights due to potential competitive advantage issues.

But union president Ogwumike released a statement on Monday night calling on the league to allow teams to charter flights themselves beginning with the upcoming playoffs.

“A lot has changed in the commercial landscape since we negotiated our current CBA,” Ogwumike said. “During these unprecedented times, the required form of commercial travel remains a significant burden on our players and their bodies. 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 transformational growth across our league. The numbers and trends suggest that The W is a smart investment with a measurable return. New and emerging ownership groups have demonstrated an ability and eagerness to invest the necessary resources to grow this league in the areas that require it most.

“As the players’ union, we will continue to do whatever we can to alleviate obstacles faced by our members while traveling. That includes having reasonable and flexible charter options immediately and genuinely considered. We reiterate our standing invitation to the league and team ownership to work together to identify a manageable solution to this problem whose origins are complex, but remedy simple. It is time to permit teams to invest in charter flights between games, beginning with the entire 2022 WNBA Playoffs, and continuing with a common sense, full-season solution beginning in 2023.

“And in the spirit of collaboration, we call upon both private and commercial airline companies to recognize this bold opportunity to lead: American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, United, NetJets, Wheels Up, JetSuiteX, among others: We encourage you to meet us at the table and partner with the WNBA players to eliminate the toughest opponent they face each season: travel.”

The WNBA will charter flights for all 2022 Finals games. During the playoffs, the league also has the ability to charter flights for teams traveling across multiple time zones with a quick turnaround between games.

The Sparks host the Connecticut Sun on Tuesday night. Los Angeles, which has three games remaining, is one of five teams vying for one of the final two playoff spots.

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