The Phoenix Mercury basketball team has changed its travel plans for the rest of the season following an incident where one of its star players, Brittney Griner, and her teammates were harassed while waiting to board a flight to Indianapolis at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. The team will now fly charter for its remaining road games, including the possibility of using JSX public charter flights for the entire team, according to sources.
New Travel Arrangements
WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert confirmed that Griner’s travel and security plans have been adjusted since the incident. Although the league approved Griner before the start of the 2023 season to fly charter for all away games, there has been no clear answer as to why she was flying on a commercial airline from Dallas to Indianapolis. A source has told ESPN that the league preapproved Griner for only two charter flights, a claim the league strongly contests. However, since the incident, the Mercury has been informed that Griner could fly private charter for the rest of the year.
The JSX option might also be available for the entire team, not just Griner, so she is not separated from her teammates. JSX planes can hold up to 30 people, providing teams the option to buy out an entire flight for their personnel. Although JSX flights are on pre-set routes and times, the airline has the ability to create flights outside its pre-set schedule, but those are generally more expensive and that’s what the WNBA prohibits. However, that might be adjusted for Phoenix because of the Mercury’s unique circumstances with Griner’s high profile after being imprisoned in Russia from February to December 2022.
Urgency for a Good Plan Going Forward
The WNBA has told teams they are not allowed to change pre-set routes and times. However, the league claims it had given the Mercury the freedom to let Griner fly private all year. A source told ESPN the league did not make that type of broad-stroked recommendation but approved a “hybrid plan” in early April at a meeting at the women’s Final Four in Dallas. That plan included Griner flying the two preapproved charter flights with the league having the option to approve more charters based on need with the condition that only Griner — not the entire team — could fly on those planes.
Griner and the Mercury would fly standard JSX routes when they were available, and Griner would fly first class on commercial flights for all other trips. The Mercury had flown standard JSX flights to their first road game, to Los Angeles, and for their next trip, to Dallas. However, there wasn’t a standard JSX route to Indianapolis, which is why Griner was on the commercial flight.
The executive director for the WNBA players’ union, Terri Jackson, said on “Outside the Lines” on Friday that Griner expressed her frustration with the situation. “She said, ‘We knew this was going to happen.’ She said, ‘Terri, I read the mail that comes to my locker. It’s fan mail, but it’s also a lot of hate mail,’” Jackson said.
Engelbert said on “Outside the Lines” that she texted Griner on Saturday, telling Griner she knew how serious that situation was. While there is no consensus on how the previous plan was formulated, there is urgency to avoid any similar issues the rest of the season. “We’re just working with Phoenix to make sure we have a good plan going forward,” Engelbert said, “certainly for Brittney and for the rest of the Phoenix Mercury.” Griner missed the Mercury’s game at Washington on Friday night because of a hip injury.