As the WNBA faces increased pressure to move away from commercial airline travel, the league has allowed teams this season to fly on a public chartering service called JSX with certain protocols in place, league sources told ESPN this week.
The league's travel situation has come under increased scrutiny after the Phoenix Mercury's Brittney Griner -- who was detained in Russia most of last year and subsequently released in a high-profile prisoner exchange -- was harassed in a Dallas airport this past weekend while flying commercially with the team.
WNBA teams primarily fly commercial, citing cost. Some franchises and players have increasingly pushed for the use of charters, and the New York Liberty incurred a $500,000 fine for illicitly flying charters to some away games in 2021.
This year, the league expanded charter use to postseason play and regular-season games played on back-to-back days that require air travel.
According to its website, JSX is a "hop-on jet service that's faster on the ground and more comfortable in the air" and operates out of private terminals, eliminating the need for teams to go through the airport and TSA security. Tickets are fairly comparable to what commercial flights cost, and planes can hold up to 30 people, providing teams the option to buy out an entire flight. It's "a taste of what chartering will be like," one league executive told ESPN.
JSX isn't available in most WNBA cities, though, and, unlike charters, the airline's flights have pre-set routes and times, which the league has told teams they cannot change.
According to its website, the closest JSX hubs to WNBA cities include three in the Los Angeles area (Los Angeles, Burbank, Orange County); Phoenix, Las Vegas, Dallas (where the airline is based); and Westchester County, New York. A team without JSX in its market could still fly the airline on a prolonged road trip going between, for example, Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
JSX usage varies by team, league sources told ESPN, depending on factors such as availability of flights and preexisting travel booked. Mercury guard Shey Peddy posted an Instagram video last month showing the team taking a JSX flight to Los Angeles for its season opener.
JSX does have the ability to create flights outside its pre-set schedule, which generally are more expensive. That's what WNBA prohibits. However, the Las Vegas Aces previously worked with JSX to create their own publicly available flights based on their road game schedule, which still appear on JSX's website as "pop up flights." The plan was initially reported by The Washington Post and confirmed by ESPN.
A source told ESPN that the Aces took at least one of these flights earlier this season; another source confirmed the Aces are no longer taking those flights and are not facing a fine.
"Since this is a new program this year, we had to address a few matters with teams earlier in the season," a source in the league office said.
M.A. Voepel and Josh Weinfuss contributed to this report.