The Phoenix Mercury from the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) ran into some issues while waiting to board an American Airlines flight from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) to Indianapolis International Airport (IND) on June 10.
The team was traveling to Indiana to play against the Indiana Fever on June 11, which the Mercury won 85-82. A YouTube personality named Alex Stein approached the team while they were walking on a concourse to reach their boarding gate. The WNBA described Stein as a "provocateur" after he attempted to get past security and confront Brittney Griner. According to a police report, the incident played out as follows:
- A security representative from the Phoenix Mercury was standing between Griner and Stein
- Stein pushed the security personnel away from Griner
- The security guard pushed Stein against a wall on the concourse while Griner waited behind a gate area
- Someone called the police and officers arrived at the scene around 9:38 a.m. Central Time (CT)
- The security guard told the officers that Stein “seemed aggressive and made some inappropriate comments [to Griner]”
The security guard later told officers that the passenger initiated physical contact with him but was not able to physically confront Griner.
After the incident, a representative from American Airlines offered to find an area where the Mercury could safely wait for their flight. Although the team was allowed to enter the airline's Admirals Club lounge if the players purchased a day pass, someone inside the lounge said that "they did not have enough room for the team".
The Mercury had to wait for their flight at a nearby customer experience office after being rejected from the lounge. Officers then escorted the team to their gate around 10:20 a.m. CT and they successfully boarded the flight without any additional issues.
DFW's police officers were unable to find Stein since he did not have a boarding pass for any American Airlines flight at Terminal A. The airport's master control room later revealed that the man "walked to the lower gates, connected with a female passenger, and entered the Skylink Train heading to Terminals B & D."
American Airlines offers flights from all five terminals at DFW, with Terminals A, B, and C catering exclusively to the airline's flights. The Skylink Train provides connectivity between the airport's five terminals once passengers pass through security.
After the incident was settled, Stein posted a 90-second video on YouTube that provided his account of the confrontation. It is unknown if the Mercury or the police believe any part of Stein's version of the story.
The Mercury decided to change their travel plans for the rest of the 2023 season as a result of the incident. Griner will now be able to fly charter for the team's remaining away games.
Although the Mercury has not yet provided concrete details on its new travel plans, some sources have suggested that the team could use JSX charter flights on standard and "created" routes. The latter option is not available to other teams in the WNBA.
Griner's agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas and WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert have only provided vague details about Griner's travel plans so far through interviews conducted with the media.
Questions have arisen over why Griner was flying on a commercial aircraft from Dallas to Indianapolis since she has been allowed to fly on a private aircraft for the entire season. It appears that the WNBA has walked back its claim that Griner could fly charter for all away games by approving her for only two charter flights. The WNBA has denied the truth of this fact after a whistleblower revealed the league's actual plans to the media.
Some sources have suggested that the entire team will fly on charter flights so that Griner can be with her teammates. JSX, which would be the Mercury's partner for charter flights, is currently exploring the creation of unique flight schedules for the team. Although operating flights outside of pre-set schedules is generally prohibited by the WNBA for cost reasons, JSX will likely amend the rules due to the Mercury's unique situation.
The Mercury later said that JSX flights were used to fly to Dallas and Los Angeles, but not Indianapolis since there was no standard route. That was their defense for why Griner was on a commercial flight. Griner needed special accommodations so that she could recover from being imprisoned in Russia for drug-related charges from February to December 2022.
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