Hours after news broke that WWE talent that worked yesterday’s Crown Jewel event in Riyadh had their flight home delayed, the company has finally acknowledged the situation, stating:
More than 175 Superstars, production crew and employees boarded a 747 charter flight back to the United States on Thursday. After the door closed, due to several aircraft problems including mechanical issues, all passengers sat on the tarmac for more than six hours. With SmackDown set to emanate live from Buffalo, N.Y., several Superstars felt so strongly that they arranged for their own separate charter in order to make it back to the U.S. for the show. Due to unforeseen issues, that charter will not land until after the live broadcast on FOX.
While speculating on whether the plane was delayed for mechanical issues or something else is pointless, Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s Dave Meltzer reported that 20 people were on the separate chartered flight, 12 of whom were talent. That’s … a lot of people to leave behind.
What’s interesting about this is how WWE decided to frame the separate chartered flight, as a desperate measure taken by WWE Superstars who felt Very Strongly about performing on SmackDown after a last-minute trans-Atlantic flight. Idly Googling companies that charter flights from the US to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, getting on a plane bound for Buffalo in the next 24 hours is at least a $300,000 proposition, or $15,000 per person.
Whether or not Vince McMahon made everybody who got on the plane with him chip in for gas money and snack food, it’s pretty widely known that WWE Superstars are expected to arrange and pay for their own travel accommodations. While trips like Crown Jewel are likely an exception, the tone of their press release suggests that, had the other 155 people stuck in Saudi Arabia felt as strongly about making SmackDown as their compatriots, they could have booked a plane for themselves. Why didn’t they? Selfishness, I guess.
Regardless, WWE hopes that you’ll enjoy SmackDown, which is promising “surprises” in addition to wrestlers like Daniel Bryan, The Miz, Nikki Cross, and Dana Brooke. While WWE is no stranger to skeleton crew shows, the fact that they’re throwing one out there so early in the company’s tenure as a going concern on a major broadcast network is pretty incredible. We’ve yet to find out how many masters WWE is capable of serving at once, but if their current situation is any indication, they’re pretty close from running headlong into a wall.