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Airlines Don’t Care About Surfers

June 28th, 2013

Nearly all surf trips usually starts and ends with the same gripes – surfboard baggage fees.

The reason that surfers complain that it’s unfair and outrageous, is because it is, but prices are only going up from here, so do a little research before you go and you could save a packet.

Below is a simple breakdown of fees, so the next time you get slapped with a $400 fee, the only person to blame is yourself. Be sure to note which airlines charge PER BAG and which charge PER BOARD.

Aeromexico $0 $0 $76/bag Max length: 9′
Air Canada $0-$25 $35-$100 $50/board WILL NOT accept bags over 6’6″
Air France $0 $75-100 $55-150* *Depending on destination
Air New Zealand $0 $150 $0* *Free if only checked bag, otherwise $150/bag
Air Pacific $0 $0 $50/bag Max length: 9’6”
Air Tahiti Nui $0 $75 $0* If under 6’6″. If over, $150/bag.
American (US or PR) $25 $35 $150/bag Max weight: 70 lbs.
American (to/from Mexico) $0 $40 $150/bag Max weight: 70 lbs.
American (to/from Europe) $0 $60 $150/bag Max weight: 70 lbs.
Alaska Airlines $20 $20 $50/bag up to 6’6″, $75/bag 6’7″+ Max length: 115 in (length X width X height)
British Airways $0 $0 $0* *WILL NOT carry boards over 6’3″
China Airlines $0 $0 $150/board for under 9′, $225/board for 9′+* Varies slightly by destination
Continental (US, PR, Canada) $25 $35 $100/bag* *$200 if over 70 lbs.; Max length: 9’6″
Continental (International) $0 $40 $200/bag* *$400 if over 70 lbs.; Max length: 9’6″
COPA $0 $0 $75/bag* *Two boards max per bag
Delta Airlines (within US and Canada) $25 $35 $150/bag* *2 boards per bag max; Max size: 9’6″ and 70 lbs.
Delta (to/from Caribbean) $25 $40 $150/bag* *2 boards per bag max; Max size: 9’6″ and 70 lbs.
Delta (to/from Europe, S. and Central America) $0 40-$100 $150/bag* *2 boards per bag max; Max size: 9’6″ and 70 lbs.
Delta (to/from Brazil) $0 $0 $100/bag* *2 boards per bag max; Max size: 9’6″ and 70 lbs.
Hawaiian (interisland) $17 $17 $25/bag *Two boards max. per bag
Hawaiian (to/from North America) $25 $35 $100/bag* *Two boards max. per bag
Hawaiian (International) $0 $0 $100/bag* *Two boards max. per bag
Interjet $0 $0 $0 (None)
JetBlue $0 $30 $50/board (None)
Korean Air $0 $0 $200/bag (None)
LAN $0 $0 $0* *$50 if exceeds 50 lbs.
Qantas $0 $0 $0* *If included in baggage allowance. Cannot exceed 9′
South African Airways $0 $0 $0* *WILL NOT carry boards over 6’6″
Southwest $0 $0 $75/bag (None)
TACA $0 $0 $125/bag* *Three boards max. per bag.
United Airlines (Domestic) $25 $35 $100/bag Max length: 9’6″
United (to/from Europe) $0 $100 $200/bag Max length: 9’6″
United (to/from Mexico) $0 $40 $200/bag Max length: 9’6″
United (to/from other international destinations) $0 $0 $200/bag Max length: 9’6″
US Airways (Americas) $25 $35 $200/board (None)
US Airways (Transatlantic) $0 $100 $200/board (None)
Virgin America $25 $25 $50/board *Additional charge if more than 50 lbs.
Virgin America (Domestic) $25 $25 $50/board *Additional charge if more than 50 lbs.
Virgin Atlantic (International) $0 $60 $0* *If included in baggage allowance.
Virgin Australia $0 $0 $0* *If included in baggage allowance.

Fees are accurate as of 1/17/13

Cheyne Magnusson, a frequent traveller, didn’t check the excess baggage charges ahead of time, and got stung by China Airlines, which he chose to fly to Indonesia because they were the cheapest. He had to pay an extra $450 for 4 boards, that was already more than Cheyne had “saved” by choosing the cheaper ticket. On his return trip they charged him $600.

He posted his gripe on Facebook and within minutes he had dozens of comments. When he got back to California, he had hundreds of comments and likes. Cheyne decided to voice his opinion on China Airlines’ Facebook page. Surprisingly, someone promptly replied and a dialog ensued.

“We started debating the topic, and before I knew it there were about 60-plus posts with other surfers throwing their two cents in,” says Cheyne. “Our voices were finally being heard! The thread was up for about 24 hours and then that next night I tried to check up on it, and boom, that page no longer existed. I was blocked by China Air and all of our comments and conversations were gone.”

Luckily someone had taken a screen shot of the conversation and posted it online and from there it spread to the major surfing websites. 11x world champ, Kelly Slater, posted it on Instragam and it got thousands of likes and hundreds of comments. The most popular surfer in the world involved, the airlines would be letting surfers fly with surfboards for free in no time!

But compared to the thousands of travellers boarding planes each day, the number of travelling surfers is barely the airlines priority. The golf bag, is the favourite contrast. Golf bags fly free. When an agent at American Airlines was asked whether they’ve ever considered charging per club. She scoffed, “Of course not.”

According to the action-sports research company Board-Trac, there are somewhere around 2.9 million surfers and an estimated 50 to 61 million golfers. The number of surfers travelling with surfboards is a lot smaller. Apparently the average reader of Golf Digest has an income of $117,900 and a net worth of $941,300, surfers aren’t in that same bracket. Surfers are simple too poor and too few to matter and angry social media posts probably won’t things change much.

The real problem is the inconsistency. Different airports, different partner airlines and different agents at the same airport for the same flight all can lead to different outcomes. “Please see our policy,” the robot in customer service will tell you when you try to complain.

Kelly Slater, a man who’s logged many hours travelling with surfboards, offers a rational suggestion;

“The fairest way to charge? Based on weight and how much it costs to actually fly that weight a given distance. Why should my surfboard cost any more than a bag weighing the same? It’s under the weight allowance so why on earth is there a surcharge ‘per board’? It’s just a racket. I paid more for boards on two flights in Oz than I paid for the seat in the plane! I asked if I could just pay for another seat. The lady looked confused. I also asked if I could get a rebate for my girlfriend who’s 90 pounds and thus using less fuel. It should be quantified: X is the number of pounds flying and Y is number of miles flown. All baggage is paid for by weight strictly. If it’s a ridiculous size, say over 8 or 9 feet, maybe you pay a hassle fee. Just thinking about it makes me mad though. I got charged $600 on United one-way to LAX from HNL for a bag of boards and the guy told me he was giving me a break! Sell me another seat and I’ll carry ’em on!”

There’s another reason why airline employees seem determined to charge surfers as much as possible.

“When I worked there we earned points for charging people for extra baggage fees and then could use those points to buy things in a massive online store, similar to Amazon. It had everything on it! Airline workers get paid very little, so it was like a bonus incentive.” A former Delta employee explains.

“Of course they get bonuses,” says Slater. “It’s like rental car agents ‘selling’ insurances and extra charges. For sure they’ve run the numbers and get a kickback. Better off just handing them each 20 bucks.” An agent could let your bag slip by without a fee, but when there are Kindles and Panini-makers to be earned, why would they? “I found it really easy to let boards slide without charging people when I first started working there,” says the former agent. “I’d just slap a regular baggage tag on the board bag. I only did it for cool, easy-going passengers. If they were rude, I’d make them pay for everything.”

What does this all mean for surfing culture? A future where the costs of surf travel far outweigh the rewards? The shoestring surf trip is becoming a thing of the past and in its place is an activity for only the rich. Surf culture as we know it might be under threat.

Surfers always have the perpetual urge to explore the world, to find new waves in long forgotten destinations. Is this to end? I hope not.


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