Much grumbling has accompanied the fees being imposed by U.S. airlines on previously benign items such as a passenger’s first checked bag, in-flight pillows, blankets, and drinks. These costs, in addition to pricier fares, are meant to boost revenue in the face of high fuel costs. No one has grumbled quite as loud, however, as the surfers who are being charged as much as $300 to bring their surfboards along. And that’s just for one board. Many serious surfers will take as many as four boards in one bag, which—depending on where they’re flying to—could amount to a $1,200 bill one way. That’s more than most plane tickets cost.
Airlines such as Delta justify the high fees with the argument that the boards require special care: They don’t get put through the standard baggage carousel, but get transported to the claims area on special elevators. “There are handling costs associated with surfboards that we have to account for,” explains Delta spokesman Kent Landers.
Indignant surfers beg to differ and maintain that the charges they encounter are inflated. The L.A. Times reports that although surfboards are large, a typical short board weighs about four pounds while a larger board only weighs up to 15 pounds. It would seem, then, that the additional charges are not so much about weight but the overall inconvenience of adding surfboards to the plane's cargo. The Times cites an incident in which Hawaiian Airlines slapped passenger Mark Cowan with an $80 fee for his kite board (which was only 4 feet, 9 inches, and 11 pounds) at the Los Angeles International Airport. And this was on top of a $100 fee he was charged by Delta on his flight from Colorado to L.A. “You know, I just realized I’m going to be paying $360 to take my board along,” said Cowan.
It’s getting to the point where avid surfers and kite-boarders like Cowan are considering just leaving their boards at home and purchasing new ones on location. For most good surfers simply renting boards is out of the question.
Airlines known to stick surfers with high fees—often exceeding $150 a board—include Delta, Continental, and United. Alternatively, airlines that keep costs reasonably low include JetBlue, which charges $50 a board, and international carriers such as Qantas Airways and Air New Zealand, which don’t charge surfers any fees.
Photo: Calico182 via Flickr