More for Your Money: Flying with a surfboard

Los Angeles Times staff writer

If you plan to fly with your favorite board to catch gnarly surf, get ready for a wild ride — financially, that is. Many airlines charge $100 or more each way to take surfboards as checked baggage. A few charge nothing. So check it out before you check it in.

And be glad you’re not a professional surfer.

“It’s mind-blowing how expensive it is to travel with surfboards,” said Hawaiian pro surfer Fred Patacchia Jr. “I just recently went to Europe on American Airlines and was charged $150 per board, traveling with nine boards. You do the math. The surfboard charge was more than my ticket cost.”

Delta, he added, charged him $200 a board for a flight in October from Hawaii to Puerto Rico, when he checked three boards.

Airlines say they charge service fees for surfboards because they require special handling.

“They tend to be much larger items and are somewhat oddly shaped, which makes it more work to fit them into the belly of aircraft among standard baggage items,” said Tim Smith, an American Airlines spokesman.

Cynthia Tinsley-Douglas, spokeswoman for AirTran, said her airline charges $79 each way for surfboards and bicycles because “both items are more cumbersome and fragile than other types of sporting equipment.”

Surfboards can get big, to be sure. Longboards, which may run 9 feet or more, won’t fly with many carriers. But popular shortboards, commonly around 6 feet long, fall within the usual size limits for checked sports equipment. Although wider, they’re about the same length as alpine skis, which many airlines fly for free. Go figure.

What to do? Consider renting a board at your destination; prices vary a lot, but about $30 a day is common.

Or ship your board with a carrier such as FedEx or UPS. Depending on the details and destination, you may or may not save money, and you’ll need to arrange drop-off and pick-up of your board for shipping.

Or do what Hawaiian pro surfer Bethany Hamilton does. Hamilton, who said she recently spent more than $1,000 to check four boards from Hawaii to Indonesia, seeks out what she calls “surfer-friendly airlines.”

Below is a sampling of carriers’ general policies on surfboards. For details and exceptions, visit your airline’s website or call.

Air New Zealand: You can check one surfboard as a regular piece of luggage without an extra fee.

American: Under a policy that took effect last week, you can check one surfboard for $150 each way on domestic and foreign flights. (Previously, the charge was $100 for domestic and $150 foreign, in addition to checked-bag fees.)

British Airways: Boards up to 6 feet, 3 inches long can be checked as regular baggage without an extra fee.

Continental: You can check one surfboard or one board bag containing up to four boards. The fee each way is $100 for one board or one board bag containing up to two boards; $400 for a bag with three boards; and $700 for a bag with four boards.

Delta: You can check one surfboard for $200 each way on most domestic and international routes.

Hawaiian: You can check up to two boards per container. Fees, which are charged per container, are $100 each way within the continental U.S. or between Hawaii and the continental U.S.; and $35 within Hawaii.

Southwest: This low-cost carrier, which doesn’t charge for the first and second checked bag, does charge for surfboards: $50 each way.

United: You can check one case, holding up to two boards, for $100 per board each way within North America and $200 each way when traveling abroad from North America. Fees vary for travel between foreign countries.

Virgin Atlantic: You can check one surfboard for free, in addition to your regular baggage allowance.