I always thought the luggage handlers who so carelessly tossed your surfboard onto the plane, or piled heavy baggage atop it, were jealous because you were going on a surf trip while they had to work. But when a whole airlines sez “screw you!” to surfers – you have to wonder why?
Certainly many of us don’t instantly think of merry ol’ England as a surfing mecca (see Britain’s Surf Nation to change your mind), but that island also has their fare share of spots and hot surfers; 500,000 being a most recent figure. And Heathrow is certainly a hub for those on their way to other global surf destinations – icy cold or not.
So it was certainly a shocker when, late last year, British Airways announced “no can” to the whole surf and water enthusiast community.
Please note British Airways will no longer accept a number of larger sporting items as baggage: Hang gliders, Windsurfing boards and sails, Surfboards, Kayaks or canoes, Pole vaults, Javelins
Adding insult to injury, at the same time British Airways announced the surfboard ban, they got busy advertising their great pleasure in carrying your skis, heavy golf clubs and bicycles free of charge. Ouch!
BA spokespeople topped off the carelessness by making ignorant claims such as “If you look at it as a percentage, the numbers of surfers that are traveling is tiny, miniscule.” Then to top it off, they had the nerve to inform surfers that they could ship their boards (to and from France, for example, at the cost of £200, which would take upwards of a week!). Don’t they understand how devoted the surfing community is? Don’t we? Sure, we may often hate how many surfers are in the water, fighting for waves, but (at least on land) if we instead see ourselves as an immense group of oft like-minded individuals, working together, we have the potential to influence the world!!!
Well, both BA and the surf community must have gotten some sort of hint, as immediately after the announcement, a petition against BA was signed by some 5,000 surfers around the world (now hitting almost 10,000); including frequent flyers and heavy-weight pro’s who utilize the airline while traipsing through Europe. The British Surfing Association certainly wasn’t quiet about the affair, as they took it to the media who then had a field day with it. Surfers feared the worst, that other airlines might follow suit. But actually, the opposite seemed to happen. After witnessing the backlash, many airlines, even parters of BA, denounced the airline’s actions and pledged their undying devotion to the surf community.
A South African Airways spokeswoman says, “There won’t be any decision to follow in BA’s footsteps. For us, every passenger is essential. We would never take a standpoint to alienate such a large population of our travellers.” Quantas, who is part of the One World Alliance with British Airways, has also confirmed that they will continue to carry boards for any passengers.
Virgin Atlantic’s Richard Branson quickly assured all fellow adrenaline lovin’ water-enthusiasts that Virgin would love to cater to their needs. As Global Surf News reported:
A whole host of other airlines have come out in support of the surf community, pledging that they will never follow suit and ban surfboards on their flights. BA’s biggest British long-haul rival Virgin Atlantic, has come to the aid of sports travelers by announcing that they can take one piece of sporting equipment in addition to their checked baggage allowance. This means, that as long as the equipment complies with size and weight allowances, Virgin Atlantic travelers can check in to the hold of the aircraft their diving equipment, golf equipment, fishing equipment, hang gliders, snow skis, surfboards, windsurfing boards, booms and sails, bicycles, paragliders, canoes and kayaks – all free of charge. Sporting wheelchairs are also considered sports equipment.
Paul Dickinson, Sales and Marketing Director, Virgin Atlantic, said, “Virgin Atlantic continues to be the airline for sports enthusiasts unlike others who are doing everything they can to prevent the gold medalists of the future transporting their equipment. Our new sports equipment policy enables all sports travelers, whether Olympic teams or not, to enjoy their journey throughout.”
British Airways is about to receive a reminder that its license to operate in Britain is dependent upon the quality of service that it provides. Britain’s Parliament will introduce a law forcing BA to carry surfboards and other recreational equipment. The airline recently decided that, after carrying surfboards since the days of BOAC, they were simply too much trouble. “Wrong-O” said the tourism industry and parliament – far from being an inconvenience, the needs of passengers are the reason that BA exists. British Airways is supposed to serve the needs of passengers – not the other way around.
In Hawai’i the local airlines would never have the nerve to screw over the surf community in such a way; a ban like that would certainly be deemed financially, morally, and culturally irresponsible. But what if they took a hint from one of the most successful businessmen in the world, Mr. Virgin Atlantic himself, and capitalized on catering to local surfers. In the heated interisland airfare wars, what if an airline like Hawaiian decided to say to their kama’aina water enthusiast customers that they appreciate their loyalty, support their active/healthy lifestyle, and in return would like to offer them free carriage of their gear?! It could be marketed as a celebration of the history of surfing and the collaborative partnership with the airline industry and surf community in sharing the joy of surfing with the world. Now, an airline that was so inclined, while maintaining punctuality and taking respectable care of our precious gear, would certainly be my carrier of choice.
As for now, the British Airways ban still stands – and the petition still active. Support your traveling surfers on the other side of the world – go sign it! Have a few extra minutes? You can also complain to British Airways directly!