For the lot of us who rarely make it to Europe it may not seem a big deal, but for the thousands of international surfers -especially professional surfers- British Airways’ 2007 ban on surfboards was a nightmare. They weren’t just charging exhorbinant fees or having embargo periods, they were banning boards on all their flights. If they got away with it, would it influence other airlines to follow suit? After two years, BA has now reconsidered their policy and beginning October 9, 2009 they will once again accept surfboards — with some limitations.
BA became the focus of much angst, petitions and surely some hate mail when overnight they went from “the surfer’s favorite airline” to “the surfer’s most hated airline.” To add insult to injury, at the same time they banned surfboards because of their size and bulk, they made it increasingly easy for golfers to bring their clubs, bike riders to bring their bikes, skiers to bring their skis, divers to bring their diving gear — all free of charge.
Luckily there are some pluses to a bad economy. Businesses who may have not aptly appreciated their customers are becoming financially influenced to satisfy their needs. Mark Wesson, an executive committee member of the British Surfing Association, says “Despite the immense global opposition at the time of the ban, BA remained staunch in its commitment to the move. However now it seems that their current financial situation – seeing a loss of £401 million this year – is helping to open their eyes and they are beginning to realize the business that surfers can bring back into the company.”
Problem is, while the partial lift of their ban may be a step in the right directions, it’s just not enough. You have to be a shortboarder in order to bring your boards as there is a 6’3″ size limit (so that’s likely a 6’1″ in a 6’3″ board bag). And even most shortboarders (professional and otherwise) will fly with larger sticks in their travel-quiver.
There is so much $$$ behind the surf industry, and so many surfers and surf company folk who travel, that collectively there should be enough power to earn us a little respect. Airlines who offer to take surfboards (of any size, including multiple boards in a bag) for a reasonable fee, should be the first choice for traveling wave riders. Companies like Virgin, for example, who stepped up to the plate after BA’s announcement, not only accepts surfboards but does so for free (and they made a huge profit last year doing it!).
Surfers should continue to make collective efforts: call and email customer service departments and sign petitions to get attention. Let your buying power speak for itself. Think about the bigger picture before booking your next surf safari and make a statement by choosing a surf-friendly airline — even when you’re just traveling home to see mom and pop.
* * *
There are online lists that include info on airline policies concerning excess baggage acceptance and fees; though it should be noted that these can change and some airlines issue embargos during prime surf seasons to certain areas. Check out these links for more info: Surfers Against Airline Fees, Flying Fees and Surfline’s Breakdown of Board Bag Charges (call each airline before booking for the most current fees).