Gripes of the Fortunate

Airlines don't care about surfers, and that affects more than just our bank balances

A beautiful view that encompasses why surfers travel, albeit at a high price. Photo: Glaser
The board bag’s privileged cousin, the golf bag, is our favorite contrast—the go-to argument. Golf bags fly free. I asked an agent at American Airlines whether they’ve ever considered charging per club. She scoffed, “Of course not.” Probably because that would be ridiculous.

Worldwide, there are an estimated 50 to 61 million golfers. According to the action-sports research company Board-Trac, there are somewhere around 2.9 million surfers. The number of them traveling with surfboards is significantly smaller. And just to get some perspective, the average reader of Golf Digest has a household income of $117,900 and a median net worth of $941,300. Let’s just say many surfers aren’t in that tax bracket. Put simply, surfers are too poor and too few to matter, meaning complaints, threatened boycotts, and angry social media posts probably won’t change much.

Some of us know that, and have accepted our fate. But the real problem, perhaps, is the inconsistency. Different airports, different partner airlines, even different agents at the same airport for the same flight all potentially lead to different outcomes. “Please see our policy,” the over-trained robot in customer service will tell you when you call to complain. You will offer articulate arguments. They will offer nothing. “But why did my buddy get charged half as much as I did?” you ask. They will politely recite the company line. No explanation. No sympathy.

A look at China Airlines’ policy listed online might explain the erraticism. According to their policy:

“One board not exceeding 109 inches (277cms) to be charged at the applicable rate for 5 kilograms of excess baggage; one board exceeding 109 inches (277cms) to be charged at the applicable rate for 8 kilograms of excess baggage; additional boards at the applicable excess baggage charge,” which is explained as, “One board not exceeding 109 inches (277cms) to be charged at 100% of one excess baggage charge; one board exceeding 109 inches (277cms) to be charged at 150% of one excess baggage charge.”

No wonder the employees at the check-in counter are confused.

(Click here to see what airlines will hurt your wallet the most with baggage fees.)

And they are not alone. It took two Cathay Pacific reservation agents 25 minutes to decipher their policy and calculate the fee when I called to inquire. They finally came upon the nice round sum of $600. Per board bag. Each way. And this doesn’t guarantee that your boards will arrive at your destination in one piece, or that they will arrive at your destination at all.

“I agree there should be a fee,” says Magnusson. “Board bags are giant, oddly shaped, clumsy, massive pains in the ass to deal with. So yes, charge us for the extra work. But I think a board bag should have a set fee. I don’t think it should matter how many boards are in your bag, but the weight should also be a factor. Right now, they are opening the board bag and charging customers per board. That’s the same thing as opening your clothing bag and charging a fee for each T-shirt you brought or how many socks you have. It makes no sense.”