Gripes of the Fortunate

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

| posted on January 17, 2013

As surfers, we're lucky if we have the means to travel to exotic locales for surf. But the airlines seem to be taking advantage of us. Photo: Glaser

Cheyne Magnusson chose China Airlines because they offered the cheapest fare. A frequent traveler, Cheyne didn’t check the excess baggage charges ahead of time, begrudgingly expecting more of the same: a fee of about $200 to take his boards with him to Indonesia. Arriving at LAX, he maneuvered his 7-foot board bag through the gauntlet of Asian tourists. “Just one surfboard,” he told the agent at the counter. She stepped over the scale and unzipped the bag. Pulling apart the boards, she counted them aloud. “Four boards,” she calculated, as she returned to the computer. “That will be $450.” That was already more than Cheyne had “saved” by choosing the cheaper ticket.

With little protest, he handed over his credit card. He knew this was a battle that could not be won. He signed his surfboards away, and went to the airport bar to drown the all-too-familiar frustration.

After three weeks in Bali, Cheyne had almost forgotten about the incident. He returned to the airport sunburned and happy. He stepped up to the counter, hopeful that with some sweet-talking, perhaps a little flirtation, he’d have better luck on his way back. But this agent had been well trained. “Six-hundred dollars,” she said plainly. “Six-hundred dollars?” Cheyne replied in astonishment at the sudden price hike. “This board bag weighs less than that guy’s luggage!” he complained. He pointed at a man with a bag the size of a washing machine. The other employees looked over knowingly. With hundreds of surfers flying in and out of Bali everyday, the disgruntled, overcharged customer was one they’d encountered regularly.

Once through security, Cheyne did what all angry people with an Internet connection do: he posted his gripe on Facebook. Within minutes, he had dozens of comments. There’s nothing that provokes surfers more than the universally accepted evil that is airline excess baggage fees. By the time he got back to California, he had hundreds of comments and likes. Fueled by the masses, Cheyne decided to voice his opinion on China Airlines’ Facebook page. Surprisingly, someone promptly replied. A dialog ensued.

“We started debating the topic, and before I knew it there were about 60-plus posts with other surfers throwing their two cents in,” says Cheyne. “Our voices were finally being heard! The thread was up for about 24 hours and then that next night I tried to check up on it, and boom, that page no longer existed. I was blocked by China Air and all of our comments and conversations were gone.”

(Read: SURFER’s updated baggage fee comparison list for 2013.)

But that wasn’t the end of it. Someone had taken a screen shot of the conversation and posted it online. From there it spread to the major surf websites. Kelly Slater posted it on Instragam. It got thousands of likes and hundreds of comments. We felt powerful. We had the most popular surfer in the world advocating for us—the airlines would be letting us fly with surfboards for free in no time!

Unfortunately, reality is far less romantic. Compared to the hundreds of thousands of travelers boarding planes each day, the number of traveling surfers is barely a blip on an airline’s radar. And surfers are hardly the high-rolling segment that airlines can justify pandering to.

  • jojo

    hard-hitting surf journalism unearthing a gravely serious first-world problem. cheyne magnusson deserves better than this. i smell pulitzer.


    Anyone tried paying off the teller? Wondering if it’s worked for anyone.

  • Fight Back

    Three words for you: small claims court.

    Costs you just a few bucks to sue for your money back. Costs the airlines a lot of money to send a lawyer down to defend the indefensible. And if they don’t show (hint: they won’t show), 92% chance you win by default then they have to pay the judgment.

    They take advantage of the fact that they are big to punch you in the face.

    You can take advantage of the fact that they’re big to punch right back — exactly what bullies don’t expect but totally deserve.

    Simply file saying they overcharged for a service than gave you bad service.

    Only punish the airlines who have punitive, unreasonable polices. Keep all receipts and other documents to present to the court.

  • Jimmy the Saint

    Here’s my two cents! Maybe contacting the tourism boards of the countries that spend millions promoting their area to surfers might help. Often flights are subsidised by goverments who may not be pleased that the tourists that they have lured to their country are leaving with a bad taste in their mouth, and will tell their friends, twitter followers etc. Surfers may not mean much to the airlines, but they sure as hell mean a lot to places like Bali, Hawaii, the Gold Coast etc. Obviously one or two individuals won’t make a difference, but maybe Surfer magazine could investigate if any of those notorious airlines are being subsidised…

  • charliep

    the government should charge a fee for the environmental impact of surfboards

    like jojo said a gravely serious first world problem

  • Riktus

    Actually teh fairest way t charge is weight and volume. Weight is an obvious that has been described clearly in the article. Volume is an important factor as well. Imagine a plane full of surfers each of them having a board bag. Would all bags fit inthe cargo space ? Anyway the fairest way to charge would be Length + weight + height. ie airlines should have a matrix of these * elements in order to determine clearly the price and get rid of teh freaking mess. A standardized way for all airline to approach it would also foster competition and drive average price down since all oversized luggage will be considered equal. No more privilege for the golf bags. Or if you prefer, if one calculation matrix applies for all, the willingness of the airlines to carry golf bags at low cost will decrease our board bag costs.
    maybe someone knowing the aviation world can comment whether it’s worth for surfers to lobby (through social media) IATA for this standardization.

  • TimL

    Sucks for Mr. Magnusson that he got charged as much as he did by China Airlines, and I totally agree with the “surfers are overcharged by airlines” (most of the time we are). But I would just like to add that China airlines is probably the best airline I’ve ever flown with surfboard wise. Out of the two times (2 returns) I flew from Europe to New Zealand with my board, both times I didn’t have to pay a single cent(!!!) because it fell within my weight restrictions.

    I think the problem of paying for boards comes with flying over the pacific for some reason. So next time you want to fly with china airlines and take your boards for free, consider flying over the atlantic…

  • Mikko Laitinen

    Pretty ironic that I’ve brought boards twice to Europe from Bali with Cathay free of charge…

  • Nathan Sheldon

    Virgin is free.

  • Ryanno

    I have traveled many times with big surfboard bags and snowboard bags. As long as you keep the bags at 20kg or under I have not had a problem. It’s only when it gets up near 25kg or more then you are up for excess baggage. Pack light.

  • Mik

    Cheyne should do his homework BEFORE booking with an airline, not after.

    Surfline has published an online list of Airlines/surfboard fees. All he had to do was read it, and tell his travel agent what airlines to look for good travel fees with, and which ones not to book.

    The list clearly states that China Airlines is very pricey. I had my agent redo my plans to Bali when he ignored my input and booked a trip to Bali with them.

    I switched to Cathay Pacific, which was rad. Great service, great food, and best of all I only expected to pay $100 each way for my board bag (two ultra light 6′ shortboards and a very light 7′ gun). The best part was a surprise in my favor: since my suitcase was also small they didn’t charge me for my surfboards at all!

    So travel light. BTW: my boards were Firewires, and they were all I needed in two weeks of 5–12″ surf, every day. They are light, paddle amazing because more buoyant, perform rad, and no dings, no broken boards. And the waves are heavy in Bali and the other Island I went to. I saw a guy break a board just paddling out. No exaggeration.

  • james

    Hey guys

    i have been bitching about this problem for years.
    Last year I went from LAX threw Panama to Ecuador for a surf tirp
    We stuffed 4 surfboards into one big coffin. We learned from trips before the airline now count each board and have changed it on their website to state per board not per bag. we packed the four boards into two separate board bags then into the coffin making it look like we only had two boards. Lax was not a problem they charged us $400 for the board bag. On the way back the airline in Ecuador did not charge us for our bags we thought great!!! We had a layover in Panama and thats where we got called to the counter for our surfboards. The lady at the counter said we did not get charged for our surfborad bags and wanted $800 for us to get the bag home. We went round and round with the person showing her what we paid for the same bag to get there.
    It did not matter. I put the charge on my Amex and when I got home called Amex to reverse both charges the first chrage for giving me a hard time over my bag and causing me to have to fight with them. Amex reversed the charge and I reveived a call from the airlines. After a few calls and providing them a copy of my bill from LAX they still wanted to charge me. I told the person to sue me and I’ll deal with them in court. I also told them I would be calling Amex to let them know the airline was harrassing me over my charge back. I never heard from the airline again.

    Here is something to note:
    In Nov threw Dec my wife and I went to Moscow to visit family and brought 8
    guitars with us to her father. I taped three together and made a box for them to fit into with one handle to carry. We each carried one guitar on the plane.
    ANyone want to guess how much I had to pay for this??? $000000
    Why?? Musicale instruments are FREE
    Next surf trip my boards will be packed to look like large musicale instruments!!
    I now look at the airlines as us against them with my boards. I have had them put a hole through a board and they refused to pay for a board saying in was not in a hard case!

  • sami

    Just keep your keep your luggage under 20 kg and travel with only 1 surfbag (no other checked luggages) and u get them free..Unless u travel with cheap airlines like jetstar,airasia..then you have to pay the fee but thats not much..

  • byron

    There are many airlines which do not charge for surfboards – they work on pieces of luggage and a total baggage weight allowance . Emirates , Etihad, Qatar Airways , Malaysian airways, Singapore and many others. Like the other guys say – do your homework and find out the airlines policy.

  • Elliot

    Interesting POV in this article but I have to disagree with the the paragraph almost at the end where Kelly Slater and also a Delta employee talk about incentives for employees by airlines to charge surfers more….As a current employees of 19 years for a US airline under bankruptcy as I speak, the employee that check the surfer in and its surfboards have to charge whatever the policy said in the computer is to be paid, if not said company take great lenghts to find you, investigate you and terminate your employment on the basis of fraud…In other words no incentive to buy kindles or anything for that matter, charge what you have too or else no job, no paycheck so no food on the table for families that count on it and be glad you have a low salary job…The people with incentives are financial analysts and executives driven to make more money for their own profits and shareholder, this way more profits means more bonuses in forms of stock that make these people, that make these policies while seated in some HQ office cubicle, lots of money and very very rich as in millionaires, and they have no contact with you the surfer so off course you as surfer wont ger no simpathy on the phone or at airport from the employee that have no other option but to charge you to keep his job…Just saying…


    If you are going to Costa Rica there are plenty of shops in Jaco, Tamarindo, and Nosara that have quality shortboards and longboards to rent so you don’t need to bring your own boards (unless you are a pro surfer). Most ‘high quality’ boards rent for $20 a day so if you are staying for 10 days or less, you’ll save money over paying baggage fees on American, Spirit Air, or Taca (Copa and JetBlue are only $50 each way)

    Cheaper boards rent from $10-15 a day, but may have a ding or two on them or may be an older board. For these, take a picture of both sides of the board and the rails so you can’t be accused of dinging it up even worse.

    Another benefit of renting vs. BYOB is that if that the wave sizes change during your trip, you can bring the board back and exchange for another better suited for the conditions. And you are supporting a local business and not the airlines.

  • Craig

    Put your boards in a cardboard box… label it ” ART WORK” Fragile etc. If the box is rectangular the staff will be fooled everytime… worked for me for years now… no charges ever! Plus I dont get the usual baggage handler dings as well… dont pay anyone off… just beat the system!

  • wyatt

    this is another reason why I bodyboard.

  • mike koenigs

    Im travelling to Bali next april through waterways and we are going to use China Air. Is it really true that they charge per board? I plannng on bringing a 9’0 longboard, a 7’6 gun and a 7’0 mini tank. What should i do? Should i not bring all the boards and buy a board up there? Do you have any suggestions. Please help, this is nutz!

    from Hawaii, Bruddah Mike……..