Flying with a Surfboard: Summer 2023
Surfboards and Airlines
I flew commercial from Denver to Costa Rica with a surfboard. What follows is my experience, lessons learned, and what I would do differently. I hope it will help you when traveling with surfboards.
I first booked my flight directly from Denver to Liberia, Costa Rica on Southwest Airlines. The price was competitive and their surfboard policy (here) seemed to allow me to take both a 9' and 8' longboard with additional fees. Though the Southwest surfboard policy doesn't clearly state the allowable size, my Google search resulted in lots of examples of passengers taking longboards on Southwest flights. I even called Southwest and they confirmed that it "should" not be a problem.
So I showed up at the airport boards in tow. I tried to check in using the skycap service, but they said they could not check in international flights at the curb. Note they did NOT say that my boards were too long. In the terminal, I placed my boards in the clearly marked “Oversized Luggage” area and proceeded to check in at a kiosk. There I paid the additional $75 per surfboard oversize fee which I was expecting. On my way back to the “Oversized Luggage” area, two Southwest employees approached me and told me that the surfboards were too long and could not fly. I made a weak argument but they insisted. They offered their cargo service, but that would take a business account and two weeks to set up.
I left the airport defeated.
Once home, I decided to attempt to book on American Airlines. Unlike Southwest, American's surfboard policy clearly states that I could take surfboards up to 126 linear inches (length + width + height). The problem was I would have to connect in Dallas (or maybe it was Houston), and only the 8' surfboard would meet the dimensional requirements. I was scared that the extra handling involved with a connection could damage the board or worse, the board wouldn't make the connecting flight. In addition, I knew my surfing prowess would be better served with the longer 9' board (I'm not that good). But I had a non-refundable hotel booked, so I took a chance booking the American flight for the following morning.
I'm pleased to report that the following day we got to Liberia with no issues. When checking in, the American Airlines staff measured the surfboard, asked for a $30 oversized luggage fee, and made no further complications.
If I were to do it again, I'm not sure I would do anything differently. I checked the surfboard in the same cardboard box it came in. I tried using a surfboard bag (we have a warehouse full of them), but oddly the dimensions were larger in the bag than when shipped in the box. I also would hesitate to ship a fiberglass board in this manner. I've heard horror stories about cracked glass and worse. But the soft top longboard I took is more durable.
Did I check United? Of course I checked the United Airline surfboard policy. Their dimensional maximum was 115 inches (length + width + height) When doing the math, the allowable dimensions would force me to take a smaller board (7' or so), and I knew I wasn't going to have much surfing success on a shorter surfboard. So United was out.
What about Delta? I didn't check Delta. Not sure why. Maybe they didn't service Denver to Liberia. Regardless, you can find their surfboard policy here. Like United, they allow up to 115 linear inches.
I should add that Southwest refunded my ticket and fees without much hesitation. I would try them again but I would make sure I was prepared to show them their own policy and advocate harder at the airport. Maybe that would have made a difference.
Adam C. Swiecki
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