Kayak unfriendly airlines

  • Air Canada / Canadian
  • Air Transat
  • American Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Brunei
  • Continental
  • Delta
  • Frontier
  • KLM
  • Northwest Airlines
  • TWA



Warning: British Airways have changed to a "no kayaks" policy as of 08/11/07

British Airways sports equipment policy

Check out the facebook group for the latest details.

This is a collection of ideas about how to go about getting your boat onto a plane. Some things might work, some not, the main thing is to persevere. Be prepared for many phonecalls and to get the run-around from the airline/booking clerk. Even then you may get frustrated at check-in unless you have something clear printed into your file or on your tickets.

At the outset I should point out that I have only personally flown with plastic boats. Fibreglass/kevlar boats are often more easily damaged and usually longer than plastic boats and so much of this may not apply. However, glass boats can be much lighter than plastic, a definite bonus and are often being flown to competitions, another thing the airlines love.

The old myth about calling a kayak a ``surf kayak'' doesn't wash much anymore. More and more people are taking boats onto planes and many companies now have a policy on kayaks.  Many clerks will refer you to cargo as soon as you mention outsize baggage. Cargo rates for kayaks are volumetric and so extortionate. Although: "The trouble with calling it a Canoe or kayak is that most airlines think they know what that is and will automatically think it's too big. The advantage of calling it a Surf Board is that they know what it is and don't weigh it. Probably about half the times I have taken my boat on a plane, the boat has been weighed." (Paul Hammond).

Smaller airlines are often more accommodating, particularly if you are a reasonable sized party. With 10 or more people travelling you should immediately contact the airlines ``group bookings'' department, who will try to bend over backwards to get you to fly with them.

Dropping a rival airlines name into the conversation often gets things done. For instance here in the UK, Virgin and British Airways hate each other, so a handily placed remark about ``well, I was just speaking to Virgin and they don't seem to have a problem'' can often get things moving.

Some things to mention early; you will only have 1 piece of check-in baggage, an indestructible suitcase that just happens to be 3metres (10feet) long. The rest of your kit goes inside the boat, clothing goes as hand-luggage in a small-ish rucksack (try to keep this reasonable and make it look light, then they won't insist on weighing it). The 10 feet bit is important, the metal containers that the baggage goes into are this size. Longer than 3metres and they won't like it. It will still fit but this seems to be the ``grumble'' point. Technically, 3.10 or 3.20 metres is ``about 3metres'', don't worry, they probably won't measure them (or alternatively, stop paddling the barge and get a short boat).

It is usually pretty straightforward to get an airline to agree to fly your boat for a price. The difficult bit is getting it on for nothing. My impression is that this is getting harder. Be prepared to phone around, it is usually quite easy to get down to $100 a boat for a return flight across the Atlantic. It took over a month to lose the extra $100. Please try hard to do this. If airlines think they can stick paddlers for $100 then they will, if everyone flies with the airlines that carry boats for nothing then the price will stay low.

Make sure that the person you speak to writes the fact that you are bringing kayaks and that they will carry them into your file (or even better onto the comments field of your ticket). The check-in clerk will call this up when you arrive. Make sure you phone back and get them to read what it says on your file, often the booking clerk will ``forget'' to write into your file and you will be stuffed. Don't pay up until you are happy that this has been done.

Don't be afraid to complain if you get the run-around. Keep a note of the times you called and when they promised to ring you back but didn't. Ask to speak to someone in charge if you get too much of this, they are more likely to have the power to agree to your more than reasonable request.

Once you get to the airport

Arrive early, very early if possible. This gives them no possible excuse along the lines of ``well we would, but it is too late to get the special handling''. Early, things are less rushed.

Pack up neatly and look professional. Load the boats and have them taped and ready to go before you approach the check-in clerk. There is nothing worse than a mountain of gear and boats to put off the airline. Keep your hand luggage out of sight during this bit, have someone else watch it while a couple of you do the talking. If you are travelling alone then several users have suggested that an empty boat plus one large kit bag may be a better way to go. Loaded boats only really work if you happen to have an empty one spare.

Be nice to the clerk. Most of them are bored witless by the stream of tourists they usually see. It sounds simple, but a smile and a joke go a long way in this game.

If you have several boats (the most I've tried is 12) then it is a good idea to keep one boat nearly empty and on top of the pile. All boats look the same and so obviously weigh about the same amount. Rarely will more than one boat be weighed. Sometimes none will get weighed as the scales in several airports are inaccessible for kayaks. The correct answer to the question ``how much does that boat weigh'' is ``15 kilos'' (or 40 pounds). Technically this is true, after all they did not ask how much all the gear jammed inside it weighed.

Be prepared to stand your ground. Point out that the kayaks are mentioned on your file so they must have known you were coming. On the return leg, point out that the airline got you here, so it must be possible to get you home again (this is particularly useful if you picked up the boats at your destination).

Good luck, and please, please send me updates of how you got on. This site only exists because people have othered to keep me informed on the current "state of play".

Some further tips (thanks to Paul Hammond, who flies carbon/kevlar polo boats around);
Tip 1. Always check what plane you are going on. Generally if it's a prop plane, it probably won't fit.
Tip2. If you are going to claim for any damage this will be done in accordance the Geneva Convention which more or less says they don't have to guarantee anything but can pay compensation of around £15/kg, so this is where you find for check in purposes it works to state the weight of the boat (9kg) but for a compensation claim, get them to weigh it (the heaviest boat you have in your group full of wet kit !). This is particularly important if you are flying paddles - you'll get next to nothing back if the airline breaks them. Much better to use travel insurance.
Tip3. Always have your boat in a proper boat bag so it looks tidy and suitable for travel and that it means something to you, rather than badly wrapped in bubble wrap or something worse like polythene. You can't expect the airline to take good care of it if you look like you don't care.

Kayak friendly airlines

Bad news: British Airways has just (08/11/07) adopted a "no kayaks" policy. Out of the UK several boaters have had success taking boats with EasyJet, applying their large handluggage allowance and sports equipment policy. On the down side, American Airlines appear to have adopted a no kayaks policy although this seems to vary with check-in staff.

Post September 11 there seems to have been little change in airlines attitudes to flying kayaks. Equipment wise, stoves are a serious problem, particularly the Coleman ones with the inbuilt fuel container. Continental have hardened their personal anti-boat crusade.

All the following airlines have flown boats for little or no charge in the past. There are direct quotes from the people who actually did this (i.e. this isn't just heresay). It seems that the majority of airlines will fly boats, especially modern shortboats at little cost. So don't put up with the "We don't take boats" line, change to a carrier that does. A small number of operators either refuse point-blank (KLM, Delta and Continental appear to be the worst offenders, with Northwest only prepared to fly kayaks within North American) or make things awkward. If any of these operators would like to dispute this assertion, please contact me assuring me otherwise and I'll happily move you onto the "good" list.

Good (*=small agreed charge, others free if you work on it)

  • Aer Lingus
  • Aeroflot (*)
  • Aerolineas Argentinas
  • Air China
  • Air India
  • Air New Zealand (*)
  • Air Tahiti
  • Alitalia(*)
  • Avianca
  • British Airways: great in the past. Terrible now. Please boycott.
  • British Midland
  • Canada 3000
  • Easy Jet (*)
  • Egypt Air
  • El-Al
  • Emirates Airlines
  • Ethiopian airlines
  • Finn Air
  • First Air
  • Go
  • Gulf Air
  • Japanese Airlines
  • Jet Air
  • Kenyan Airlines (but read notes)
  • Korean Airlines
  • Kuwait Airways
  • Lan Chile
  • Lufthansa
  • MIAT (*)
  • Qantas
  • Quatar
  • Royal Air Maroc
  • Royal Nepalese Airlines
  • Ryanair
  • Singapore Airlines
  • South African airlines (*)
  • SouthWest Airlines
  • Swiss Air
  • TAP (Air Portugal)
  • Turkish Airlines
  • United (*)
  • US Air (*)
  • Virgin (*)

Will grumble but have flown boats in the past;

  • Alaskan airlines
  • Biman
  • Iberian airlines
  • Lacsa

Kayak unfriendly airlines

  • Air Canada / Canadian
  • Air Transat
  • American Airlines
  • Brunei
  • British Airways
  • Continental
  • Delta
  • Frontier
  • KLM
  • Northwest Airlines
  • TWA

So not many unfriendly airlines.  Want to do something about this guys ? Send me a note explaining your kayak friendly policy and I'll move you up.

Report of custom trouble flying boats into Uganda

Common routes:

These are either the cheapest or only options on the following common routes. They were all free last year.


Transatlantic Virgin
South America Avianca (from Europe) 
American Airlines (caution ! - see notes) from US
New Zealand Korean, Japanese airlines
Turkey Turkish airlines to Erzurum
Airline-by-airline details


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