Warning: British Airways have changed to a "no kayaks"
policy as of 08/11/07
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
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
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
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.
Tip4. ALWAYS READ THE TERMS AND CONDITIONS !!!!
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
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
- British Airways: great in the past. Terrible
now. Please boycott.
- British Midland
- Canada 3000
- Easy Jet (*)
- Egypt Air
- Emirates Airlines
- Ethiopian airlines
- Finn Air
- First Air
- Gulf Air
- Japanese Airlines
- Jet Air
- Kenyan Airlines (but read notes)
- Korean Airlines
- Kuwait Airways
- Lan Chile
- MIAT (*)
- Royal Air Maroc
- Royal Nepalese Airlines
- 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
- Iberian airlines
Kayak unfriendly airlines
- Air Canada / Canadian
- Air Transat
- American Airlines
- British Airways
- Northwest Airlines
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
These are either the cheapest or only options on the following
common routes. They were all free last year.