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How much baggage will an airline allow a kayaker?
It’s a bit of a trick question as most airlines long ago red listed kayaks. Although, seasoned travelling paddlers understand ways to fly with your craft. It’s risky, stressful, takes some savvy talk at the check-in desk but often results in success. So, what’s the trick?
The red flagged word “Kayak” is a bad word at airports. As a matter of fact I steer far and clear of the word. Play-boats are small enough that if packaged well they can easily appear as a surfboard, which “surfboards” are accepted by airlines. Meaning if you can make your play-boat look like a surfboard, keep it under the required 126” dimensions and can play by some understood rules you can fly with a play-boat. But what about your giant creek boat? Arggh… Well that’s even riskier business. Read the following short story to see what worked and didn’t work on a recent trip to Chile.
After a dozen years of being in charge of successfully moving up to 20 kayakers at a time through airports I thought I’d experienced about every scenario. So, as I planned a quick mandated trip to Chile to oversee construction projects of Pucón Kayak Hostel I wasn’t too worried about flying with a kayak. It was the rear lift-gate window for a Chevy Tahoe plus two SUP inflatables combined with my kayak equaling over 250 pounds total that had me preoccupied.
“Why are you flying with a rear window to a Chevy Tahoe?”
Last year a wall fell on the PKH Chevy Tahoe breaking the rear window. While, the South American storage lot agreed to repair everything they could not secure a window in Chile. The obvious answer was, “Just fly with a window when you return… huh? I can do that?”
The Problem with Shipping Kayaks and Gear to South America
Pucón Kayak Hostel invests thousands of dollars annually to freight container ship new kayaks to Chile’s waterfall wonderland. A $1,000 kayak adds up to $125 shipping fees plus another $250 in import taxes if shipped via container. It doesn’t take an accountant to calculate that flying gear would be cheaper than shipping. But just how much and what baggage can you fly?
Know your airline baggage allowances.
On this trip I decided to test the upper limits of baggage allowances and how much I personally could manage. American Airlines allows one free checked bag if it’s under 50 pounds and up to 6 total checked bags at a per/bag price. Let’s study a few of their key allowances:
Note- certain air-types like American Eagle have larger restrictions. Try to fly from an airport with a big bird.
- Second checked bag = $35.
- Over 50 pounds= overweight = $100
- Over 70 pounds= over overweight= $200
- Over 100 pounds= sorry not going to happen.
- Over 62 inches= oversize= $200
- Over 126 dimensional inches= sorry not going to happen
Typical creek boat dimensions l= 8’6” = 102” + w= 24” + h= 13” = 139” total.
- Surfboards are a flat $150 up to 70 pounds and under 126” dimensional (h+l+w).
Baggage to be carried:
- 1 Inflatable Big Earl SUP board + 4 wetsuits + 1 dry suit = 57 pounds = $200
- 1 Inflatable Big Earl SUP board + small personal supplies = 49 pounds = FREE Check Bag
- 1 Kayak + small raft pump + packed with personal supplies + a friend’s mouse trap cage + 50 commercial eco-friendly types of chap stick and teas wrapped to appear as “surf board”= 65 pounds = $150 as Standard “Surf Board” fee
- 1 Chevy Tahoe Lift gate Rear Window= 64” (Oversize) = $200
- 1 Rollable Carry-on stuffed with small, valuable and weighty items: books, camera, laptop, hundreds of Johnnie Kayaker stickers = FREE
Total= $550, at this point the counter lady felt badly about the total charge and when asked began looking for ways to reduce the price.
Johnnie Kayaker Travel Tip- Let the check-in person know that to save money you’re willing to move the overweight pounds into the underweight areas but it’ll take you 10 minutes. Have packing tap with you at the airport counter in case they call your semi-bluff.
The Problem with the Plan to Check a Creek Boat
The plan was to wrap a Lil Hero Creek boat to appear as a surfboard and secure the $150 surfboard charge and approval. Even if the desk agent accepts your kayak as a “surfboard,” “surfski” or whatever you call it the craft can be denied if it’s over 126 dimensional (h+l+w) inches. If you smother them with kindness and ask for their help they’ll typically want to help you. On this day the clerk was unfamiliar with the surfboard charge and spent her time researching the price vs. getting out the measuring tape = being happy to pay $150 baggage fee.
Johnnie Kayaker Travel Tip: Offer to do all of the lifting, “Would you like me to move this onto the belt for you or can I help take this to the skycap?’ They’ll often call for a skycap to cart the oversize kayak instead of sending on the conveyer belt.
Have a Flight-day Plan- ARRIVE EARLY (4-5 hours early)
If you arrive early the plane belly is empty and the check-in person has yet to see tons of potentially giant bags. Be first to get your oversize bags on that flying beast.
I’d been researching the SUV window and ordering, “picture frame” boxes to pack it for weeks in advance. CKS shop worker Tony Muckleroy gave me some Pyrahna Styrofoam and an old boat bag for packaging. Thank you CKS and Tony.
Step- 1- BE EARLY and drive to Apple Store in Wheatridge, CO to replace failing power adaptor. Laptop is necessity in my line of work.
Step 2- Call “Super-Low Price Auto Glass” at 9 am to have SUV window delivered by 10:30 am.
Step 3- Drive from Apple Store to Super-Low Price Auto Glass. Ask a shop worker to help me pack window into my pre-fabbed box and foam supplies.
Step 4- Drive to Denver International Airport long-term parking.
Step 5- Drop equipment at shuttle corner, park car and run back to heavy waiting gear. (I got lucky and talked a waiting security guard to keep an eye on my gear as I parked.)
Step 6- Unload shuttle bus at front door and somehow get gear to check-in.
Problems encountered- DIA had construction going on and shuttle bus does not go to front desk.
- Carried bags individually from curb 100’ to cargo elevator.
- Asked family of four to help load bags onto elevator.
- Arrived outside of elevator to see AA desks are 300’ away.
- Loaded all gear on top of kayak and began dragging 250 pounds 20’ to realize I can’t make it 300’.
- Spotted a freight cart and convince skycap to let me use it instead of him having to do extra work.
- Leisurely pushed freight cart to side of AA lines.
Step 7- Establish polite introduction with airline lady offering help with my bags. Talk about exciting surf trip repeating the word surf. SUCCESSful check-in!
Step 8- Relax and begin blogging.
Step 9- Receive bags in Santiago, Chile, go through customs, and go to Budget Rental car to pickup the economy Chevy Spark.
Step 10- Drop window at mechanic in metro Santiago and drive to Cajon de Maipo.
Total costs all done- $400.
Thank you NRS for the great deal on the Big Earl SUP Boards, pump and wetsuits.
Thank you CKS for the boat bag, packing foam, and giving me one of your in-stock Lil Heros. Thanks Jackson Kayak for a textbook perfect warranty on the PKH broken Lil Hero.
Want to read more stories click JohnnieKayaker.com.
Thank you NRS for Big Earl SUP Boards.
Thank you Jackson Kayak for a fantastic warranty stance.