Airlines are notorious for losing and damaging luggage. On average, American Airlines mishandles over 300,000 pieces of luggage every year, totaling between 2 and 3 mishandled bags per 1,000 customers.
It might be a small percentage of the total number of travelers, but it’s a huge number of bags and it makes for a scary statistic if you’re traveling with a large and fragile object like a surfboard.
With that in mind, let’s look at the ways that you can safely pack your bag to guard against damage when you travel.
How to Pack Your Surfboard
You can buy a heavy-duty surfboard bag to protect your board while traveling. You can also buy a simple bag/cover and take the time to add towels or cushions for extra padding. We recommend going for the specialized bag if you can afford it, but whatever option you choose, just remember to:
- Remove all of the fins to preserve space and prevent damage.
- Add extra insulation to the tail, nose, and rails. Foam tubing will work and is widely available.
- Use cheap protective materials like bubble wrap, thick towels, and even clothing to provide more protection.
- Add notices to your board announcing that the contents of the bag are “Fragile” and instructing packers to “Handle with Care”. There are stories suggesting that baggage handlers see these notices as an invitation to mess around and treat the bags recklessly, but while that might be true in a few isolated cases, the majority will take extra care.
- Remove the wax from your surfboard.
- Take your time and pack everything carefully.
If you are worried about the airline damaging your board and refusing to provide you with compensation, you can check your travel and contents insurance policies to see if they provide additional protection.
What Happens if the Airline Damages Your Board?
Contrary to what you might think, it’s not a case of “hard luck, get over it” if the airline damages your surfboard during transit. In fact, regulations set by the Department of Transportation (DOT) require the airlines to compensate travelers for any damage that they cause to transported goods.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that they have a long list of exclusions (these vary depending on the destination and airline) and even if your board is included, you may have a hard job proving it.
If you have experience dealing with airline customer support, you’ll know where we’re coming from. Trying to get them to see sense and do their duty is like getting blood out of a stone, so you’ll need a lot of patience and persistence.
Regulation dictates that airlines must pay up to $3,500 worth of compensation for lost, damaged, and even delayed bags. They can choose to pay more than this, but that would be a goodwill gesture and not a legal requirement.
You have up to 24 hours to file a claim for most domestic flights and 1 week for international ones. However, some airlines require you to notify them within a few hours, so if you notice a problem, report it quickly. Most airlines had a baggage desk where you can take your damaged items and make a claim.