Over the years, I've become rather accustomed to the hassles of airline traveling. Between traveling to work, traveling to surf, and traveling just to travel, I spend a lot of time in airports and on planes. I easily take over a dozen domestic and international flights every year. I've gotten lost walking through Singapore's massive Changi Airport, frustrated waiting at the security check at Los Angeles International Airport, and amazed by a freshly crashed plane resting off the runway at Sumbawa's Brangbiji Airport. In fact, I composed this halfway through a 12-hour layover in Taipei's ShongShan Airport.
I don't mind
aimlessly wandering through terminals. I don't mind waiting in lines. I
don't mind cramming myself into a middle seat for a fifteen
hour flight. I don't even mind seeing a crashed plane at the end of the
runway during landing (little disconcerting, but at least it's not
I do mind being lied to, being called a liar, being mistreated, and being extorted by airlines.
Any surfer that travels with boards has at least one horror story
about airline travel. Expensive baggage fees are the norm, and broken
boards are commonplace. It seems unfair when surfboards are not included
as normal baggage (some carriers allow this,
but many do not and charge hefty fees). I understand that
surfboards are fragile and should require some extra care in handling. But it seems a bit overreaching for an airline to charge high baggage fees for surfboards AND require surfers to sign a waiver that the airline is not liable for any damage to these boards?
I always research airlines before booking my flight, so I will
happily pay the excess baggage fee for my surfboards. I weigh the cost
of the ticket, cost of extra baggage fees, travel time, etc. to
determine what's best for me. I review the website and
even call the customer service to confirm the baggage fees once I have
my confirmation number. I've had problems with airlines over board baggage fees in the past but nothing compared to what my girlfriend and I experienced with EVA Air.
I dropped my girlfriend Kristin off for a flight with EVA Air in
November. She was flying from Los Angeles to the Philippines via Taipei.
She had called the ticketing office the month before and informed them she
would have one surfboard (she disclosed accurate
dimensions) for her flight, and they advised it would cost $55; they
agent even booked it into the computer. When she arrived at the airport
to check-in, the clerk told her the fee for the board would be $150. After she told them the ticketing office quoted a price of $55,
a lengthy discussion ensued involving multiple airline staff quoting
prices of $55, $75, $100, $150, and $300! Eventually, it came down to $75 or the board doesn't go on the plane; she gave in and
agreed to pay.
Fast forward to the 10th of December. I've just dropped off my
rental car and made my way to the Los Angeles Airport. I'm heading back
to Bali via Taipei with EVA Air. I called the ticketing office the week
before my flight and was quoted a price of $75
for my surfboard (I disclosed dimensions over the size of my bag);
again, the agent tells me she's booked it into the computer. I arrive at
the check-in counter all smiles, excited for some sun and surf. I
travel light, so I have my carry-on backpack (6 kg)
and my surfboard bag (18 kg). The friendly agent informs me I need to pay $300 for my board to travel.
I laughed in shock before telling her I called in advance and was told it would cost $75. She
responded saying that EVA Air "NEVER charges that little for a
surfboard" (see above price quote). After she's looked through the computer
and talked with the ticketing office, she "can't confirm that I was
told this price" and that I will have to pay the $300 if I want to take
my surfboard bag on the plane. I told her that she needed to have the
conversation recordings pulled up to prove I was
not lying (like most companies today, EVA Air records calls to ensure
'customer satisfaction'). She told me that this was "impossible".
An hour after our discussion had begun, the clerk informed me my board bag was small enough to qualify for a $100 fee. I told her this was unacceptable but she responded that I had two options: pay $100 or leave the surfboard behind at the airport. Good options. I'm at LAX, two and a half hours from home. Do I just abandon my board here? Call a friend to come and pick it up and store it for 8 months until I get back to California? They knew I was trapped and had to pay.
Is EVA Air doing this intentionally? Twice in the span of a few weeks, they quoted a low price for baggage fees when the passenger inquired, then increased it when they arrive at the airport. Then, EVA clerks bargained down the price until the passenger finally gave in. If this is how they operate, this is unethical business practice to say the least. Needless to say, it was certainly one of the worst ways I have ever started a trip. Thanks EVA Air!
Please feel free to share any stories involving baggage fees for surfboards or other 'over-sized baggage' in the comments below. I would love to make some suggestions on how to protect yourself from this type of experience, but I already tried myself! Maybe record your phone call with the airline?