The Best and Worst Airlines For Your Action Sports Getaway
In early November, Hawaiian surfer Billy Kemper expressed the rage that many travelling action sports fans feel. “Surfing is part of our culture. It’s part of our community... the fact that I cannot physically fly with a board bag that’s a few pounds overweight on a 25-minute flight back to Maui is ridiculous.”

He posted that online after his boardbag wasn't accepted on a Hawaiian Airlines flight. To their credit, the airline responded to Billy and changed their policy. They doubled the weight limit and lowered the flat fee for surfboards. Now, not all of us have Billy Kemper’s awards (3X World Titles), Instagram followers (270K) or tattoos, but we do have a choice. When it comes to airlines for skiing and surfing, not all are created equal. We scoured the fine print to find the best and worst airlines for your action sports getaway. 

The Bad

With destinations in Lyon, Grenoble, Bilbao, Santander, Geneva, Turin, Lisbon and Porto, the Hungarian-based airline could, and should, be a viable option to the EasyJet and Ryanair that continually do surfers, skiers, and snowboarders' heads in. Yet in 2023 Wizz operated just 56 per cent of its flights on time and nearly 2 per cent were cancelled within 24 hours of departure. Between the cancellations, delays, poor customer care and higher-end luggage fees for sports equipment, you might want to give Wizz a miss. 

Lufthansa’s sports equipment fees start as expensive for trips between Austria, Germany and Switzerland and increase to astronomical for long-haul flights. Flying with large sports equipment, i.e. a surfboard or ski bag, from Europe to Canada could cost you an eye-watering 400 euros. They also allow just one surfboard, so pray it doesn’t break. You might cop the added fees if the service too was sky-high, but in a recent Kayak survey, it came out at the bottom for customer care for long-haul airlines. 

Coming from an airline whose owner once said that he might charge people to use the onboard toilets, it’s no surprise that Ryanair doesn’t top any customer service polls. It’s hard to deny its cheap fares, or the incredible list of action sports destinations, but they still don’t make it easy. At the last look, ski equipment was charged at €45 each way when buying online ahead of time. Surfboards are often classified as large sports equipment and so are charged €55, though you can usually sneak a few boards into a bag.  

As Portugal’s national carrier, and with Portugal Tourism investing heavily in surfing over
the last decade, you might think the national carrier might try to make travel with surfboards a little easier. Not so. Fees start at €60 each way for shortboards (under 200cm) for Europe flights and double that for long-haul. Longboarders and windsurfers (a large percentage of overseas surfers visiting Portugal) are charged a whopping €110 each way for their trusty stead. Paying more than €200 to simply ride your own board is daylight robbery. We need to start a petition, or maybe call Billy for help. 

Japan Airlines (JAL)
With good, and underrated waves and some of the most consistent powder in the world, Japan is a bucket list for those that like to slide on different forms of water. JAL however seemingly don’t want you to. When flying between Japan, Asia, the Middle East, Hawaii, The Americas, and Europe, surfboards will cost you $200 each way. While the snow luggage policy has changed to two free check-in baggage allowances, there is a maximum total dimension (L+W+H) of 200cm for ski bags. Most bags won’t get near that, and with the airport officers being real sticklers for the rules, excess baggage fees are the norm.

The good

United Airlines
Known for its hub in Denver, United has moved way beyond Colorado to ensure its grip on the ski and snowboard travel crowd with new flights to Tokyo, as well as San Francisco, Chicago, and Houston. They charge an affordable $US30 to bring for skis or snowboards if the weight is under 50 lbs (22 kilograms). They have also recently removed a $150 flat fee for surfboards, if your boardbag weighs less than 22 kilograms and is below 292 cm in length. And as a bonus, there are no excess fees at all if your final destination is California. 

easyJet, better known by surfers and skiers as Squeezyjet, doesn't get a lot of love. And that’s fair enough; the budget nature, ever-escalating baggage fees and customer care aren’t exactly the gold standard. And yet, their sports equipment fees are significantly cheaper than their main competitor Ryanair. In terms of destinations, they also make it possible to chase the best surf and snow conditions between Anchor Point and Zermatt. If you keep your expectations, (and baggage weight) down the airline can deliver real stoke at affordable prices. 

QANTAS, Emirates, Etihad
All these well-reputed long-haul carriers allow your surf and snow bags as part of two-bag checked-in luggage. That means if you pack right, you can escape extra fees to destinations like Bali, Byron Bay, and Breckenridge. All are well-regarded in terms of customer care and safety records, and while their fares may often come in at the top end, given the more direct flights and a general sense of actual providing customer satisfaction, these A-listers are often worth the extra coin. 

Off you go!