Surfer Mutiny at British Airways

September 27, 2009 by

Travel News & Alerts

Editor’s note: We originally posted this back in 2007, when BA first announced their surfboard ban. Since then the world’s surfing community has been boycotting BA over its policy. Just last week BA announced that from October 9, 2009, it will start carrying surfboards again – as long as they’re 6′ 3″ or less in length. Surf’s up, dude, unless you got a long board.

Rod Surfing BA surfboard ban

Viator's founder with his contraband surfboard

A wave of protest. That’s what British Airways (BA) provoked this week when it announced — with no warning — that starting November 6, 2007, it no longer transports “unsuitable” items on its fleet of aircraft.

The list includes canoes, hang gliders, pole-vaulting poles, javelins (!) and, yes, surfboards.

Surfboards??? Dude, what is BA thinking?

While the global community of javelin throwers is tiny, surfers number in the thousands. And they are not happy. A spokesperson for the British Surfing Association (BSA) said she was “extremely shocked” by the decision, especially as some boards weigh much less than many items not included in the ban. “We’d find it extremely hard to believe that the average short board would be more difficult to handle when compared to a double bass and a full bag of golf clubs.”

And there’s the rub. BA’s new policy applies to surfboards and javelins, but not to bulky items such as golf clubs, bicycles and over-size musical instruments. Which looks to some like an arbitrary policy that unfairly punishes surfers (economy class, who cares) but not golfers (business class, don’t mess with them).

BA’s response? “Some items are simply not suitable for airport baggage systems to handle or travel in the aircraft hold.” They have no plans to review the new policy.

That’s not stopping the British Surfing Association from launching an online petition against the ban. The BSA complains that Britain’s surfing teams usually travel to their European and international events on BA flights but now will be forced to use other airlines. And think of all those unlucky British surfers who live in cities where BA is the primary carrier. Akaw, surfer dudes and betties, this doke ban was put together by a bunch of butt crumbs. Let’s hope they come to their senses.

Scott McNeely

8 Responses to “Surfer Mutiny at British Airways”

  1. Mark Stranger Says:

    This has put my head in a spin! I’ll skip the rant and abuse that the airline deserves and get to the point. Given that an awful lot of Qantas trips include BA aircraft on some leg of the flight, what is going to happen to surfboards then? You would think that BA would have to take them. But if this is the case then there argument that the items aren’t suitable doesn’t hold up – either they are or they aren’t! Or is Qantas going to have to refuse to carry surfboards on flights that include BA legs? This is not just a problem for Qantas but all the other One World carriers.

  2. Suzann M Says:

    Sad news, Scott, but most airlines already charge for what they call “oversized” luggage. Check the list of surfboard charging airlines here.It’s a regular feature of discussion in surf mags on tips to charm baggage handlers into waiving the fee.

    I guess the rich will ride and the poor will bodyboard, until they figure out how to charge you, too.

  3. rod cuthbert Says:

    I don’t think Qantas would follow suit. Would they? There’s got to be a lot of surfers and clubbies among the Qantas staff in Sydney and Brisbane, including head office, I’m sure. But I understand why airlines would take this approach: the last two times I took a board it’s been dinged, probably not because of anything a handler did, just because things move in the hold. And I reckon most people complain… so they’d like to avoid that, and one way is not to carry them at all…

  4. Suzann M Says:

    Okay, so another commentary has popped up on Surfer. I’m sure most surfers would forgive dings as part of transport, but if you are shelling out any money for shipping, you expect some insurance that it will (a) show up and (b) arrive intact. Not so…

    Maybe local boardshops will start offering better boards for rent. I smell opportunity here…I could see paying $100 a week vs $160 round trip to have a demolished board!

  5. Bodyboard Sis Says:

    I do see the local boardshops profiting off of this new rule. They will most definetly start to offer better boards for rent.

  6. Dan Says:

    Base your board rental on a per person basis. By day, then week. I think it’s the logical way to go. If a board is damaged or lost, charge it to the surfer’s credit card. There are a few variables rental places can consider. Renting out used or older boards can be much lesss for instance.

  7. Rhona Says:



    It’s almost two years since British Airways (BA) announced a ban on surfboards on all its flights (6th Nov 2007) causing uproar in the surf world and resulting in thousands of surfers from across the globe refusing to fly with the company. However yesterday, the airline ushered in a partial lift on the ban, posting a statement on its website permitting boards up to a certain length (approx 6ft 3) on its flights from 09 October 2009. The British Surfing Association, the national governing body for the sport, reacted immediately, congratulating the airline on its move, but stressing that while it is a step in the right direction, the restrictions are still too limited to allow the majority of surfers to fly with their invaluable kit.

    In 2007 when BA announced the shock ban, a huge number of surfers including the World Number One, Australian Mick Fanning, signed a petition and joined a Facebook site opposing the restrictions. Along with family, friends and fans, they have been joined by all those linked to the multi-million pound surf industry, including international governing bodies, photographers, film-makers, and key surf brands. Other airlines also publicly criticised the ban, and MP David Davis – a surfer himself – created an Early Day Motion in Parliament which was signed by over 60 eminent MPs.

    “Prior to the 2007 ban, BA was known as the surfers’ favourite airline,” says Mark Wesson, an executive committee member of the BSA. “Despite the immense global opposition at the time of the ban, BA remained staunch in its commitment to the move. However now it seems that their current financial situation – seeing a loss of £401 million this year – is helping to open their eyes and they are beginning to realise the business that surfers can bring back into the company.”

    Mark continues, “We are, beyond a doubt, delighted that BA is finally seeing sense and is at least loosening the restrictions that are unfairly imposed on the members of the global surf community. We want to credit them for this move however a 6ft 3 surfboard is still very short and it means that a large number of surfers still cannot fly on BA’s extensive network. We would welcome the opportunity to talk to Mr Walsh and his team and explain the benefits they could reap if they extended the length of permissible boards.”

    Chris Thomson is the founder and MD of Errant, the UK’s leading global surf travel operator. Like the BSA, he has welcomed the move towards allowing boards once again but is adamant that BA needs to understand the surf market further to enable it to rebuild this market within its business. Chris says, “It’s great to see BA eventually shifting its position on surfboard carriage however over two thirds of our clients travel with surfboards over 6’3″. In fact, even the majority of shortboarders take a least a 6’6′ or 6’8″ when they travel and lots of surfers need a board over 7ft. Like the BSA, I wish to credit the airline on this move – they’re obviously noticing the loss of business from surfers and trying to do something about it, but they need to allow longer boards before they can really say they are a truly surfer friendly airline again.”

    Ed Temperley, of international surf forecasters,, and creator of the original Facebook ‘BA Surfboard Ban Group’ said, “Since the ban started, not a week has passed without someone joining the group and either requesting about what to do or ranting about the ban. On behalf of all our Facebook members, who are over 14,000 in strength, and the million users of our site, I really need to make it clear to BA that whilst we are pleased that they are trying, they’re not trying hard enough. Like the BSA, we’d be delighted to help them really understand the surf market and the size of the boards that they need to carry so that we can open up the BA, and the One World Alliance network, for surfers again.”

  8. Surfer Joe Says:

    Interesting but the reality is that British Airways in a whole year only took 1119 surfboards from the UK for UK customers. Now ok, thats a lot still but its hardly that drastic and simply BA obviously placed the time and space of those boards against its profits. I would say economically that it makes sense for the airline not to carry them. However PR wise it is not good, but economically a surfer with equipment costs them more money!