By Doug Olander
Editor in Chief, Sport Fishing
Not long ago, in this space (and in an editorial in Sport Fishing magazine as well), I bemoaned the fact that what the world needs is a “fisherman-friendly airline.” That mostly comes down to airlines doing for anglers what many already do for enthusiasts flying hither and yon to pursue other sports — make some provisions in baggage allowances for the gear the sport requires.
For years, I pointed out, most airlines did have some verbiage in that regard that they included in baggage-allowance specs, but it amounted to nonsense except perhaps for a few casual, freshwater fly-fishing types. The allowance provided as one checked bag two fishing rods, one landing net, one pair of hip waders and a tackle box. No, I’m not making that up. I suspect whoever did make that up was an office worker who had never touched a fishing rod in his or her life. Most true enthusiasts today — especially if spending thousands and flying across continents and/or oceans — will want to take several rods and reels and a serious tackle bag with gear (lures, extra line, leader, reels, and so on — and for those fishing saltwater, that often means heavy lures and big reels).
My suggestion, then: Any airline that actually values the patronage of the millions of anglers (per federal surveys) in the country could demonstrate that by updating its archaic fishing-tackle baggage allowances to permit anglers one rod tube (up to 7 feet long to accommodate several of the one-piece rods most of us use) and one tackle bag, not to exceed the 50-pound limit allotted to a checked bag.
I further indicated that if any airline adopted such a policy and notified me, I would make this public for 155,000 magazine subscribers and half a million readers plus many more who visit this website.
I never heard a word — and wondered if indeed any airline cared about the great numbers of anglers in this country (who fly to destinations to fish).
Recently, a reader alerted me to American Airlines website where I dug into its baggage policies and, to my astonishment, found this:
Allowance/Requirements: Rods and reels contained in a case and one bag with fishing tackle, landing net, and fishing boots.
Cost: Two pieces - Fishing rod case and fishing equipment bag are free in place of one 62 inch bag
Maximum Size and Weight: Fishing rod case 50 lbs.,
Equipment bag 50 lbs.,
Additional Information: For purposes of excess baggage, two pieces count as 1 item
Based on that description, copied right from the AA website, I’d have to say that whatever its other faults (yeah, recently worst on-time performance of any major domestic carrier — though Dallas’ summer storms may have helped earn that dubious distinction), American ought to qualify as fisherman friendly. Only on American can I be sure that on my next big fishing trip I can carry one bag with all my personal effects, plus pack a tackle bag chock full and a rod case with numerous rods, and still be within my allotted free checked-bag allowance. Not only is AA’s policy generous, but, just as important, it’s very specific. Too many other airlines who attempt to offer some fishing-tackle regs use language so general that a surly ticket-counter agent could interpret them as he or she might wish — and possibly throw a monkey wrench in the departure of a traveling angler.
For the record, here’s a brief comparison of the policies of some major airlines (taken right from their websites):
AirTran (clueless) -- “two rods, one reel, one net, one tackle box and one pair of boots” — no further explanation if this counts as a single item and, in any case, is too vague to be trusted (if, for instance, a ticket agent wants to challenge a large tackle bag for not qualifying as a “tackle box”).
American (friendly) -- one tackle bag to 50 pounds and one rod case (no maximum number of rods specified) up to 9 ½ feet as one free checked item.
Continental (unfriendly) -- similar to AirTran but adds a deadly proviso that “all items must be properly encased in a container not to exceed 8 x 8 x 84 inches.” There’s an LOL -- I’d love to see someone squeeze a tackle box into that!
Delta (unfriendly) -- You’ll find special baggage provisions for sporting equipment ranging from scuba to archery, but absolutely nothing for fishing gear. Must be way more archers in this country than several million anglers?
Jet Blue (clueless) -- counted as one checked bag: two rods, one reel, one landing net, one pair of fishing boots (if “properly encased” --?) and one fishing tackle box. Same problems as noted for AirTran.
Northwest (clueless) -- two rods/reels, a creel (does any saltwater angler own a creel?), net, pair of boots and tackle box in lieu of one piece of luggage — i.e. an allowance useless for most anglers. Oddly, your two rods can be long: The case you check can be 160 inches, so pack up those 13-foot rods!
Southwest (unfriendly) -- “Fishing equipment includes a fishing rod and a fishing tackle box.” I have no idea what the tackle box actually entails — far too open to interpretation. And for the one rod you’re allowed (!), the case may not exceed 6 feet in length nor 3 inches in diameter. Oy.
United (clueless) — Apparently the usual “two rods, one reel, one pair of boots, one tackle box and one landing net” can count in place of one checked bag — but as worded, the provision is too limiting and too silly to be of any use (restricting an angler to two rods in a case is pointless, but on top of that, to allow just one reel for two rods is more absurd!)
So right now, I’d say that serious fishermen — at least those who read Sport Fishing — will be flying American. That said, I would strongly recommend that if you do plan to take advantage of AA’s fishing-gear provisions, you go online to www.aa.com. Click “travel information,” then “baggage information,” then “baggage allowance.” Scroll down the alphabetized list of “sports equipment” to “fishing.” Print that out and highlight the fishing provisions and take it to the airport. Then when the ticket agent tries to sock you for an extra (third) checked bag, you can show this to her or him. Odds are good the agent will have never seen it before. If you do get hassled at that point, show it to a supervisor. American must honor its policies (and its vice-president for communications told me personally that, at least at administrative levels, the airline certainly intends to do just that).
Sadly, I too have yet to find any airline that is truly, simply and consistently “friendly,” communicative and responsive to its passengers. But in the lesser-of-evils department, it looks like I’ll be flying American on most of my fishing trips.