If you’re a bow hunter, skier, diver, bicyclist, you likely won’t suffer being hassled when checking in your gear for an airline flight. Heck, I don’t have any trouble flying with firearms—you just do the usual show-and-tell at the ticket counter. But fishing tackle—oh, my. The TSA has pretty straightforward and not-too-draconian directives on fishing gear but individual airlines have the right to “improve” on the regs, and with one exception (American Airlines), it appears that the tackle-toting policies of our airborne carriers have been written by people who’ve been subjected to frontal lobotomies.
These regulations are also vague enough to allow individual interpretation by check-in agents who may be having a bad day or maybe dislike you on general principles because you’re going fishing.
Recently, Doug Olander, editor-in-chief of Sport Fishing magazine, one of Outdoor Life’s sister pubs, was slapped with a $100.00 surcharge for a Plano rod case he’s been flying with across the country and abroad, for years. A Delta agent at Los Angeles International examining Olander’s tube (in order to accommodate 7-ft. rods it was between 84-85 inches) told him Delta had an 80-inch limit. Olander asked for a supervisor. Four calls to the supervisor over a half hour resulted in the super telling the agent she was in a meeting and that the hundred bucks would have to be paid.
Here, courtesy of Olander, is a rundown of some airline fishing tackle-hauling policies taken from the carriers’ websites.
Air Train (clueless)—“Two rods, one reel, one net, one tackle box and one pair of boots” — no further explanation if all this gear counts as a single item and, in any case, the reg 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”).
Continental (unfriendly)—Similar to Air Tran but adds a deadly proviso that “all items must be properly encased in a container not to exceed 8 x 8 x 84 inches.” (Anybody game trying to 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. (Several million anglers don’t count?)
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 Air Tran.
Northwest (clueless)—Two rods/reels, 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.” (Doesn’t say what a “tackle box” entails) And for the one rod you’re allowed, the case may not exceed 6 feet in length nor 3 inches in diameter.
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!)
The fact that American counts the single 50-lb. tackle bag (whatever you can cram into it) and a 9½ foot rod case as one item, means you’ll still be within your two-items allowable free luggage when you check in another bag with your clothes. However, as Olander warns: “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 him/her. Odds are good that 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.
All this is not to say that American is without faults. Known as the Gray Lady of the air for its mature fleet, the carrier recently had the worst on-time performance among domestics, though storms in its hub airport area surely helped that nadir record. Ah, but consider this: only recently super model Adriana Lima checked onto an American Flight at LAX, posing for some candid snapshots in the process. AA must be drooling. As might any young male considering the possibility that the beautiful young woman might be regularly patronizing the airline—along with the fantasy of ending up seated next to her for a cross-country flight. Add to that, American’s friendly fishing tackle policy and how can you go wrong?