Traveler's advisory:

Think twice before checking that kayak as luggage on Alaska Airlines

The Sonoran Otter on her maiden voyage in Alaska's Prince William Sound. Photo Copyright Jay ver Hoef, 2003


One compelling reason to buy a folding kayak is that you can take the kayak apart and put it into bags that you can take with you on a trip, say to Alaska, or to a Carribean island. Many people have simply checked their boat as part of their baggage allowance when traveling by air, without any problem

We all have heard horror stories about baggage damaged or lost by airlines. There would be little point in telling our story, except that the newly formed Transportation Security Adminsitration (TSA) has changed airline policies about damaged property. The required inspection of all baggage has significantly increased the probability that your boat will be damaged in transit.

Here's our story. We'll start at the end of our journey, because that's when the trouble began.

It was 10 July 2003. We were coming home to Tucson, Az. We'd just spent a week near Culross Island in Alaska's Price William Sound. This was the maiden voyage of the Sonoran Otter - a Pouch RZ 85. Neither my wife or I had spent any time in a sea kayak on the open ocean. The trip had been such a success that we were planning our next adventure. After landing at Tucson International Airport and collecting most of our bags, we were waiting for the one oversized item we'd checked in. About 20 minutes after everyone else on our flight had left the baggage claim area, two baggage handlers, wtih their arms full of what was once a seaworthy craft, dropped our smashed belongings in a heap on the floor.



The Sonoran Otter, that once seaworthy craft now, lay at our feet. It had been reduced to kindling wood in a few short hours.

Alaska Airlines charged us $50.00 to transport our kayak frame as checked baggage. We paid the fee willingly, believing that fee was reasonable for handling oversize baggage. Alaska Airlines could not have been less helpful when we discovered the damage at Tucson International Ariport. Alaska Arilines' official position on the damage is based on two principles:

We contacted Ms Loesje de Groen, who is the manager of the Alaska Airlines' Central Baggage claim. We sent her most of the photos posted here, and a detailed damage report. Ms. de Groen states:

..."we do not cover sporting goods for damage, inclduing kayaks. Due to the volume of luggage that we handle and the automation of moving baggage we are unable to provide additional care for luggagge that requires special handling."

We could have used a sledge hammer to destroy our boat and saved the $50.00 handling fee.

We have read Alaska Airlines' Contract of Carriage. It does not exclude coverage of sporting goods.

Click on the thumbnail photos below to see the extent of the damage





















What we've learned!

Checked baggage is at extreme risk for damage

Alaska Airlines is using the excuse that TSA is inspecting luggage to deny any and all responsibility for damage to checked luggage. This only encourages abuse and neglect by baggage handlers, who now know that they can destroy or steal with impunity.

This situation is not likely to get better in the near future.


Protect the frame