Gear-Friendly Airlines Slideshow

Gear-Friendly Airlines Slideshow

Hawaiian Airlines

With more direct flights from U.S. cities to Hawaii than any other airline, this carrier’s prime appeal is obvious: easy access to the islands. Customer reviews, though, are somewhat mixed.
The verdict: So long as you’re not a paddler, an obvious—and quality—pick if you’re flying to the Aloha State, and a decent choice if they’re going your way to other spots, as well.

THE FINE PRINT
Carry-On
: One free item
Check: $17 for first and second checked bags on inter-island flights; $25 for first and $35 for second checked items on flights to and from mainland North America, including boogie boards, canoe paddles, skis, snowboards and fishing and golf equipment; extra fees apply for bicycles, SCUBA equipment, surfboards, kiteboards and windsurfing boards ($35 for inter-island travel, $100 for North America, and  $150 international)
Prohibited: Canoes and kayaks
Fees Range: $0-150
Mishandled Baggage Rate: 2.88 per 1,000 passengers
Destinations: 20 cities in North America and countries in the Pacific
hawaiianairlines.com

US Airways

In March, when American Airlines’ bankrupt parent company received court approval to merge with US Airways, it created the world’s biggest air carrier. But in this case, bigger isn’t necessarily better.
The verdict: It could be one of your only carrier options if you’re flying to a lesser-visited destination—just be sure to factor in all those baggage surcharges ($200 for a kayak!) when you’re comparing airfare prices.

THE FINE PRINT
Carry-On
: One free bag
Check: $25 for your first bag and $35 for your second, including boogie boards, snow and water skis, fishing, parachuting and golf equipment, and bicycles less than 62 inches in total dimensions (length + width + height); extra fees apply for kayaks, canoes, surfboards, windsurfing boards and SCUBA equipment ($200)
Prohibited: Nothing.
Fees Range: $0-200
Mishandled Baggage Rate: 2.14 per 1,000 passengers
Destinations: 198 cities in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Europe, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and Central and South America
usairways.com

Flickr/Franco Folini

Like fellow giants US and United, Delta’s main strength is its vast network of destinations. But unlike the other behemoth airlines, Delta has a high customer-approval rating. (They ranked fourth in that 2013 Airline Quality Rating report—the highest of any of the big carriers.) Maybe it’s because Delta doles out free cookies and pretzels en flight, along with the expected beverage—not exactly top-of-the line extras, but at least it’s something, right?
The verdict: Your overall experience may be better here than on US or United, but Delta’s extra fees for bringing along sports equipment will likely jack up your ticket price by a hundred bucks or more.

THE FINE PRINT
Carry-On
: One free bag, including parachutes
Check: $25 for your first bag, $35 for your second, including skis, snowboards and fishing and golf equipment; extra fees apply for bicycles, SCUBA equipment, windsurfing boards and surfboards ($150); Additional fees also apply for anything weighing more than 50 pounds—$90 for items weighing 51-70 pounds and $175 for items weighing 71-99—and/or for items bigger than 62 inches in dimension ($175)
Prohibited: Canoes, kayaks and anything weighing 100 pounds or more
Fees Range: $0-175
Mishandled Baggage Rate:
2.10 per 1,000 passengers
Destinations
: 315 destinations, in almost 60 countries on six continents
delta.com

United Airlines

If you’re heading overseas, United is likely to pop up as one of your carrier options. But after that convenience and range of options, the perks pretty much stop.
The verdict: Similarly to US Airways, United may be one of the only ones flying where you want to go, but even so: Be sure to do the math on how much it’ll cost to bring your equipment before you jump at an apparent “cheap” airfare.

THE FINE PRINT
Carry-On
: One free bag
Check: $25 for your first bag, $35 for your second, including boogie boards, oars, parachutes, parasails, water and snow skies, snowboards, and camping, windsurfing, scuba, fishing and golf equipment; extra fees apply for golf bags larger than 62 inches in dimension ($100), bicycles, surfboards, wakeboards, kiteboards, kayaks, canoes and hang-gliding equipment ($100)
Prohibited: Fishing rods longer than 80 inches
Fees Range: $0-$100
Mishandled Baggage Rate: 3.87 per 1,000 passengers
Destinations: 350 cities worldwide, with hubs in the four large cities in the U.S.
united.com

Qantas Airlines

You aren’t likely to fly Australia’s biggest airline anywhere outside of Oz, but if you’re venturing Down Under, rest assured: Qantas turns out to be pretty adventure-friendly. The planes with the iconic kangaroo logo welcome bikes, skis and boards for a very limited extra cost.
The verdict: Policies so good, they give new reason to visit the Land Down Under.

THE FINE PRINT
Carry-On: One free bag
Check: One free bag for flights within Oz and two free bags for flights to or from North or South America. If you have more than that—one checked bag and a surfboard, say—you can purchase an “Additional Baggage Allowance” (ABA) online. For flights within Oz, the ABA is $21 per piece, and for travel to North or South America, it’s $84 per piece. (Be sure to buy these add-ons ahead of time, online; if you wait ’til the airport, the fees get jacked up about 10%). Beyond these ABAs, you can check in all the bicycles, snow and water skis, snowboards, and fishing, golfing and SCUBA equipment to your heart’s content.

Prohibited: Nothing
Fees Range: $0-$84
Destinations: 17 destinations in Australia and 19 major cities in the U.S., South America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia
qantas.com.au

Alaska Airlines

For most of its 75-year history, Alaska stuck mostly to northwest U.S. destinations, and few travelers would have flown it unless they were headed up to the Last Frontier State. But a few years back, Alaska started expanding and now has a foothold in the Midwest and East Coast, as well.
The verdict: Great customer reviews and generous baggage policies are a pretty nice combo: A good choice, especially if you’re heading west.

THE FINE PRINT
Carry-On
: One free item, including fishing poles that fit in the overhead
Check: $20 each for first, second and third checked items, including bicycles, boogie boards, kayaks, surfboards, skis, snowboards, fishing equipment, windsurfing board, SCUBA equipment; extra fees apply for items that weigh 51 to 100 pounds ($50) or have dimensions between 63 and 80 inches ($50) or 81 and 115 inches ($75). Overweight and oversize fees don’t apply to golf equipment.
Prohibited: Fiberglass kayaks and matches
Fees Range: $0-$75
Mishandled Baggage Rate: 2.93 per 1,000 passengers
Destinations: More than 60 North American destinations, including 20 in Alaska, six in Canada and eight in Mexico
alaskaair.com

Virgin America

According to the 2013 Airline Quality Rating report, Virgin America is the highest-quality major airline in the U.S., ranked according to punctual arrivals and departures, baggage handling and customer service. Not too shabby for an airline that’s only been in operation since 2007. Then again, it is owned by brainy billionaire Sir Richard Branson. For now, Virgin America’s flight routes are limited to major U.S. cities, but they partner frequently with Virgin Atlantic for other destinations, so you can book one ticket for many destinations on their site. As an added—and might we say, very Branson-esque—bonus, if you’re flying out of Los Angeles’s LAX, Washington-Dulles, New York City’s JFK, or San Francisco International, you can while away your layover in a swanky, exclusive Virgin America Lounge—cocktails, first-class-style food, and WiFi (from $40 for a day pass).
The verdict: If you’re sticking within the major U.S. cities, Virgin’s stellar customer-service rep and generous baggage policies make it the clear go-to. Too bad they don’t fly many places—yet.

THE FINE PRINT
Carry-On
: One free bag
Check: Up to 10 bags for $25 each, includes skis, snowboards, and fishing, SCUBA and golf equipment; extra fees apply for bicycles, surfboards and windsurfing boards ($50 each)
Prohibited: Kayaks and canoes
Fees Range: $0-50
Mishandled Baggage Rate: 0.87 per 1,000 passengers—well below the industry average of 3.07 (ouch!)
Destinations: 20 in the U.S. and three in Mexico
virginamerica.com

Frontier Airlines

This Denver-based budget carrier has a limited destination list, but the baggage policies are decidedly generous. However, we’re a bit scared away by the number of scathing online traveler reviews.
The verdict:
Convenient for Rocky Mountain-based travelers, with good baggage policies—but don’t expect friendly service.

THE FINE PRINT
Carry-On
: One free item, including boogie and wake boards, fishing equipment, parachutes, ski or snowboard boots and SCUBA gear, so long as they fit in the overhead
Check: $20 each for your first and second checked item, including bicycles, camping, golf, hang-gliding equipment, kayaks, canoes, skis, snowboards, surfboards, wave skis, kite boards and windsurfing boards; extra fees apply for items bigger than 62 linear inches ($75) or heavier than 50 pounds ($75)
Prohibited: Items heavier than 99.9 pounds or bigger than 109 linear inches
Fees Range: $0-$75
Mishandled Baggage Rate: 1.88 per 1,000 passengers
Destinations: 80-plus destinations in the United States, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Mexico
flyfrontier.com

Southwest/Stephen Keller

Although it doesn't have quite the soft touch of JetBlue or AirTran (see 3.08 mishandled bags per 1,000 pasengers), Southwest scores big for its diversity of destinations combined with a generous baggage policy. And while its snack options aren’t quite as exciting as those on rival low-cost carrier JetBlue—generic chips and the like—but kudos to them for at least providing some free eats so you'll be fueled up when you arrive.
The verdict:
Generous baggage policies + huge list of adventure-friendly destinations = quality pick.

THE FINE PRINT
Carry-On
: One free bag
Check: One free bag, includes fishing rods, golf bags, kiteboards and skis; extra fees apply for kayaks, surfboards, windsurfing boards and bicycles ($75)
Prohibited: Nothing.
Fees Range: $0-75
Mishandled Baggage Rate: 3.08 per 1,000 passengers
Destinations: 97 places in the U.S., Puerto Rico and six nearby countries
southwest.com

AirTran/Stephen Keller

In 2010, AirTran was bought by Southwest Airlines, but it continues to operate independently—for now. If the well-run, customer-friendly way things are run at Southwest is any indication, the merger will only mean good things for AirTran.
The verdict:
A solid option that’s likely to get better as it streamlines with Southwest.

THE FINE PRINT
Carry-On
: One free item, including fishing rods that fit in the overhead
Check: $25 for first and $35 for second item, including boogie boards, camping, golf and SCUBA equipment, skis, snowboards; extra fees apply for bicycles, surfboards, windsurfing boards and kayaks ($50)
Prohibited: Nothing.
Fees Range: $0-50
Mishandled Baggage Rate: 1.58 per 1,000 passengers
Destinations: 97 in the U.S., Mexico, Puerto Rico, Bermuda, Jamaica and the Bahamas
airtran.com

Flickr/MHJohnston

Good news for gear-hounds: If you fly JetBlue, your first checked bag is free. That means you can take along all those bulky hiking boots, ski helmets and photography gadgets without trying to stuff it all into a carry-on. You’ll also get some tasty free eats onboard. Its limited destination list, though—JetBlue’s routes are concentrated primarily in the eastern U.S. and Caribbean—makes it less appealing for West Coasters.
The verdict:
Bad for paddlers and West Coasters—great for everyone else.

THE FINE PRINT
Carry-On: One free bag, includes fishing poles and parachutes
Check: One free bag, includes SCUBA equipment, skis, snowboards, golf clubs, fishing poles; extra fees apply for bicycles under 100 pounds ($50); surf, kitesurfing, and windsurfing boards under 100 pounds ($50)
Prohibited: Canoes, kayaks and SCUBA tanks
Fees Range: $0-50
Mishandled Baggage Rate: 1.88 per 1,000 passengers
Destinations: 81 in the U.S., Caribbean and Latin America
jetblue.com

Gear-Friendly Airlines Slideshow