AUSTRALIA'S DOMESTIC AIRLINES FOR SURFERS
BEST DOMESTIC AIRLINES FOR SURFERS
A mesurf Oz Flight review - by Mick
Australian surfers often have to be a nomadic and spontaneous bunch. Our search takes place within vast surrounds, whilst climatic variables condense windows of opportunity. A flight is at times the only realistic mode of transport when attempting to align swell and distant location. For this reason we thought we’d take a look at the best and worst domestic airlines inside our continent.
Before booking your next interstate surf trip, it’s worth reading the following breakdown on our big five – Qantas, Jetstar, Rex (Regional Express), Tiger Airways and Virgin Blue. Our information is backed by Australia consumer magazine, CHOICE, which recently quizzed over 11,000 its members on their last domestic flight experience.
VIRGIN - Our number one choice for airline travel. Not only for the super friendly (and good looking) staff, but Virgin are the most flexible when it comes to transporting your boards. They'll get you onto your flight even if you're running behind schedule plus they're almost always on time.
QANTAS - We found these guys to be the airline for 'professionals', meaning they're a little more expensive, and they're very strict on their rules. Great airline if you're part of the Qantas club - using their facilities between flights is a well worth bonus.
JETSTAR - These guys have room for improvement but seem to be (slowly) changing their ways. They have a long way to go and from our research we didn't find too many happy customers. They're not much cheaper than the competition and seem to always be late - Not good if you've only got a small window of opportunity to nab a short-range swell.
REX - Most expensive but with good old fashion service. Rex fly direct to some exclusive regional locations, which should save you travel time. There are a handful of worthy destinations worth checking out, but you'll want to make sure you know what the coastline is doing in that area before dropping a few hundred $$.
TIGER AIRWAYS - Surfers should avoid being lured by Tigers' cheap ticket prices. This airline has surfboard charges nothing short of ‘fly-way’ robbery; you'll only get scoured when you go to check-in.
Below is a more in-depth breakdown on each airline...
- COSTS: In terms of costs, Virgin Blue is equal second best amongst of our five airlines. Their ticket prices are only slightly more expensive than those of the super-budget, Tiger Airways.
- TIMELINESS: Reliably on time - equal best in the country (along with Qantas/Rex).
- OTHER: Great legroom plus nice ‘legs view’ – Virgin has the hottest flight attendants. Have fun up there, Romeos.
- All passengers are required to field a mandatory $10 baggage fee that allows for 23kg.
- Surfboards fall under Virgin’s ‘Sporting Goods’ policy. This grants an extra 5kg on top of the 23kg granted to regular landlubbers. Meaning surfers actually have up to 28kg of baggage to play with before further tax – Yew!
- Excess bagged is charged at $10 per kg – pretty hefty so make sure you get an idea of your luggage and quivers’ combined weight.
- You will not be charged extra for taking numerous boards, provided you stay under this 28kg baggage/surfboard allowance.
- Virgin planes allow for boards up to 3m in length (9’10.1”). Sorry mal riders – perhaps this portable surfboard product may be of interest to you..
- For those with long boards or guns over 3m in length, your sled will have to be transported via freight. This means it will travel on a different plane and will incur freight charges ** (see bottom of article for indication on how much freight charges might be). All airlines attempt to align these freight flights with the passenger’s flight; however freight flights can touch down as long as 2hrs after that of the passenger. In short, you want that board on your flight – sand down the nose if you must.
- Virgin Blue’s service is equal second best along with Qantas and is only bettered by that of Regional Express (Rex).
- Do surfers really give a flying fart about how often their pillow is fluffed? Well, when staff look like the Virgin hostess’ it’s got to count for something, right?
- “The Virgin Blue people have always – and I mean always – given great service.” * (They can 'service' me anytime..)
- "Virgin offers the best economy flight in terms of service to the public. You feel they are doing the best they can for you rather than you having to abide by THEIR conditions of service." *
- Overall Virgin Blue has the best offering out of all the airlines when taking price, service and board allowance into consideration.
- They are reliably on time so you don’t have to fret about missing those 1-day swells.
- With Virgin you’re guaranteed a comfortable and relaxing journey, being able to stretch your legs whilst you take in the scenery and staff – who are very easy on the eye (with the exception of the captain and airhost ‘Roberto’).
- COSTS: Overall, second most expensive. Only slightly cheaper than Regional Express (Rex).
- TIMELINESS: Reliably on time - equal best in the country (along with Virgin/Rex).
- OTHER: Legroom not great. What about ‘Legs view’ you ask? - Pretty sure Qantas is big on equal employment opportunities – don’t bother getting too spruced-up.
- Passengers have an overall baggage allowance of 23kg – this is free of charge – perhaps making up for your ex’y ticket price.
- As long as your surfboard/s weigh (along with other luggage) inside the 23kg baggage weight limit, there are no extra charges.
- If you want to go over the 23kg, excess bagged is charged at $35 per extra 5kg.
- Surfboards that exceed 277cm (9’1.1”) in length must be sent as freight **
- Fins must be removed where possible and placed in an enclosed compartment or taped to the surfboard (I’d would recommend doing this regardless to avoid visiting a board mechanic upon touchdown).
- You will not be charged extra for taking numerous boards, provided you stay under 23kg baggage allowance.
- Qantas’ overall service is rated as only marginally better than that of low-budget counterparts, Jetstar and Tiger.
- "Qantas staff are very hit and miss - some might not treat you well, others are great and attentive." *
- "Qantas has gone downhill steadily over the last two or three years..” *
- "When travelling over the past year, I have found the Qantas staff to be excellent and very accommodating." *
- Quite a few respondents who belong to the Qantas Frequent Flyer program thought the airline treated gold and platinum members more favourably than its standard members.
- Reliable option if you don’t have time on your side and want to avoid unwanted surprises.
- Comes at a bit of a cost.
- Qantas’ limited legroom and inconsistent staff and service may leave you sore and bitter, but at least you can take your frustrations out on the swell you haven’t missed.
- COSTS: Australia’s most expensive airline.
- TIMELINESS: Reliably on time - equal best in the country (along with Qantas/Virgin).
- OTHER: Great leg room plus only airline to fly to several regional destinations.
- Rex has a baggage allowance of 15kg before further charges occur. Ditch the hairdryers and pack light, girls.
- Excess baggage is charged at $3.30 p/kg. Not too bad.
- Surfboards can be up to 2m (6’7”) in length before having to be transported separately via freight. (Standard freight charges apply **. So if you’ve got guns in your holster or you’re just a tall dude, your surfboard may be relegated to another flight.
- The friendly Rex staff told me that if your total baggage (surfboards included) is over 15kg you are at risk of having your board being freighted on another flight, regardless of its length. This is definitely motivation to pack light and keep under their 15kg buffer.
- You can take numerous boards on a Rex flight, however there is a fee for bulky and awkward shaped baggage ($16.50). If you’ve got 2-3 surfboards in your sled cover – be sure to make it as compact as possible - all fins removed etc. This charge may come down to simply what mood the dude playing baggage-Tetris is in.
- Rated best in the country.
- Old-fashioned, personalised service.
- “Rex is the smallest airline but the best, the in-flight crew is always courteous; they give you a cuppa and a muffin, and a mint just before you land, plus they’ll ring a taxi for you – and they always say goodbye as you leave the plane.” * - Dope.
- "Small operator who obviously cares about customer service and are helpful and courteous." *
- "The flight was good but it would be good if the price was cheaper then I would use it more often." *
- Rex is the most expensive airline but you can expect reliability, timeliness and service with a smile (and muffin).
- Not overly surfboard friendly when compared with Qantas and Virgin.
- Rex fly to some regional destinations no other airline do – these guys may be your option if you’re heading away from the masses.
- COSTS: Quite good - Rated equal second best (along with Virgin) when accessed on overall cost.
- TIMELINESS: Bad. Really bad. “The only reliable thing about Jetstar is that it will depart late” *
- OTHER: Legroom is scarce plus their food is voted equal worst in the country – pack a Twinkie or two.
- As long as your surfboard bag weighs inside Jetstar’s 20kg baggage weight limit, you’ll avoid excess baggage charges.
- When excess baggage is booked in advance it is charged as follows: $30 for 5kg; $55 for 10kg; $100 for 20kg.
- If a passenger waits until they arrive at the airport before declaring excess baggage it will be charged at $10 per extra kg - probably ring ahead if you’re taking the kitchen sink.
- Jetstar will only accept surfboards that are not over 1.9 metres (6’3”) in length. Any longer and they will be transported separately via freight. ** Yikes! This size restriction applies to a lot more of us now - do those portable boards mentioned earlier come in short boards too?
- Surfboards will not be accepted for carriage unless they are placed in an appropriate surfboard bag.
- NOTE: It’s worth reading the story, ‘You Won’t Get far on Jetstar’, from Tasmanian surf site Coast View. There a stack of disgruntled comments that accompany the piece – fellow surfers with shared negative experiences of the airline: “I’ve heard of troubles with baggage far shorter than 1.9 m leaving Hobart.” And then there’s the rather blunt: “Do not, repeat do not, fly with Crap Star ! You think you are saving $$$$ but you will spend heaps more in the long run. I’ve had trouble with Crap Star several times with both surfboards and snowboards. They are a s#@t service provider - I always fly Virgin because they serve you with a smile and ‘sporting equipment’ is no problem." – Does he need a hug?
- Voted equal worst along with Tiger.
- "Our flight was cancelled and Jetstar made no attempt to contact us in advance of our arrival at the airport." *
- "We were not notified prior to arrival at the airport that our flight was late, there was no staff at the boarding gate or anywhere at the check-in gates and no updates on a screen to suggest when we needed to board. All of a sudden, one hour after the scheduled take-off time, we saw the gate screen flash 'Boarding' and we were rushed onto the plane. Communication was appalling." *
- Strict surfboard size restrictions – unless you’re a micro-grom.
- Like me at school, crappy punctuality – you’ll want to make sure the swell you’re chasing is there for an extended stay.
- Many horror stories floating around regarding surfers and their run-ins with Jetstar. You’d have to be getting pretty damn cheap tickets to be banking on a stress-free surf trip with these guys.
- COSTS: Dirt cheap – best ticket prices in the country - YeeHa!
- TIMELINESS: Equal worst (along with Jetstar). Notorious for delays without explanation and slow check-in processes.
- OTHER: The worst food and leg room.
- You must pay a mandatory $10 for baggage allowance that grants you 15kg. Once over the 15kg - excess baggage charges apply, these are a whopping $15 p/kg! - heavy penalty for being heavy.
- There are no size or weight restrictions for surfboards travelling with Tiger. Halleluiah right?! ....WRONG!! - surfboards are classed as 'Sporting Equipment' and will cost $60 each to transport. When I spoke with Tiger I was told that even if you have 2-3 boards packed tightly and neatly into one compact board bag, you'll still be charged $60 for each board...ouch!!
- Voted equal worst along with Jetstar.
- "It was a cheap flight. the service was reflected by the price, you get what you pay for." *
- “The check-in staff were rude, extremely strict on baggage allowance and only accepted cash for excess luggage." *
- When taking into account how ridiculously cheap Tiger flights can be, along with their ‘bill-per-board’ policy, it's very likely at times you may end up paying more for your board to travel than you do for your actual self! - At least you know they deem your board valuable.
- Every other airline in Australia doesn't put a limit on the amount of boards you can take - given you can keep the weight under a certain limit. Tiger doesn't either - however they will charge you for each! – Ruthless like a tiger.
- Unless you ride a mal (no size limit for boards on Tiger flights), I would probably steer clear, except if you've done the sums first. If you were flying from Sydney to Perth with one long board it would likely work out cheaper to fly with Tiger and their ‘bill-per-board’ policy, as opposed to getting the freight charges that are associated with other big-board discriminating airlines.
- If you’re flying with a quiver of short boards – forget about it.
AT WHAT COST?
** [FREIGHT] - Australian airlines use Australian Air Express (AAE) to freight Surfboards which cannot be accommodated on the same flight as a passenger. An example size of a surfboard that would not fit on a regular domestic flight might be: 9.8 ft long x 20' x 3'. A board of this size, weighting 5kg has been quoted as costing the following to freight domestically using AAE:
- Hobart to Brisbane - $92
- Sydney to Perth - $134
- Sydney to Brisbane - $43
* [SOURCE] - CHOICE magazine - 'Domestic Bliss' member survey - May 2010
- Share this: