Southwest is the golfers’ airline – for now


You know the commercial with the two-faced ticket agent who tells the traveler his fare is $69 only to spin her head around Exorcist-style to reveal another face? Then the guy finds out that the airline has various miscellaneous charges that more than double the cost of the trip. As a traveling golfer, I can relate. Those charges are for items like telephone-booking fees, seat preferences and the one that really grabs me – checked baggage fees.

If you’re not flying business or first class or not an elite frequent flyer, airlines such as Continental, American, Delta/Northwest, U.S. Air, United and Frontier charge $15 for the first checked bag and $25 for the second – each way. Even Air Tran charges for the second bag and $50 for the first one if you don’t check it online (like that should make any difference.)

What does this mean to golfers? Just go ahead and add a minimum of $30 to the price of your ticket for a short (duration) trip, and most likely $80 if you’re going anywhere for a few days because you’ll have to check two bags.

(Consolidating by stuffing your golf travel bag with clothes is another option, but you have to stay under the weight limit, which is 50 pounds per bag at most airlines.)

It’s not like you can carry your clubs onboard, although I’m amazed by the size of the bags that people not only carry on but also still manage to shove into the overhead bin. Before 9-11, you could take a single golf club, like a driver, on the plane, but that doesn’t fly anymore – they’re considered potential weapons, even though I saw a woman on a plane the other day doing needlepoint.

And so yes, the only name domestic carrier that does not charge for checked baggage is Southwest Airlines – for now. And as the commercial says, Southwest isn’t charging for curbside check-in or sodas or peanuts or any of that other nonsense. And if they’re smart, they won’t cave in like Continental, which, like the others, cited rising fuel prices as the reason.

The truth is that these airlines still want to be able to advertise low fares, and then get you at check-in where you have no choice. It’s not like you can refuse and leave you stuff at the airport.

So golfers beware and factor in the costs. If American, for example, has a flight for $230, and Southwest has a similar passage for $270, and you’re taking your clubs, laptop and another bag, the American flight will actually cost you $310. If it’s direct, and the Southwest flight isn’t, maybe it’s worth the extra $40. It just depends on your preferences, but clearly, airlines are no longer golfer – or skier or hunter – friendly anymore.

But even Southwest doesn’t get off Scott-free. Like a few other airlines, you have to sign a waiver absolving damage liability if your clubs aren’t in a hard case. Never mind that ClubGlove, one of the most padded, secure golf travel covers on the market, is preferred by more tour players than any other travel cover. But that’s another story.