Tips on Flying with Kayaks to Chile
Flying with a Kayak to Chile
Flying with a kayak to Chile is a "do-able" proposition even on airlines that claim they will not take kayaks. In the best case scenario kayaks can be checked in as baggage with no addition fees. Most often an excess/oversized baggage fee will be charged in both directions for flying your kayak in and out of South America. In the worst case scenario you may get denied by the airline check-in attendant if they follow the airline policy strictly.
1] It is important to find out EXACTLY what the policy is of the airline you will be flying regarding transporting kayaks. Some airlines even have different baggage policies and charges from airport to airport; you need to know these also. The official airline policy will be your WORST CASE scenario. In the event that you run into a check-in attendant who follows the rules you need to be prepared to pay the extra charge, get denied or opt to not take your kayak.
2] If you decide to take your kayak with you we have had the best luck wrapping them up or putting them in a surfboard bag. The idea is to be DISCRETE and allow the check-in attendant a wide amount of latitude about taking your kayak. Be polite as possible and ask them to HELP YOU with getting your boat to South America. Be careful about stowing excess baggage in your kayak as it can put you over some of the airline weight limits. Remember there are different baggage allowances for domestic and international flights. It is also helpful to inform the airline that you will be taking a "surf board" with you when you make your reservation. If this is on the computer when you check-in your kayak is more likely to get through. Try to avoid using the word "kayak" when you interact with airline personnel.
3] It is best to check things straight through. Each time you have to manually check your kayak in for a flight you risk running into a desk attendant who will follow the airline rules. Try to limit these interactions as much as possible. In the worst case scenario you may need to pay another fee in both directions to transport your kayak domestically in Chile or the United States. For this reason many paddlers choose to rent a vehicle in Santiago or take a public bus (which takes kayaks) to their domestic destination.
4] Get the airline policy in WRITING and CARRY IT WITH YOU. If the airline policy says that they will take a kayak, you will want a copy of that so that you do not get denied by an employee in South America or charged an additional fee. You will also want to save all of your baggage check-in tickets for the same reason.
5] Most of us leave our kayaks in South America after our trip by selling them to the locals who want the latest boats. This solves the reverse problem of getting your kayak back to your hometown. Usually the South American check-in attendants are stricter than those in North America about charging extra fees. However, in recent years Chilean buyers have gotten access to the latest kayaks directly through the manufacturers, so they are becoming more selective about what they buy. Be prepared to offer a good deal, especially if you don't have the latest design. In the worst case scenario you may not be able to sell an older model boat.
6] If you call the airline and "get the okay" for your boats DON'T BELIEVE what you hear (unless it is in writing). Things are often different at the check-in counter. They may say no on the phone but will take them when you arrive at the airport. Likewise they could say yes on the phone but get denied at check-in.
7] Have a Plan B ready if something happens, like an emergency rental or purchase option in Chile should something go wrong.
8] Sometimes taking a new boat into South America can be a "customs problem" if they think you will be leaving it there. If you are planning on taking a new boat, take off all sales tags and make it look as "used as possible". You don't want to be charged a customs fee. We don't recommend taking new boats for this reason.
9] We have had bad luck (with timing) flying kayaks into Chile using Air Cargo. Usually the air freighters don't coordinate with your arrival and departure times and arrive at different terminals. The problems involved in retrieving your kayak and getting it checked to your domestic flight usually make keeping on schedule impossible. Don't consider this option unless you have plenty of time.
10] If you are planning an excursion to Argentina the customs officials will note your kayak when you take it over the border. If you re-cross the border back into Chile you will need to have the kayak with you. Argentina has a Luxury Tax on kayaks and the officials want to make sure you don't leave it in the country.