Our report last month (see pages 10-11) on United Airlines’ new restrictions on flying with antlers has generated some feedback that we thought worth sharing. Subscriber Dean Hatten wrote (in part), “I just read the February Hunting Report article about airlines restricting the size and weight of checked horns/antlers. Up front I will tell you I am no fan of the airlines. I never fly commercially if I can avoid it. If I can’t take my own plane, I really question how badly I need to go on the trip. The airlines are rude, completely subjective and make the entire experience of commercial flight virtually unbearable.
“As a pilot with a nice airplane, I certainly have options most guys don’t have. But as a pilot, I am very aware of some of the problems faced by the carriers. Those guys have incredible expenses, and are doing everything they can just to survive. Space on an aircraft is very valuable, and weight is very expensive (it takes more fuel to fly each additional pound; jet fuel is about $5.00/gallon). A single elk rack will take up lots of space, space that could be sold to higher bidders than hunters. These are the same guys who pay thousands to go on the hunt, buy a new gun each time they go, then cry about having to pay for the space and weight in the cargo hold of the commercial airliner. Size and weight are real issues with financial consequences for the airline.
“Hunting big game in faraway places is an expensive gig. If you shoot a big rack, good for you. Have an expediter ship your trophy home for you and brag to your buddies about how much you had to pay to get your monster rack shipped.
“If you want to gripe about the airlines, then gripe about how some of them refuse to let you bring your guns. This is an issue with no basis other than some pin-head executives who don’t like hunting.”
Editor Barbara Crown: Thanks, Dean. I think we all agree that commercial airline travel isn’t much fun anymore, and we all wish we had our own planes. Your point about the size and weight of baggage having a financial impact on the airline is well taken.
Part of the problem as I see it is how much things have changed. Airlines are being squeezed in every direction, to the point where they must try to squeeze every penny they can out of a passenger. Unfortunately, it feels like that’s exactly what they are doing, all while providing less and less service and taking no responsibility when they screw up (as in losing a hunter’s gun, trophies and other baggage).
When we fly, we are all making a basic choice whether or not we want to buy their services or stay closer to home. They are betting that our desire to travel (for hunting or any other purpose) outweighs our dissatisfaction with the service they are offering.
It’s true that some hunts cost thousands of dollars. Some guys save for years to afford the trip only to find more and more ancillary costs and obstacles thrown at them. We need to be aware of these costs and budget for them, which is hard with airlines constantly changing the rules. Other hunters have the money, but will cancel a hunt if they aren’t confident they can get their trophy home quickly and safely. The gun issues you identified only add to the problems.
The point is that hunting travel is becoming more difficult, more uncertain, and more and more expensive. The resulting frustration level in aggregate is becoming a threat to our sport, to the hunting industry as a whole, and to the conservation programs we all support.
It would be great if even one airline stepped up and said, “Yes, we understand that traveling hunters have special needs; we want hunters to choose our airline and we want to support the conservation efforts that hunters pay for. Therefore, we are going to take these steps to make hunting travel easier. . . .” (More affordable would be nice, too, but I’m afraid that’s an impossible dream . . .)
If any airline steps up like that, you can be sure you’ll hear about it in these pages.