Golf News for Tuesday, October 19, 2010 | Daily Golf Blogs

Mike Bailey: Busted at the airport for carrying extra shoes in golf travel bag

It seems I need to rethink my strategy of traveling by air with golf clubs. For the past year or so, I've been checking one bag -- my golf clubs -- and carrying on another small bag. My thinking has been that by checking one bag and perhaps including an extra item or two with the clubs, I could carry on a smaller bag and save the extra $70 rountrip for checking another piece of luggage.

Well, last Tuesday, checking into a Continental Airlines flight from Houston to West Palm Beach, Fla., to visit PGA National Resort & Spa, I was re-educated. At the bag drop-off kiosk, the gate agent looked at my bag and looked at me, then asked me what was in my golf travel bag? Confused, I answered with the obvious: "Golf clubs."

Then she asked me what else was in there.

"Shoes," I responded.

"Golf shoes?"

Yes, I had a pair of golf shoes, but I also put a pair of sneakers in the other shoe pocket of my ClubGlove travel bag. That's pretty much always been my standard operating procedure.

I was informed that it was against the rules to pack anything other than golf equipment in the travel bag, and that all shoes must be golf shoes. I was unaware of this restriction (I thought the bag simply had to come in underweight).

Heck, in many cases, I have even included laundry and other items on the way back since I generally return with more stuff than I when I left.

I asked her how long this policy has been in place, and she told me it's been there for a while, at least since airlines started charging for checked bags (now it's starting to make sense).

When I returned home, I did find the policy on the Continental website, though it's not exactly a click or two away, and even more difficult to locate on some other airlines' websites. And yes, other airlines like Delta, U.S. Air and American have similar policies. And they are airline policies, not the Transportation Security Administration's.

I was told that I was simply lucky that I've never been caught before and that I could have actually been thrown off the plane (like a terrorist, no doubt) had it been discovered after I checked my golf travel bag that I had snuck in contraband such as sneakers.

In the end, I switched the tennis shoes for the "golf" sandals I was wearing (those weren't allowed in golf luggage either) and stuffed the sandals into my small carry-on. I guess a larger carry-on is in order. (This must be what Continental is talking about when they want you to Work Hard and Fly Right.)

Naturally, I wondered how many other golfers were aware of this policy, so I conducted an informal poll among a dozen or so other golf travelers. None had ever experienced this scrutiny.

I even talked to other airline employees, many of whom play golf, and none of them were aware of the restrictions, which leads to this question: If they don't know about it, how can we be expected to look for it? And since there are golf bags on every warm-weather flight destination, shouldn't this be more obvious if it's so important?

I asked the gate agent the reasoning for such a rule, and she simply said it was because the bag was oversized. That makes no sense. No matter what's in there, doesn't the bag remain oversized regardless? And as long as it stays under the weight requirement of 50 pounds for most airlines (mine was 41 pounds), it can't be a safety issue, can it?

Some of the airlines stipulate how many clubs you can have in your bag – no more than 14. I didn't realize the Rules of Golf pertained to air travel. I don't know about you, but if I'm on a golf trip playing multiple courses, I might want to carry an extra driver or putter for different course conditions. And what happens if you win a club in a tournament for long drive? You're supposed to ship that home separately because gate agents are now counting clubs. Not even my golf buddies count my clubs -- even when we're betting.

Most of the airlines limit you to golf balls, clubs and one pair of shoes, although the Continental agent did tell me an umbrella was acceptable. But what about raingear, an extra shirt, towels, sunscreen, tees, ball markers, a GPS or laser yardage device, golf gloves – all items commonly found in golf bags. According to the airlines' policies, they are all unacceptable.

I posed these questions today to Continental officials, but didn't get a response. My inquiries included calls and an email. If they address it, I will certainly pass along their reasoning.

I'm also curious if any of you have had this happen recently. If you have, I would love to hear about it.

Click here to leave a comment for Mike Bailey (AKA The Accidental Golfer).