Upon collecting his boardbag after his American Airlines flight from Honolulu to Los Angeles, Gray, 31, a noted freesurfer, commentator, and Big Wave World Tour competitor, noticed large holes in the top and bottom of his boardbag.
When he opened his bag, he found four of his boards to be completely destroyed. Gray had paid the $150 baggage fee to fly his boards.
“The boards had a black residue that seemed to be from a tire. They were all damaged," Gray told GrindTV on Wednesday.
But what raised a red flag for Gray was the fact that the boards had been rearranged from how he’d packed them, indicating someone had opened his bag and moved the boards around.
“When I brought my boards to the American desk [in Los Angeles] the woman was super courteous and kind, and she could see the boards were destroyed,” said Gray.
He filmed her removing the foam and fiberglass carnage from his bag and posted it to his Instagram account:
Gray then did the due process of reporting the damage, getting his claim in the system, and receiving a claim number. Once home, he itemizing the damage on a claim form and mailed it with his contact information to American Airlines Customer Relations office in Phoenix, AZ, also following up with an email.
Meanwhile, Gray’s Instagram post garnered nearly 77,000 views by Wednesday.
Los Angeles KTLA 5 News covered the story on Monday. Gray posted three more Instagram posts about the subject. In response, his social media follower and fellow surfers directed thousands of comments toward American Airlines’ Instagram account.
“Obviously, my Instagram posts have gone viral. There are over 2,000 comments on American’s Instagram and they haven’t responded to any of them," Gray added.
GrindTV contacted American Airlines and they responded:
We apologize for the damage that occurred to the surfboards. Our team has received the claim, and is reviewing what may have transpired during their transit. We are also in touch with Mr. Gray directly in order to resolve this situation.
But as of Wednesday afternoon, Gray said he had not received a phone call, email or any other contact from American Airlines.
The first response from #americanairlines thanks to @grindtv. It's from an email address MediaRelations@AA.com which is not an email given to the passenger to respond to within American Airlines damaged baggage claim protocol. Now, to the best of my knowledge, I have NOT received any direct contact from @americanair via phone, email, mail, or social media. American Airlines has all of this information of mine. Thank you American Airlines for saying sorry to the media about my surfboards, but I personally am still waiting for a response from you. In short, NO I have still not heard from American regarding my broken surfboards claim. I also believe my followers are still waiting for responses to over 2,000 comments they've left on your Instagram. We see you are doing new posts, but not responding to this issue #americanairlinesbreakssurfboards. We the surf community are trying our best to wait patiently for your answer to my board destruction, and your overall excess baggage policy review. Again that email address is MediaRelations@AA.com if any of you would like to write them. Thanks again to all who are covering this story and also responding with your personal stories of surfboard destruction. It's time for a change!
In regards to the general public dissatisfaction with airline customer relations, Gray told GrindTV, “I’ve had incidents with other airlines damaging boards. Across the board, commercial airlines have inconsistent fees and policies and an incredible number of boards are damaged.”
He estimates the boards (all of them Channel Islands) were worth about $4,500, noting that surfboards that are put back together are never the same, as the broken stringer makes the flex obsolete.
“First off, I want to be reimbursed for my boards,” said Gray, “But second, I want to get to the how and why. How did they do such a fantastic job of destroying all my boards. And why are surfboards charged more than other sports equipment?”
American Airlines’ website states that anyone traveling with surfboards (along with kiteboards, wakeboards and wave skis) will be charged $150 for items less than 62 inches and weighing 50 lbs. Anyone traveling with a golf bag up to 50 lbs. will be charged the same as a suitcase.
And while Gray is a professional surfer, he is speaking up for those who work to pay for their trips, only to have their gear damaged.
“The ultimate point is that I paid $150 for them to destroy my boards,” said Gray.
More stories from GrindTV about disputes between surfers and airlines: