Have you ever considered flying with bowling balls?
As you’re likely well aware, air travel can be a tricky process to navigate for many people.
The regulations, checkpoints, security processes and time management needed to successfully navigate your journey from one airport to another can be stressful at best.
For bowlers, another element of concern is added to the intricacy of air travel, the transportation of their equipment.
You’ve probably heard many concerning stories and tales of air travel mishaps.
You could have heard of either the misplacement of luggage (“What do you mean it was sent to South Africa?!”), broken objects (“Pretty sure my bowling ball wasn’t broken in half when I checked it in.”) or the hassle TSA agents can provide. (“We are going to need you to open your bowling ball so we can check inside it.”)
Now with so much that could go wrong, what do you do when you find yourself with the need to travel by air, bowling ball in tow?
Can You Bring a Bowling Ball On a Plane?
A good place to start is to see if you can even bring your bowling balls and equipment on the plane!
According to the official website of America’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA), bowling balls are allowed on planes as carry-ons and check-ins (source).
Now while this is a good basis to go off of for the transportation of your bowling ball and other equipment, the website also goes on to disclaim that the final decision rests with the TSA agent that checks your bag.
So while bowling balls are ‘generally’ accepted onto planes each airline can have different regulations for their flights concerning where bowling balls should go. Therefore it is important that before you book any flight on any airline you check the airline regulations.
Check Airline Regulations
Seriously, just doing something as simple as taking the time to look over the rules and regulations of your chosen airline can save you loads of trouble later. Doing this can help you select the perfect flight to keep both you and your bowling equipment safe as you fly the skies.
Checking the airline regulations can also help you figure out how to pack your bowling equipment.
For example if you are bringing six bowling balls with you and the airline only allows a fifty pound weight limit for their carry-ons, you now know that you can bring some balls with you into the cabin, but you will also have to check in a few of your balls to be transported with the rest of the extra luggage.
Regulations will also help you know where you can put your bowling balls should you choose to bring them in the cabin with you.
Many airlines forbid the stowing of bowling balls in the overhead compartment and insist they are left under your seat. This is actually done for a good reason!
Your bowling ball is a heavy object, with weights ranging from twelve to eighteen pounds. Should there be some rough turbulence during your flight both you and those seated around you do not want those bowling balls falling out of the overhead compartment, on flight concussions are not fun!
What Do I Need to Safely Pack My Bowling Balls?
There are several things you will need for packing and transporting bowling equipment. Besides for just traveling these tools can be handy for regular, everyday transportation and work to keep your bowling ball safe during transport.
Investing in good, protective equipment can help save your bowling balls from damage that can happen as your luggage is handled during transport.
This protection is especially important if you are on your way to a tournament since you don’t want to arrive at a high stakes game and have your bowling all in rough shape.
The bag you use to transport your bowling ball is perhaps the most important line of defense your ball has. Transport bags come in different sizes, shapes, and styles, but the most important thing to remember when selecting your bag is to choose a tote bag made explicitly for bowling ball travel.
These bags come with built-in protection and strength and are specially designed to cushion your ball during transport.
As we mentioned before these totes come in many different sizes and styles. Some bags only carry one to two balls while others can carry up to four.
Some are specially designed to break apart into different configurations so you can change up how many balls you can carry as needed. Others have extra features like retractable and locking handles, while others have designated spots for bowling shoes.
While the sizes may vary there are usually three specific styles these totes fall under, each with their own positives and negatives for travel.
As the name implies, these bags are designed to be carried over the shoulder as they are used for transportation. These bags generally come in smaller sizes, with a three bag tote being the usual maximum.
These bags are great if you are already hauling a lot of luggage and have your hands full. They can usually fit underneath economy class seats as well, though different brands and sizes may need some squeezing to fit.
(Again, check your airline regulations!)
They do force a lot of weight onto one shoulder of your body though, especially if you’re using them to transport three balls, so make sure to carry it on your non-dominant side to avoid injury before a tournament.
They are also on the side of your body so you need to be extra careful when maneuvering through tight spaces, you don’t want to bang your bowling balls around, even if they are well protected.
Just like the kind you see being hauled around a school, only this time its bowling balls instead of books you’re carrying!
These bowling ball totes usually only come in sizes for one to two bowling balls and that’s a good thing, you don’t want a lot of weight straining your back before a tournament!
The smaller sizes make them easier to fit below your seat as a carry-on, though once again squeezing may be needed.
Like the shoulder bag, the backpack helps keep your hands free for toting other luggage around.
Its location on your body also works to keep your bowling balls safe since you don’t have to worry as much about banging them against things as you work your way through the airport and onto the plane.
This style of tote is preferred by many of the professionals. These are the totes that can (depending on the size you buy) carry up to four bowling balls for traveling.
Rollers can also come in styles that come apart and be configured in different ways. This allows you flexibility in how big you want your bag to be.
Rollers also take the weight off your body in carrying your bowling balls. By using a roller you are able to transport your heavy bowling balls without the risk of straining your body before you go to an important tournament.
Like with the other style of bags, you do need to be careful to make sure the roller tote doesn’t run into anything. Protection in the form of a tote is a great preventive step but why risk unnecessary damage?
These handy devices can be commonly found in department stores, specialized travel stores or online. While designed with the purpose to keep people out of your luggage, for bowlers, they also double as a tool to keep your bowling balls in.
Believe it or not, if a bowling ball bag is set just right, with just enough gravity or turbulence, a heavy bowling ball can work a zipper open and pop right out of its bag.
The zipper lock prevents this from happening by securing the zipper so it doesn’t get slowly worked open, preventing the damage that can occur from unexpected drops.
While bowling bag totes provide a good first line of defense in the protection of your bowling ball for an extra measure of protection you can pack protective cushion around your balls in the bag.
You don’t need to buy anything specific to cushion your ball, although there are certainly ball cushions out there should you want them. Instead, you can take soft items from around your house, such towels, small blankets or even the clothes you are bringing with you and pack them around your ball in the bag.
(Note: If you plan to use clothes make sure you don’t mind them getting a little oily or have a buffer between them and your ball. Since your bowling ball naturally absorbs oil it will probably sweat oil out onto your cushioning during transport.)
This topic is a little different than the rest because instead of telling you to bring cleaner, we are telling you to not bring your own cleaners with you on the plane.
Unless you are doing a check-in bag, just leave your cleaner at home and purchase a small bottle at the tournament you are traveling to.
This way you can bypass the liquid regulations of planes, save yourself some time, and have a cleaner that you know is legal for tournament use!
Read this article to learn how to properly clean a bowling ball.
How Do I Pack My Bowling Equipment For Travel?
Now that you know what type of equipment you need to ensure your bowling ball’s safe travel here are some travel tips on how to pack your bowling ball equipment!
1. Take the Essentials With You: If you are doing a check in a bag as well as a carry on stuff your shoes, braces, and anything else you absolutely need with you at the tournament in the carry-on, always.
That way if your luggage should be misplaced you at least have your broken in shoes, broken in braces and the other necessities you require at the tournament. A bowling ball can be bought and drilled at the tournament, broken in shoes are much harder to replace.
2. Split Up Your Bowling Balls: This is the same principle as tip number one, except with your bowling balls. If you are bringing a large number of bowling balls try to bring at least your main ball and a spare ball with you into the cabin.
That way if the rest of your balls is misplaced (a fate we wish upon no one) you at least have two of your personalized balls ready to go.
3. Weigh Everything: Seriously, weigh everything as you pack for the trip! After you’ve checked your airline regulations you should know how much weight they allow for carry-ons.
This gives you the opportunity to weigh your luggage as you pack and prevents you from being slapped with a fee should you go over the allowed weight.
4. Bring a Copy of Your Grip: In the horrible event that your bowling balls are wrecked or lost you should have a copy of your grip on hand.
That way if needed you can buy a ball at the tournament and get it accurately drilled to suit your needs and style.
5. Watch the Weight Scale: As silly as this could sound watch when your agent weighs your bags. Sometimes they can forget to zero the scale and that may set you over the weight limit.
The attendants are usually quite polite and willing to do another measuring for you, but in the off chance, you get someone unwilling to try again with a zeroed scale hold your ground. They’re not the ones that will have to pay weight fees should their bags read too heavy.
Traveling to a bowling tournament should be a fun and exciting experience, and there is no reason it can’t be! Just make sure you take preventive steps, use protective gear as much as possible and be patient with the process.
Taking your time and thinking ahead, both with your packing and navigating the airports, will help ensure that you and your bowling balls will arrive at your destination ready to roll!