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Travelling with Bowling Balls - Redux


      As the ABC is proud to announce, the National Championship held this year in Billings, MT has been the largest event held outside of Reno. With some 56,000 bowlers taking part from all over the US, plus a few like myself travelling in from abroad, the airlines have been transporting an awful lot of bowling balls around the globe.

      Recently however, the FAA, in conjunction with the airlines have decided to clamp down on the amount of equipment permitted in a bowling bag. As many of the bowlers at Billings discovered to their cost, all of the major airlines have now imposed a 2-ball per bag limit when flying within the continental US (it's slightly different when travelling from the UK, but I'll come to that at the end). Given that airlines usually only allow 2 hold bags per passenger, with 1 item of carry-on, this seems to limit the bowler to only transporting 2 balls to any event.

      This baggage restriction appears to be as a result of baggage handlers being concerned for their safety whilst lifting these ball-bags to and from the aircraft. On the surface, this does seem a little ridiculous, given that a suitcase can weigh up to 70lbs (about 26Kg), yet a fully laden 3 ball bag weighs in at not much over 55lbs (including shoes & accessories). However, rules are rules, and it now means bowlers wishing to take more than 2 balls to events such as the ABC's have been forced to re-assess their travelling strategy.

      There are 4 main ways to approach this
  1.       Drive to the event. If you don't object to the driving, this effectively eliminates the problem of transportation. Of the 10 people on the teams I bowled with this year, 5 of them drove to Billings. 1 from LA, 1 from Portland, and 3 from Michigan. If, like the 3 from Michigan, you can team up with someone else, it not only reduces the cost of travelling (fuel costs shared), but it also gives you someone to share the driving with.

  2.       Fly with a partner or friend. If forced to fly, this is the best of all strategies, as it means you can take up to 6 balls between the two of you, providing you are willing to share suitcase space. Take 3 x 2 ball bags, with the final item being the suitcase, and this gives you your 2 bags per person allowance. Flying with a Non-bowling partner gives the greatest option in terms of equipment choice, but be prepared to spend additional money on keeping that person entertained after they get bored of watching you bowl the BJ, 40 frame game & 9 games of bowling (plus any practice you may wish to have). I love to bowl, but will be the first to admit it's not the best spectator sport in the world if you don't bowl yourself.

  3.       Ship the balls to the event in advance. Various companies are providing quite reasonable costs for shipping nowadays ($17 per ball at the Billings event), but there are additional things to be considered when doing this. Firstly, check the Hotel you are staying in will accept items for guests who have not yet checked in. Failing to do this can result in your equipment being returned to sender, leaving you with no equipment.

          Secondly, ensure the shipping carrier can guarantee delivery dates, otherwise you may turn up only to find you equipment hasn't yet arrived. Finally, check that you have left yourself enough time after the event to get the equipment shipped home again. At Billings, there was a shipping booth that should have been able to return equipment for people, yet it had closed 4 days before the end of the tournament, leaving a number of bowlers looking for alternative shipping methods before travelling home.

  4.       Buy Equipment at the event. This is the least favoured method, as it results in using method 3 to return the equipment after the event, but it does mean you only pay for 1 set of shipping costs. The benefits are simply that you only have to worry about getting the equipment home, rather than to the event as well. Of course, cost does become an issue (purchasing the equipment), and it also relies on you trusting the Pro shops at the event to drill your equipment correctly. If at all possible, if you don't have a ball with you, at the very least take a drilling spec sheet with you for the Pro Shop to copy, so they have something to work from. There is nothing worse than trying to bowl with badly fitting equipment.
      As you can see, there are many ways to get equipment to your chosen event, and given proper planning there is no reason for any bowler to arrive at a tournament without sufficient equipment for them to be able to bowl well.

      Finally, how did I get from the UK with my equipment ? I took a 3 ball bag, with 3 balls in it, and handed it in at the UK check-in desk in the UK. No questions were asked, and it quite happily passed the weight allowance. Returning to the UK, I simply unloaded some of my clothes from my (rather large) hard suitcase, and packed one of the balls in that instead (securely surrounded to ensure it didn't move around in transit). I'm not naming the airline, in case they get wise to this, and stop me doing it next time, but it was a US based international carrier that I used.

      At last it appears there are some advantages to living in the UK, and travelling to the US to do my bowling :-)


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