Tennis is a global sport, and as such, there are lots of options for players to hit the courts anywhere in the world when they’re traveling. But traveling with tennis rackets isn’t straightforward, and since tennis rackets can be quite the investment, it’s no surprise that those looking to travel with their rackets want to make sure they’re doing it the right way.
Can you carry tennis racquets on planes? Tennis racquets are generally allowed on airplanes. However, It’s dependent on a lot of factors, including the country’s security agency, the rules of the airline you’re traveling with, and the size allowance, as well as a little bit of looking the other way.
State-Run Security Agencies
When traveling by air to and from the United States, you’ll have to contend with the Transportation Security Administration, or TSA. They’re the first hurdle to jump through, and luckily, they’ll usually let tennis rackets through their security stations with your carry-on luggage.
Although there is a green check next to carry-on bags on the tennis racket page inside the TSA’s website, there is a caveat underneath that says that it is up to the discretion of the TSA agent who escorts you through security. If you’re attempting to carry on your rackets, we recommend having them packed in a way that would help you feel comfortable if they did get checked.
Although the TSA has partnered with other international agencies in an effort to standardize security protocols, it is still best practice to check the safety standards into and out of the countries that you’re traveling to. You wouldn’t want to be allowed to pass through security on your initial flight from home but then have to check the racket when you’re trying to return.
Next Hurdle: The Airlines
Each airline can make its own rules about what to allow as a carry on and what to deny, as well as the size that each carry on item can be. Air Canada, Delta, and United Airlines explicitly allow tennis rackets, but British Airways and RyanAir explicitly ban them in carry-on luggage.
It also depends on how you travel. Technically, most flights offer each passenger the room under the seat in front of them for one item and one item that will fit in the overhead bin.
Tennis rackets don’t fit under the seat in front of you, and even if it was allowed, it’s not advisable. The last thing you would want to do on a long flight is trip over a tennis racket when you get up to go to the bathroom.
If your tennis racket fits inside the bag you’re going to put overhead, then you’ll have to limit the amount you pack in your carry-on. If you’re planning to take a tennis racket bag as your only carry-on bag, then you’ll have to keep only essential items in your small under-seat bag for the duration of your flight.
But even if your airline allows tennis rackets, there is still the matter of the dimensions of a carry-on bag to contend with. Since most rackets are 27 inches long, they won’t fit into the 22 x 14 x 9-inch dimensions allowed by most airlines allotted per customer in the overhead bins.
Doing Some Math
If you’re planning to tuck your racket diagonally into your largest-size-allowed carry-on bag, you may struggle to get it to fit. Using the good ol’ Pythagorean theorem (a squared plus b squared = c squared), 22 squared plus 14 squared breaks out to 484 + 196 = 680, and the square root of 680 is 26.
The math works out that your bag is still going to be an inch too short to store your tennis racket diagonally. There is perhaps a case to be made that if the volume of your tennis racket bag takes up less total volume than 22 x 14 x 9 (2,772 cubic inches), and if you have a slim tennis racket bag that can easily be tossed on top of someone else’s case in the overhead bin, you may be able to get on the plane with it.
It Depends A Lot On Discretion
For airlines that allow tennis rackets, it’s really up to the people working at your gate who will essentially be the gatekeepers that decide if you can bring on your racket or not. That’s why we recommend packing your tennis racket in a padded bag that will give you some protection if you have to put it into hold after getting through security.
This adds a level of risk if you plan to put your rackets in a soft-sided duffel in an attempt to fit the racket onto the plane. Visually, if you can fit the rackets diagonally, it’s only about an inch too long, which some airline attendants might not even notice.
However, we’d advise to follow Casey Neistat’s rule for when he skateboards through airports. If a staff member calls him out, he gets off the board, apologizes, and keeps moving on foot.
If you find yourself in a situation where you’re at the gate and staff are asking you to check your racket, try to be courteous and keep your cool. Airports are stressful places, especially for airport staff, so we also recommend doing your best to create a positive environment for everyone involved.
Planning to Check
If you want to avoid all of the stress of “maybe I’ll be allowed, maybe I won’t,” it’s smart to plan to just pack your rackets into your checked luggage. While large tennis bags can certainly be checked, they tend to be soft sided, which won’t offer as much protection during travel.
We suggest that you pack your rackets into a hard-sided full-sized suitcase and wrap them in bubble wrap. Layer soft clothes on the bottom of the case, then the racket or rackets in the middle, then additional clothes on top.
If your bag offers straps to hold your items in place, it would be good to also tighten those down as much as possible in order to limit shifting during transport.
Planning to check your rackets from the outset also diminishes potential hang-ups if you have a connecting flight. Your first flight staff may allow your racket on board with you, but your second flight staff may tell you that it’s not allowed.
If you check a bag, more than likely it will make it to your end destination with no issues. However, there is always the chance luggage will be lost, and we know that causes a lot of stress for travelers.
The question of whether you can carry on your tennis racket isn’t easy to answer. Technically, it’s allowed by TSA and some airlines. But whether it is practical or actually allowed depends a lot on who you’re dealing with on any given day.
With all of those variables when choosing to carry on, some tennis players looking to take their game on tour may feel more comfortable packing and padding their rackets into their checked bag.