Bringing your tennis racquets with you when traveling by air used to be something you took for granted. Most players packed their racquets in tennis bags and carried them on board without a worry. Not so anymore. After 9/11 luggage regulations became much more restrictive; that was to be expected. What wasn’t expected was that the limits would affect tennis racquets. Furthermore, airline imposed size limits have all but made it impossible to bring your racquets on board. There is also some ambiguity as to whether or not TSA prohibits tennis racquets on board. After examining all this information, the only conclusion you can come to is that the best way to travel by air with your racquets is to put them in checked luggage.
A look at several online forums on the subject suggests that you may be able to carry racquets on board, but you are at the mercy of airline personnel when doing so. Other information shows that if the letter of the law is followed with regards to airline baggage policies, no tennis bags would be allowed on board.
A glance at three major U.S. based carriers, United, Delta and American shows that carry on baggage must not exceed 45 linear inches. Linear inches are calculated by adding the three dimensions of the bag together. A bag that is 20″ x 8″ x 9″ would be 37 linear inches and compliant with the regulation.
Not only are you limited to the 45 linear inches, you are also limited to how those inches can be distributed. The limits prohibit any bag outside the dimensions 22 inches long; 14 inches wide and 9 inches high. Our aforementioned 37 linear inch bag is still compliant with both the 45 linear inch limit and the dimensions limit. A bag that was 25 inches long; 10 inches wide and 9 inches high is a total of 44 linear inches and complies with the first rule; but the 25 inch length violates the dimensions limits. A 27 inch racquet itself is already in violation of the dimensions limits, never mind six of them in a tennis bag.
One of the sources air travelers are advised to check as far as transportation compliance goes is the TSA website. A visit of their website sends mixed signals. A blog entry on the TSA blog from March 2012 states that tennis racquets are prohibited as carry on items, but a PDF file says they are ok for carry on. A webpage is silent with regards to tennis racquets. On that same page, you can enter an item description to see if that item is restricted. This takes you to a popup window that says that anything that can be used as a bludgeon is prohibited in the cabin, but it’s not clear if they consider a tennis racquet a bludgeon, and they go on to state that items that are not generally prohibited could still be inspected further and that “The final decision rests with TSA on whether to allow any items on the plane.”
In spite of claims in online forums that you can bring tennis racquets in carry on luggage, the safest bet seems to be to put them in checked luggage.Be sure to pack your racquets so that they are insulated from impact as much as possible.
Most tennis bags probably do not comply with airline policies for baggage dimension limits and the TSA is no help in stating clearly whether you are allowed to bring racquets on board or not. Arguing with the TSA that a PDF file on their website says there are no prohibitions on racquets is a losing proposition at best and it’s risky to count on airline personnel to bend the rules.