Airplane Advice

7:46 a.m. on November 11, 2017 (EST)
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In planning my trip to Scotland for 2 weeks of backpacking, I realized its been a long time since I flew to a backpacking destination rather than drive (pre-9/11 restrictions)...I am planning on lugging the majority of my gear as carry on to minimize the damage if my checked bag gets lost.  Any other advice would be appreciated.  I have the travel restriction list so no need to reply with that but other tips from frequent backpacking flyers would be great.  Thanks

9:50 a.m. on November 11, 2017 (EST)
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Thru hikers who travel to the big three trails, have come up with a variety of ways to protect their backpack when it's checked as luggage because a typical 50 to 60 liter pack is too large to take as a carry on.  Some of the ideas are to put the backpack in a larger, more durable duffel bag or a cuben fiber bag (zpacks.com) or wrapping the entire backpack and straps in saran wrap to protect it from getting hung up in the baggage system.  

9:56 a.m. on November 11, 2017 (EST)
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  • Check your trekking poles, I duct tape the ends, and roll them in my ccd pad. 
  • Leave all fuel at home, I usually buy denatured alcohol at a hardware store at the destination. If you're using iso-pro, look ahead to make sure your stove is compliant with what's available locally. 
  • Hockey bags are the cheapest, most durable ways of safely checking your backpacking gear IMO. 
  • I like to carry-on my favorite, or difficult to replace pieces of gear (PLB, gloves)
  • Take a digital image of your passport on your mobile, just in case anything happens to the other. 

Post what you can, when you can Phil! My wife has been to Scotland twice, and I can't wait to get out there...

7:49 p.m. on November 11, 2017 (EST)
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I'm guessing almost any kind of stove except maybe Esbit in carryon would make inspectors nervous. Knives of any description are completely out of the question. I had a carryon with a rope, harness, biners etc. that they made me check in Geneva, which isn't exactly Kansas when it comes to climbing gear. And my wife got a 2-piece kayak paddle out of the US as carryon, but in Amsterdam they would have none of that. It always seems a bit random.

5:54 a.m. on November 15, 2017 (EST)
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I avoid carrying stoves because they are items inspectors are gravitated to, and end up a hassle even when everything is legit.  Thus I just buy a stove at the destination, and gift it to a local before I leave. 

If your objective is minimizing aggravation and expense due to lost in-transit items, consider a carry-on strategy that prioritizes your most expensive items; items you'll need soon after arrival; and items that would be hard to replace at your destination.

Some jet terminals have vendors that can sheath you pack in a heavy gage shrink wrap.  Weighs less than a duffel so you can pack more gear.  If your return terminal doesn't has a shrink wrap pack service, carefully unpack your kit upon arrival, then reuse the wrap when you go home.  Another option is using a freight shipper (e.g. UPS) to ship your pack to the hotel you intend on overnighting upon your arrival.  Arrange with your hotel to receive your pack several days in advance.  You can then call to confirm the shipment and have time to deal with any issues that occurred, before you leave.

Ed

11:37 a.m. on November 15, 2017 (EST)
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Thanks guys - great advice as expected!

I use an alcohol stove so fuel won't be a problem to pick up.  Ed - I can't leave my Trail Designs Sidewinder Ti-Tri behind (it's my favorite piece of equipment!).  If I have to check it I will but hope to keep some key gear close by so it ends up in the same place I do!

UPS international shipping is pretty expensive so I'll have to decide if that is worth it...my Scottish cheapness is interfering with my Scottish backpacking!

8:16 p.m. on November 15, 2017 (EST)
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FlipNC said:

Thanks guys - great advice as expected!

I use an alcohol stove so fuel won't be a problem to pick up.  Ed - I can't leave my Trail Designs Sidewinder Ti-Tri behind (it's my favorite piece of equipment!).  If I have to check it I will but hope to keep some key gear close by so it ends up in the same place I do!

UPS international shipping is pretty expensive so I'll have to decide if that is worth it...my Scottish cheapness is interfering with my Scottish backpacking!

We'll let you slide with the Sidewinder.  Alcohol stoves are easy to prove as safe for travel by the nature of their design.  But petro based liquid fuel stoves sometimes draw well intentioned, albeit ignorant concerns of inexperienced or pissy customs agents.  The Optimus 123, and similar designs, have fuel tank that draws concern if it hints of fuel residue.  Even stoves with not tank that smell of petro based fuels can cause a problem with the customs folks. 

Yes UPS is $$$$.  I cited them as a familiar example.  I'd price shop.  Sometimes a wider arrival date windows can get a better price, as it affords the shipper more options to efficiently use cargo capacity, given the liberty of more flight options to work with.

Ed

10:08 p.m. on November 15, 2017 (EST)
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My wife and I (and often our son) travel a lot by air crossing the US and going to other countries. I have hiked and climbed on all 7 continents and Barb 6 of the 7. I have lost track of our son's list, though I know he has been to Europe and Asia carrying climbing gear.

Here is how we make sure what we need will get through the travel part of the trip - Starting with the container - we usually use the standard airline limit of a "carry-on bag" (usually a day pack) and a "personal bag", plus a checked roll-around bag or a soft bag that meets the current "carry-on" limit. Cameras and the like go in the carry-on bags. The roll-around we usually take is one of Eagle Creek's or the alternative soft bag from Patagonia in their waterproof line. Every bag, checked and carry-on has a tag with name and address plus a brightly-colored ribbon or tight yarn. This guarantees your spotting your bags on the belt. The checked bags all have handles that are capable of going through the baggage belts, most of which have survived the "baggage gorillas" for a dozen or more trips. The "carry-on" and "personal" bags also have tags and ribbon/yarn attached to the handles .

The carry-on and personal bags contain the items we have to have immediately on arriving at the destination that fit within the regulations (you can get the current regulations from the airline's web site). If the destination is a winter destination (climbing glaciers), we wear our warm clothes (long-distance flights often have cold cabins, and the warm clothes are more comfortable than the blankets and pillows the airline supplies). If the destination is warm, we may put some of the heavier warm clothes in the roll-around.

The roll-arounds we have have a fairly stiff back, which provides a fair amount of protection for the gear in the pack. So Climbing tools, such as ice axes, crampons, etc go in the checked bags, as do cook gear. You can, with some effort purge stoves and fuel bottles of all trace of the fuel. Stoves that pass the "sniff test" have always gotten past the checked baggage folks. But if a "sniff" reveals even a hint of white gas, you lose the stove. Canisters are a definite no-no. BUT!!! most countries that you are likely to be backpacking or mountaineering have white gas and butane canisters available. Check the availability by doing a search of the web for the "international camp fuel availability" that is maintained by a group of Australians. Try http://fuel.papo-art.com/ as a starter. I have never had a problem finding appropriate fuel for my stoves, with one exception - We had a stove that would take a wide variety of fuel. At one location they only had kerosene, except that it was marine fuel that had been stored with diesel fuel - clogged everything up. We did get some alcohol a few days later, which helped clean out the stove.

When you put "sharpies" in your duffle, cover the pointy ends. I have never in a half-century had a problem with ice tools, hiking poles, climbing gear, and almost anything else in the checked bags. There was a period when a stove, any stove, even a brand new, never used stove was absolutely NOT allowed. The airport in Anchorage used to have a display case in the entry area full of every imaginable stove. They also would confiscate the "traditional Alaskan knife" (actually a regular kitchen tool, although it has a very sharp blade). 

I have had luggage get delayed when I had a change of planes. The scariest one was heading to Peru for the American Climber Science Program expedition a couple years ago. I was waiting in SFO to get on the flight which had a change at LAX. The scheduled layover was 2 hours. We got an announcement that our flight out was delayed an hour. An hour later, we were told the LAX to Peru segment was delayed an hour. A little later, our SFO departure was delayed another hour. Then there was another delay, and another. We finally got on the plane and got to LAX. The airline kindly had a bus at the plane and drove the 6 of us heading for Peru to the gate for our departure to Peru. 15 hours later, we arrived in Lima, only to discover that our baggage was delayed. I had a bus to catch and was told that my bags would get shipped up to Huaraz, our base of operations. The drive took 8 hours.  A day later I got the message that my bags were being held by Customs in Lima. 2 days later still, I was told I had to go back to Lima (another 8 hour ride) to claim the bags. When I got to Lima, the Customs guy helped move the bags to the X-Ray machine, then out to the bus. I never did ask why Customs had to hold the bags. However, I now always try very hard to make sure my airline bookings are always Non-Stop.

Just remember --- things go differently in other parts of the World.

1:58 p.m. on November 16, 2017 (EST)
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This summer I flew (or was supposed to fly) Trondheim - Oslo - Chicago - Tucson. The flight to Chicago was delayed a bit and the connection was too tight so I didn't make the flight to Tucson, had to stay the night in Chicago at airline expense. Even with some extra waiting time, one of my bags didn't show up so I could clear it through customs. I tried to see if they could maybe intercept it and get it to me at the hotel, but I was told I couldn't file a claim until I got to my destination (via Phoenix as it turns out), and despite all the sophisticated tracking systems they couldn't (or wouldn't) tell me where it was.

Needless to say it didn't catch up to me by the time I arrived in Tucson. After waiting until the belt was empty, I filed a claim and went to stay with a friend. When I called the luggage people in Tucson the next day, they still couldn't tell me where it was or when it would arrive. I decided to just move on to my ultimate destination, the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab in CO, a 1.5 day drive. Over the next few days I faithfully and repeatedly called the 800 numbers for both carriers and gave them various claim and baggage ticket numbers that I had picked up along the way, and they were completely useless, couldn't tell me where my bag was. Phyllis, the AA baggage rep in Tucson, was definitely on my side but couldn't get very far either.

Then a couple-three days in to all this my wife gets a call form a luggage office in Norway: "We have this bag with your phone number on it, what do want us to do with it?" It took a little back and forth for her to realize that the bag was in Tromsø, north of the arctic circle, not Trondheim, even though our address was clearly written in Sharpie on the outside of the bag, and it was tagged with one or more of those little airline ID tags as well. So, as far as I can tell, a luggage handler in Chicago intercepted it, saw that it was from Norway, and just decided on his own to send it back to somewhere, anywhere, in Norway (Trondheim, Tromsø, what's the difference?), without even scanning the tag so that it was properly tracked. It had supposedly been rush tagged for Tucson, but at this point it was completely outside the tracking system. If my wife hadn't received that call from Tromsø I might never have gotten it back.

It actually took a few more days of phone calls by both me and my wife to convince the people upstairs that it really was physically materialized in Norway, not Chicago where the system insisted it was. My wife made a snap judgement to have it sent to Trondheim, and she eventually drove to the airport (30 min + something like $20 in tolls each way) to personally negotiate for it to be shipped to the airport in Gunnison where I could pick it up. Just to get it over with I drove 1.5 hours to the Gunnison airport only to find that it hadn't arrived as planned, because the person who gave us its flight plan messed up the dates. It arrived the next day and I told them to deliver it to RMBL. I made a phone call to the delivery service just to be sure.

The whole thing took nine days. It was a 190cm ski bag --because I'm here for a year I wanted to have skis, mainly because I might need them for field work this winter. But also because we are for a year and SAS allows two 23 kg bags, it was packed with all kinds of other gear -- tent, crampons, ice axe, harness, running shoes, I have a list somewhere -- easily a couple thousand bucks worth. Fortunately most of my clothes were in my other bag, so my immediate needs weren't that great. They always say they'll only pay for "toothpaste and underwear", essentials to get you through a 24 h or so delay, not NINE DAYS! In the end I filed a grouchy but apparently convincing letter and claim for about $200, most of it a pair of running shoes because I explained that my running shoes were in the bag and I need to train the way other people need to wear underwear. But I also had to buy sheets and a blanket because RMBL doesn't supply bedding, and my hut sheet and sleeping bag were with the skis. I'd to have charged them mileage and tolls and hours spent on the phone and general stress on the part of both me and my wife, but I've tried that before...

All's wel that ends well? I guess so -- I got all my gear back, and a pair of running shoes paid for. But it goes show just how wrong these modern tracking and customer support systems can go. Kudos to Phyllis in Tucson, who I kept apprised of developments and did what she could.

2:53 p.m. on November 16, 2017 (EST)
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You guys are really making me consider spending the money and shipping it in advance!  I have a really tight window to start and end my trip...thanks for all the advice and scary stories!

10:19 a.m. on November 17, 2017 (EST)
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I used to travel to the field all the time, often by airplane. We had lots of scientific equipment, sample bottles, coolers, tools and other odd shaped stuff plus personal gear.  Just assume it is going to get knocked around. Valuable instruments like Price and pygmy meters used to go with me on the plane. It is a good idea to put luggage inside another bag to protect it.  Use a lot of fragile stickers and tags. We never lost much to breakage.  We often had weight limits for smalll planes and helicopters.

September 20, 2018
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