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Unexpected Item in the Bagging Area - Flying with Ski Gear

Two incidents of late have me thinking about baggage allowances and regulations surrounding taking ski kit on airlines. Firstly, I got pinged by a low-cost airline for bringing a bag too big for their carry on allowances (entirely my own fault but still the final straw in resolving never to fly with that airline again).


Secondly, I collected my ski bag in La Clusaz and flew home with it a week or so ago, coming face-to-face with the complete rigmarole of weight limits when checking bags, and also what happens when an airline loses your bag!


So, what can you bring on planes, what can't you bring on planes, and are their any nuances to airline rules and regulations?


 
Low Cost vs. Established Carriers

There are a couple of hard and fast differences between established airlines, such as British Airways, and low-cost carriers like Ryanair. However, a lot of it is nuanced, especially as many airlines sit in between these two models and generally it's a difference between their more general bag restrictions rather than ski kit specifically.


True low-cost carriers won't allow you to bring ski boots on board, instead asking you to check them in at whatever the cost may be or adding them as part of your ski bag or other checked luggage. At the opposite end of the spectrum, established carriers will often allow you to check in your skis as part of your normal baggage allowance - rather than paying for "sports equipment" separately. Furthermore, they tend to allow your bag weight to be totalled cumulatively, rather than a maximum of 20 or 23kg per item.


As you can see, there are aren't many clearly defined rules in play that apply across the industry. It pays to check carefully with whoever you are flying with, or consulting more general guidance such as the Ski Club of Great Britain's handy chart on airline baggage restrictions.



 

Photo Credit: Nick Fewing/Unsplash

 
Ski Boots

If anything, many of you will be travelling with ski boots this winter. They are the single most popular piece of ski hardware to own, outpacing ski sales in the UK almost four-to-one according to a recent survey from Ski Industries of Great Britain (SIGB). You don't need to be reading sales reports to see this either; my recent trip back from the Alps saw a good six-to-one ratio of ski boot owners vs. ski owners in the queue for check-in, by my (admittedly very rough) estimate.


Travelling with ski boots is also some of the simplest to get your head around. Boots can be taken on board as part of your carry-on allowance without any special checking or instructions. They can be loose or in a specific bag, too. There are a couple of exceptions to this, particularly with low cost carriers - Ryanair will have you check your boots in and pay all appropriate fees for the pleasure of doing so.


The "part of your carry-on allowance" is key too. Remember not to get caught out where you have to pay a little bit extra to take more than the small personal item onboard with you, as ski boots will never fit into this category. This is most common with airlines that blur the lines between established and low-cost, such as Aer Lingus and EasyJet, who will have you pay around a tenner to board the plane first, pick your seats, and bring a bag on board; you will need to do this to bring boots on. Often they will let you check in your boot bag for free instead, though, which is handy.


 

Photo Credit: Claudio Schwarz/Unsplash
 
Skis and Poles

This is another one where there are hard and fast rules at each end of the spectrum, but a lot of blurred lines in the middle.


Established airlines tend to allow you to check in skis as part of your check luggage allowance. This is true of BA, Air France, Lufthansa and Swiss, amongst others. Swiss goes one step further, and allows you to take a ski bag for free alongside any checked bag. Note that with all airlines, this only applies when you have purchased a ticket that gives you a checked bag for free; if you want to add sports equipment either as a second bag or on a ticket that doesn't have any checked bags, the price of this can be quite punchy.


In many ways, therefore, the model of low-cost carriers is simpler and easier. As with buying extra legroom or extra checked bags, you just need to add a piece of sports equipment as you go. The prices tended to be slightly cheaper than paying for extra bags with established airlines, but there is one hitch with this - weight allowances tend to be lower. EasyJet and Ryanair, for example, will only give you 20kg for your skis; This tends to be bang on the money for my ski bag when filled with skis, boots, poles, avi gear, goggles, helmet and a couple of other bits and bobs, meaning I may need to back smart on occasion to make sure I'm under this weight.


I hit 25kg the other day at Geneva Airport coming back from La Clusaz - luckily my other piece of checked luggage was well under its own 23kg limit, so I could combine the weight of the two and be under Aer Lingus' cumulative limit.


Trans-Atlantic flights tend to be even simpler still; you can take ski bags as a piece of checked luggage, and they have very simple rules for extra bags, often coming in at a pretty decent flat rate depending on origin, destination and ticket - I paid CA$35 per bag for two bags to fly to Vancouver with WestJet some years ago, providing super value.


And if you're travelling to the Far East, you're in luck - all flights to Japan allow for two pieces of checked luggage as standard in any class, giving you the chance to take your ski bag and your normal checked bag without any extra cost!


Poles are a weird one. They can't be taken on as carry-on, as like avi gear (see below) they are too weapon-like to be considered safe. Normally, per airline regulations, they need to be packed up in an appropriate bag when checking them in, and as such I've had to leave poles at home on some occasions and beg, borrow, and steal when out on the hill because I wasn't taking a ski bag and they're too long to fit in a normal bag.


However, a colleague of mine routinely travels with his poles separately, and simply thrusts them at check-in staff - to which they almost always respond by checking the poles in by themselves! It's not something I've ever tried and am not in the mood to try anytime soon, either!


 
Avi Gear

I won't spend too much time discussing avi gear, as it is quite simple here. The exception is avalanche airbags, on which I can right small novella detailing the rules and regulations on these, as well as the airline industry's complete failure to understand them, but that is for another day.


Travelling with avi gear - transceiver, shovel and probe - is quite simple. Transceiver can be carried anywhere, as long as you are not travelling with lithium batteries (because why would you?).


Shovel handles, shovel heads and probes must be carried in checked baggage. They are blunt, weighted objects that can all too easily be used as weapons, and as such the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) stipulates they must be carried in checked bags.

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