IN-FLIGHT BAGGAGE
Divernet
Taking your dive gear on an aeroplane is a bit of a lottery and unexpected charges for overweight baggage have marred many a holiday. The veteran of a thousand flights, John Bantin can help you avoid those unwelcome surprises

Here are the rules regarding baggage carried in flight, as agreed by the members of the International Air Traffic Association (IATA). Economy passengers are allowed 20kg of checked baggage, plus 6kg of carry-on baggage in the form of one item. A ladys purse, an umbrella and a small camera are also allowed.
     If you are travelling in and out of the USA, the two-piece system applies. You can check in two pieces of not more than 32kg each. Thats a total of 64kg in two pieces only. These, then, are the rules.
     Rules, of course, are made to be broken. The companies chartering some aircraft that specifically carry divers as passengers have negotiated a special privilege for them.
     This usually amounts to 10kg extra, but it is a privilege. The staff at the check-in desk or the aircraft-dispatcher can waive the rules but, more importantly, can also waive the privilege.
     A friend of mine is the marketing director of our national airline. Can I get any favours when I check in my baggage No. Evidently, its more than his jobs worth to do any favours. He suggests instead that I make a friend of one of his check-in staff!
     Excess baggage charges are swingeing. I recently checked in 35kg (15kg over) with Singapore Airlines to Singapore. For that I paid £650. I checked in the same baggage with Royal Brunei to Brunei. That airline charged a lot less, but the check-in staff insisted on weighing my carry-on bag and charged for the amount over 6kg it weighed. I paid £375.
     Those charges were one way. I was not asked to pay anything on the return leg with either airline.
     On a trip to Bonaire with KLM, I expected to have to pay excess-baggage charges to Amsterdam, but the check-in staff and dispatcher at Heathrow insisted that I paid all the way to Bonaire. This was despite information to hand that the charge for diving equipment was waived from Amsterdam to that strictly diving destination.
     Despite an animated discussion, I had to pay up, but later an airline official approached me in the departure lounge, said thered been a misunderstanding and refunded all my money.
     KLM recently decided to simplify its charges for diving equipment. Its new scheme replaces the rules set by IATA, and now passengers pay a fixed charge for up to 15kg of extra sports equipment. On flights within Europe and to Aruba, Bonaire and Curaao, for example, that charge will be 40 Euros each way. Thats a saving of more than £313 on 15kg of excess weight!
     Whether this concession remains in place now that KLM has been taken over by Air France remains to be seen.
     Every time I approach a check-in desk, I am aware that my baggage is overweight, but I can never anticipate how lucky or unlucky I will be. Many divers ring the airline to stake their claim in advance, but a sympathetic voice on the end of the line wont necessarily translate to mercy from the person on the check-in desk on the day.
     If there is any tendency, it is that staff at European airports are more likely to enforce the rules strictly than staff at distant airports in developing countries.
     It reminds me of the classic Tommy Cooper sketch in which he checks in overweight and then proceeds to unpack his bag and wear all the clothes instead. And there does seem to be some merit in wearing a coat with capacious pockets, even if you dont go as far as wearing your diving suit and BC! There are no rules regarding the weight of your clothes, or indeed of your body.
     That is, apart from on those tiny aircraft that fly between equally tiny islands, where the pilot climbs out with a set of bathroom scales to weigh not only the luggage but the
     passengers, too!
     So my rule is to plan for the worst, hope for the best, and maintain the charm offensive whatever happens. Get a check-in persons back up, and you will soon be back to the 20kg and 6kg rule. I keep my credit card handy.
     What else should you bear in mind in order to minimise baggage hassles And what sort of divebag and equipment should you use to make the most of your allowances and reduce potential problems

Handling security
Newly trained airport-security staff in the USA have been taught to resist being won over by charming passengers. You might be Osama Bin Ladens brother, even if your name is Eric Svensson and you hail from Scandinavia. Just let the procedure roll over you and make sure that you have left enough time between planes to do so.
     Homeland security staff will take your bags away and search them without you being present. Do not protest that this gives them the opportunity to secrete any forbidden item into your bag without your knowledge. They havent thought of that.
     Do not lock your bag. They will simply cut the locks off. You may give the padlocks to a member of their personnel afterwards but do not attempt to place them on your bag yourself. You will be straight back to the end of the line to begin the procedure all over again.
     As they will be repacking your bag for you, dont try to be too clever by fitting too much stuff in. They dont have time to be clever.
     It all seems a good reason to avoid transiting through the USA but then, you do qualify for the two-piece system (total 64kg free) when it comes to excess-baggage charges, and that can save a lot of cash.
     It used to be said that you had to put all your electronic items in your checked-in baggage, but some airlines now insist that you carry it with you. Its tough if you change aircraft and change airline philosophies mid-journey. I simply spread all the electronics about and answer any question truthfully.
     Carry-on baggage gets X-rayed while you watch, but I am reliably informed that the X-rays used on checked-in baggage are much stronger. I put my film, exposed and unexposed, in my hand luggage. I recently took an extended journey to Palau and my film (100ASA) passed through no fewer than a dozen X-ray machines in this way without any visible ill-effects.
     I have twice travelled back across the world using a variety of airlines, only to find that it is the final leg from Zurich or Paris to London that presents a problem.
     Twice I have been told at this point in my journey that no airline will accept electronic items if the batteries cannot be physically removed and separated from them.
     This can be a problem if the batteries are factory-fitted. A letter from the manufacturer in both French and German (English will not suffice in Europe - youll only get their backs up!) stating that the items in question do not constitute a hazard according to Books 2 DGR 2.3 Dangerous Goods Carried By Passengers or Crew helps. I carry these letters with me and they usually work once it has been realised that the impasse is going to mean finding, identifying and off-loading my baggage and delaying the flight. But not at first.
     Stay calm. Stay patient. Third world bureaucracy has come to the first world. As Confucius said, when something is inevitable, just try to enjoy it. The alternative is to go by boat!

Packing with forethought
If youre travelling, pack your bag so that the fragile items are wrapped up by items such as your clothes, your towel or your wetsuit. Be aware that bags are stacked one on top of the other in an aircrafts hold, so the contents of yours will probably be at the bottom.
     Your bag should be able to withstand the weight of other bags pressing down from above. Also be aware that your bag and its contents should be able to withstand a 10ft drop onto a hard surface, because thats whats likely to happen.
     On the other hand, the bag you pack for a days diving should have the items placed in it in reverse order to that by which you will want to pull them out. So your fins should go in first so that they come out last and so on.
     Packing a bag for a trip can be either scientific or haphazard but theres no point in putting certain items in your carry-on baggage to avoid pressure changes. The hold of the aircraft will be at exactly the same pressure as the cabin, and with airliners that equates to around 3000m of altitude. Unpressurised aircraft stay below 3000m or the pilot may be in danger of passing out - unless he has an independent oxygen supply.

Choosing the right bag
What sort of bag is best I remember buying my first set of diving kit. The last thing I thought of was the bag.
     I must have spent all of 10 seconds making that particular decision and the bag I chose was really only good for getting my precious new purchases safely home. It lasted for only the one dive trip.
     Is it best to use several small bags or one big one Diving kit tends to be heavy. If you are travelling under your own steam to a dive site in the same country, a large bag that takes everything, with an extending handle and a set of wheels so that you can move it, is probably the answer.
     Bear in mind that professional baggage-handlers will not lift anything that weighs more than 32kg for reasons of physical injury insurance, so if youre going by plane, two smaller bags are often better than one very big one.
     Nearly all the manufacturers offer good-value bags in this smaller category, including Beaver and Denny Diving. The Swedish company Poseidon can be singled out for making extremely strong bags of this sort.
     Size apart, bags come in three basic types - soft, semi-rigid and rigid. A soft bag will allow you most flexibility and takes up little room when youre at your destination and no longer need it. They can come in the form of a holdall, a rucksack, or a wheeled trolley-bag, with or without extending handle.
     Some give the owner all these options. Specialist US bag-maker Stahlsac does a good, strong range of purpose-designed trolley-style bags, but being of top-quality construction they tend to be dear. Bags made in the Far East but bearing well-known scuba brands can appear to offer better value.
     Be aware that trolley-bags usually have a chassis, so they do not fold up and pack away so easily. This can matter when spending time on a boat.
     Most diving manufacturers supply a wide range of these types of bags, heavily branded, and in a bewildering range of complexity. They often have all manner of novel ideas but this usually boils down to more pockets. More pockets can mean more zips and more zips can mean more locks, which in turn means more sweaty moments at airport security-checks.
     Some of the cleverer manufacturers are now putting separate compartments on the inside so that there is only one outer zip to lock. The Mares Technomad 140 is a typical example (see Diver Tests).
     Of course, you can always buy a steel security net such as the Pacsafe from Markat. It will enclose the whole bag and allows only the most nimble fingers to extract small items.
     Rigid bags such as those from Pelican and Explorer give maximum protection to their well-packed contents, especially if you use the optional foam lining, but they have a considerable weight of their own before you start. The penalty you pay for using this type of bag is in possible excess-baggage fees, and the fact that when the bag is empty it takes up the same amount of space.
     A cheap plastic crate can do a similar job, but dont expect it to survive the excesses of baggage-handlers in the same way. Nor is it likely to have wheels strong enough to do more than allow it to be wheeled out of the DIY store where you bought it.
     Some manufacturers have come up with a hybrid, a crate with a soft bag-style top. These usually have wheels and extending handles like any trolley bag. The Scubapro Nimbus is a good example.
     The Stahlsac Transporter system combines three bags. These provide a soft holdall/rucksack with a wheeled semi-rigid case with trolley wheels and an extending handle, and a soft yet capacious carry-on bag. All three clip together to make time between flights more bearable.
     Dont be tempted to check them in at an airport as one item, however. Its quite likely that one item will arrive at the other end, but it may no longer be the combination of three units you last saw. Try explaining that to the airline!
     However, on arrival, the combination can be wheeled together as one unit once youve reclaimed it from the baggage-belt, so it does do away with the need to hunt for suitable foreign coins to free up a baggage trolley when youve just arrived in a strange country.
     Of course, you dont need to use a bag that has a proprietary diving brand name on the side. Many bags are suitable. For example, Decathlon sells a wide range of sports bags that will do the job, including the Tribord DBG145, which has a suitable carry-on bag that zips securely to it for easy handling when you want it to.
     When choosing a bag, look at the weight of the material used, the way the handles are reinforced where they are attached, the type of zip and the way the zip is fitted. If the zip is stitched in such a manner that it takes a lot of stress, it will probably burst or rip out from the surrounding material eventually.
     Thankfully, zips that rust and jam are not as common as they were. If you choose a trolley-style bag, check that the wheels are big enough, so that no part of the bag drags on the ground when you wheel it fully loaded.

Lightweight gear
Dive gear weighs a lot. You are never more aware of that than when attempting to pack a bag within the limits of a set baggage allowance. What can you do to mitigate the problem and still arrive at your diving destination fit to dive
     Wear as much as you can. Few airlines weigh the passengers unless the plane is very small indeed. And while its obvious, think ahead and pack only the things you really need.
     If youre going somewhere tropical, a 3mm suit or shortie wont weigh too much, but if youre heading somewhere cooler, the heaviest part of the problem may well be your suit. Being cold is no fun, so pack the right suit and be damned, but remember that your head is the area of greatest heat loss. So pack a hood and you may get away with a lighter-weight suit.
     Modern technopolymer fins weigh a lot less than old-fashioned rubber ones, so the money you have saved in avoiding the expense of updating may well be lost at the check-in counter.
     Common chromed-brass regulators can be very dense, especially some expensive diaphragm-type designs. Titanium, such as was used with the Mares Ti Planet, was a very popular choice for the better-heeled traveller but the increasing popularity of nitrox is putting an end to that, as titanium and higher levels of oxygen do not make happy bedfellows.
     Nowadays titanium is more often being reserved for second stages, such as in the Atomic B2, where gas flows are less, and some manufacturers offer regulators crafted in aluminium or aluminium/stainless steel mixes.
     If you want the lightest regulator of all, choose a piston-type design in all-aluminium, such as the Scubapro MK25 AFSA S600.
     Items such as modern hi-tech lamps can cost a fortune to buy but you havent begun to count the real cost until you work out what you pay to travel with them.
     Airlines charge a percentage of the first-class fare per kilo of any overweight items and the cost of travelling with a 3kg lamp can soon mount up. Its mainly the weight of the battery pack.
     Perhaps you would be better off taking a lamp that uses battery cells that you can buy in duty-free, after passing through airport formalities.
     And if youre a serious underwater photographer - well, you already know what an expensive hobby that is, and baggage charges are just part of that!
     Modern BCs can weigh a ton, thanks to the modern tendency for manufacturers to use heavyweight material, and to fit masses of extra features and tons of stainless-steel D-rings. Theyre a far cry from the original idea of an ABLJ, or adjustable-buoyancy life-jacket.
     But do you really need all that I was once taken by a little wing-style BC that was very minimalist. It was the SeaQuest 3D, which consisted of a small but effectively positioned buoyancy-bag and a continuous one-piece harness. There were no pockets, but what more did I need
     I was so impressed with it that I bought myself one. Alas, you the diving public were less keen and it was discontinued shortly after my glowing review in these pages. However, I still have mine and it solves a lot of packing problems!
     The nearest modern equivalent, though it has more extras, is probably the SeaQuest Balance.
     Then there are all those gadgets that you dangle from your kit while diving. Do you really need them where youre going
     That heavy-duty stainless-steel reel, for instance. If youre leisure diving, wouldnt 6 metres of 2cm webbing be sufficient, attached to your delayed surface-marker buoy Or take a lightweight surface marker-flag.
     That humungous knife - ask yourself whether you are really likely to need it And thank goodness the advance of wrist computers has seen the end of those great big, heavy instrument consoles.
     As for clothes, if youre going to a warm country, and especially if youll be on a liveaboard you wont need much. Travel in all the warm clothes you might need and pack only a few T-shirts and a couple of pairs of shorts.
     You may well want to buy some souvenir divewear while youre away, anyway.
     You wont need a second pair of shoes, or possibly a towel either. Dont forget your toothbrush and swimming costume, of course - they dont weigh much.
     Finally, make sure that you get all your gear and clothing as dry as possible before your return flight. Its possible to ship quite a surprising amount of water if you dont, so you could be packing considerably more weight on the return leg!


Stahlsacs
Stahlsacs are known for strength - this is the 208 Pacific
the
the Scubapro Nimbus Dive n Roll Modular, a good example of a trolley bag
the
the Stahlsac Transporter System combines three bags in one
the
the Decathlon Tribord DBG145, a sports bag that doesnt advertise that it contains dive gear
fins
fins such as these TUSA X-pert SF-8 fins can save on weight, too
the
the Scubapro MK25 AFSA S600 is made using aluminium, so its the lightest reg you can get
the
the Kowalski Xenon, a relatively lightweight yet high-quality lamp
The
The Atomic B2 is a regulator with a lightweight titanium second stage
The
The Bowstone divers flag - safety aids dont come much lighter, or more efficient



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