How to bring your avalanche backpack on an airplane?

If you want to bring your avalanche backpack on an airplane there are a few things to consider beforehand. (Note: taking a complete avalanche airbag system that uses a pressurized gas canister to the United States is generally forbidden – call your airline for help)

    • Make sure you have more than 48hrs until departure.
    • Figure out exactly what kind of airbag system you have.
    • Does it contain any pyrotechniques? If yes, how much?
    • Does your system have a pressure relieve valve?
    • Check the airlines regulations for special baggage
    • Give your airline a call and tell them you want to bring your airbag system. (Unless you can register your system online on the airlines website.)
    •  consider the following questions:
        • Do i have to check my system or can i bring it as a carry on?
        • Do i need any further documentation on my system?
      • Can i get a written confirmation that i registered my system for my ticket?
    • Always pack your airbag system together with the pressurized gas canister
    • gas canisters often have a cap to screw on the top to prevent them from becoming mini rockets in case of a leakage – make sure you keep that cap and screw it on before flying.
    • add the IATA documentation about dangerous goods to your system (if they should open your luggage they will have somthing to read)
    • bring extra copies of these documents for when you check in so you can show them to the check in agent.
    • consider putting a note with your system “this is an avalanche airbag system. This system is secured and it complies with the IATA rules of dangerous goods”
    • consider creating this note in whichever language you expect to be spoken by the person checking your luggage
  • cross your fingers and hope that you will retrieve your system complete upon arrival

Now for some background information:

As pressurized gas canisters and explosives are considered as dangerous goods for air travel they are regulated in a strict manner. Generally it is forbidden to bring along any of those goods onto your flight – there are exceptions though, also for avalanche backpacks.

Many airlines have specific rules for bringing along dangerous goods. With most airlines you have to give the airlines a call before your flight and tell them you will be bringing along an avalanche backpack so they can add a note to your ticket. This will often be free of charge. (There have been reports from people that have been charged extra though.)

There are multiple different types of airbag systems with different types of activation systems.

Any system that involves a pressurised gas canister and/or pyrotechniques requires special attention when bringing them along onto your flight.

  • There are some systems that involve electric motors and batteries which then can be taken along just like your laptop without further hassle. (make sure the battery size is allowed on your flight and bring it in your carry on luggage – big batteries are generally forbidden in checked in luggage!)
  • ABS systems involve a gas canister and a small explosive charge in the release handle of the system. 
  • The Avabag or the Mammut airbag system carry a pressurized gas canister only. (The handle forces a pin into the pressurized canister to release the gas) 
  • Jetforce uses an electric fan coupled with a batterie to inflate the airbag

Make sure to always check the website or manual of your specific system to get detailed information on what system your backpack uses. Websites typically have a dedicated airtravel information page with the required paperwork and legal information. 

In most cases you can bring your airbag system onto the flight if the pressurized gas canister is packed along with your airbag system in a manner which prevents the system from being activated accidentally. Your canister should come with a pressure cap that releases the gas in a controlled manner in case of a leakage to prevent the canister from becomimg a rocket. Make sure to keep that cap on the canister whenever you travel with it. (You might also want to keep that cap on the canister whenever you store it between your trips)

If you have specific experiences with certain airlines let me know and ill add them to the article.

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