Over the years avalanche backpacks became an important and very frequent part of the avalanche safety equipment – almost as frequent as an avalanche tracker/beacon, avalanche shovel or avalanche probe. You pull on a small handle and in a blink of an eye your chance of surviving an avalanche accident rises. The avalanche backpack will help you to float on a mass of snow instead of being buried by it.
But often airlines consider this life-saving equipment as the exact the opposite – a tool which can be used to harm passengers. Such behavior from the airlines side happens for a good reason. The cartridge filled with a compressed gas accompanied by the trigger with a pyrotechnic mechanism is considered by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) as hazardous goods.
the iata manual – the bible for dangerous goods and air traffic
In the IATA Manual you can find all goods hazardous for the air traffic, which can’t be carried in hand luggage by any passenger or crew member. However this guideline has certain exceptions, which are listed in the Table 2.3.A. In this table you can find the previously mentioned backpacks beloved by many freeriders – what a luck!
But if you think that you can just pass with your airbag through all controls and gates all the way to the boarding area you might be fooled. It is not that easy! There are some essentials which you need to keep in mind before you choose to travel with a plane to you next freeride adventure:
“Avalanche rescue backpack, one (1) per person, containing a cartridge of compressed gas in Div. 2.2. May also be equipped with a pyrotechnic trigger mechanism containing no more than 200 mg net of Div. 1.4S. The backpack must be packed in such a manner that it cannot be accidentally activated. The airbags within the backpacks must be fitted with pressure relief valves.”
- The approval of the operator is required: YES
- Permitted in or as checked baggage: YES
- Permitted in or as carry-on baggage: YES
- The pilot-in-command must be informed of the location: NO
All in all you can say that IATA allows the transport of an avalanche backpack on the board of an aircraft, nevertheless you have to obtain a special permission from the airline you are flying with. Until now it was all pretty clear and smooth information – but the next steps get a little bit more complicated. Often you happen to be in a contact with multiple airline staff members, which might have a different information, different understanding or aren’t provided with enough information about the topic of flying with an avalanche airbag. So it’s often advised to take the part of the IATA Manual with you, so you can show it to the concerned employees working for the airlines.
how to let the ailines know about your AVALANCHE airbag properly
It is recommended to contact the airlines before you book your flight about their regulations, when it comes to avalanche backpacks. If your airbag is in question, it is helpful to send the IATA table as well as the fact sheet describing the complete content of the airbag, such as cartridge and trigger. If you have contacted the airlines per email you should print your email communication with confirmation and bring it with you to the airport
We have prepared the extract from the IATA Table for you in various languages, ready to download:
- IATA Passenger Provision in German
- IATA Passenger Provision in English
- IATA Passenger Provision in French
- IATA Passenger Provision in Russian
Over the years almost every manufacturer developed its own system for their avalanche backpacks. ORTOVOX or Scott have passed on the well known ABS cartridges, others, like Mammut, they came up with a whole new trigger system, so it’s working on a mechanical and not pyrotechnical basis anymore. Brands such as Pieps or Black Diamond gave up cartridges completely and their airbags are filled with en electronically manipulated ventilator. Below you can find a list of manufacturers and the facts sheets about the cartridge and trigger system, which you should always take with you:
Facts sheet for cartridge & trigger system
- Mammut/Jones Snowboards
- Pieps/Black Diamond (electric trigger!)
With the help of these documents, you can prove that your avalanche backpack is safe according to the IATA manual and is therefore safe for air transport. But because IATA offer only a guideline or manual it is up to each airline to ley down their own rules considering avalanche backpacks. So these documents won’t guarantee that you can take your airbag on board with you.
how to pack the avalanche backpack for the check-in
To make sure your avalanche airbag comes through the check-in smoothly, it is important that it’s prepared properly. It is of an extreme importance that you pack your avalanche backpack together with the cartridge and the trigger system, but don’t screw together the cartridge and the trigger system, just lay them loose into the backpack. It could be helpful to pack the IATA sheet with the bag. These can be download in needed languages in the paragraph above. Only if packed together right, the airline staff can recognize your avalanche backpack as a whole system. Because not everybody is such a passionate winter sports enthusiasts and automatically know what the hell these little ‘bombs’ are. We recommend adding the facts sheet about the filling of the cartridge as well, as the one describing the trigger mechanism with your backpack – the more information you offer, the less questions you will get afterwards.
IS THERE A rental for avalanche cartridges AND TRIGGER SYSTEMS ABROAD?
Yes there, is. If you want to play the safe card and avoid all possible confrontations at the airport, your can leave your cartridges and trigger system at home and rent these parts abroad.
ABS has built a worldwide network of rental stations, which can provide you with the activation unit. It is important to let the rental station know that you are coming to make sure that the cartridge and trigger system for your specific backpacks is available at the time of your travel.
checklist for travelling with your avalanche backpack (airplane)
- Call/email your airline ahead of booking to clarify that avalanche airbags are allowed on board
- Print the IATA table and put it with your avalanche backpack
- Put the cartridges as well as the trigger system loose in the backpack, don’t screw them together into the backpack
- Print the fact sheet of your cartridges and trigger units and pack them with your avalanche backpack
- If necessary contact the rental station ahead of your trip to make sure all needed parts are available
- Register your avalanche backpack at the check-in with all the needed documents (IATA guideline, fact sheet or cartridges and trigger system)
- Have a relaxed travel