|HOW TO CARRY MODEL EQUIPMENT ON AIRLINERS|
Updated 6 June: Contribution from Duncan Bainbridge, by Martin Dilly
I know of two instances where modelers were prevented from checking their luggage containing models. Both instances were on Southwest Airlines, and both instances were in Phoenix on a return flight, after having flown successfully TO Phoenix on Southwest!
Another instance that I have heard of was a modeler who packed all of his smelly clothes in a suitcase (after a long weekend of being a TR mechanic - you KNOW how bad THAT can be!). Rather than carry his engines, he also put them in among his clothes. For whatever reason, his bag was confiscated and he had a LOT of hassle getting his belongings. Now...this is all third-hand to me, and the details may not be correct.
I have heard that a fuel tank can be flushed with several compounds to render them safe, one being castor oil! But, I cannot substantiate this. I have tried to find some sort of FAR covering this and have had NO luck whatsoever. I have asked the competition department at AMA to also investigate this, also with no response. But without an official document citing a FAR that an airline's baggage agent will believe, it won't do much good to "think we know".
A suggestion that was made recently was to get the vacuum bag machines that are used to vacuum seal food (available for home use), and put anything smelly or suspicious in it and suck a vacuum on it. Perhaps this would be a good idea for packing things in carry-on (which is where I always have my engines). But then, what do you do on the return trip home?
My suggestion to anyone wanting to check a model as baggage would be to NOT have a fuel tank in them. Tough to do. And this is one of those places where I would not offer any information without it being asked. Sure, answer truthfully, but only to a direct question. And I would NOT put ANYTHING on the outside of the box that SHOUTED "Model Airplanes" or even "Fragile" (since it does no good anyhow!).
Dennis Prior of Australia once related to me that he almost missed his flight to one of the world championships, because the airline representative claims that they can smell the fuel residue in the engines which he has in his hand carry bag, which implies that there are vapor present and may pose a fire hazard!!!! If they are really worried about flammable vapor, they should think about the 50 ml bottles of hard liquer that they serve on board the aircraft. They are definitely flammable.
In our trip to Moscow last May, the airline rep checked our model box and precisely did the same and pointed out that there is residue odor in the refuelling cannister (try to get that diesel cannister 100% odor free!). Managed to convince them that whilst there is an odor, it is harmless as the smell is from the oil and oil is not flammable. Cited perfume as an example, just that our stuff is bad smelling perfume!
Ok guys, vacuum bags dont work, as the smell permeates the bag, and even just putting the clothes rags whatever in the bags is enough to contaminate them. The dogs can pick up 1 part in 300 millon I think, especially the beagles that Australia uses.
One of the reason I went to the Tucson contest in March was to see what I could get away with on my carryon and check in baggage. I had heard several stories but I wanted to find out for myself.
First of all use a lot of common sense, don't take any liquids you can't drink or splash on your face. Second purge all your engines and tanks with a non-chlorinated brake cleaner.( I use Valvoline Synpower because it has a smell that covers up the ether.) I put each engine in a zip lock bag and put them in my carryon, I also put some diversions such as camera, air density gauge, etc.
Third clean your model box and models so there is no ether smell, pack them in your box an spray a underarm deodorant in the box. Put tanks and props in your model box, I also sprayed deodorant around the tanks. On the outside of my model box I have fragile and up on the outside. When I checked in the box they did not ask me what was in the box or questioned me about the box, the box made it to Tucson and back without being opened at all, no problem.
Security at the gate check in was more interested in the air density gauge then anything else in my carryon, they did ask me what the engines were and I told them, no problem.
Again use common sense and I don't think you will have any problems. See you in Sebnitz.....
Re travel by air, having just come back from Bitterfeld I've now had a chance to see the correspondence on this subject. As an "airline" employee and someone with some experience of international air travel, I'll add my pennyworth:
Most of the correspondents have hit on the real answer already - in terms of having a hard and fast written rule on what you can and can't take with you (either as "checked baggage" - i.e. in the a/c hold; or as "carry-on" - i.e. in the cabin), there is very little hard information and few published rules and regs to go on. In principle, it comes down to the fact that no one is allowed to send, or to carry with them, "dangerous goods" - and as some have in effect already pointed out, of course one person's idea of "dangerous goods" is not necessarily the same as someone else's - not even if both persons work for the same airline!
If you want a classic example, it happened to my wife just yesterday, coming back from the Bitterfeld comp. Sylvia's Swiss Army penknife (the ladies handbag version, with one blade of about 1 inch - 25mm - long, max) was confiscated during the security checks on the Leipzig/Zurich trip - and that was despite the fact that she had NO problems with it on the previous Zurich/Leipzig trip (same airline carrying us in both directions) - and despite the fact that the airline concerned uses in-flight cutlery which includes an all metal knife for each pax which most definitely has a blade much longer than Sylvia's little "decorative" penknife!
You may be suprised to learn that there is actually NO internationally-accepted standard rule about how long such a knife blade may be before it is considered "safe" to carry, and you may also be suprised to learn that individual airlines, individual airports, and individual security checking "companies" can (and do) set and apply their own, often quite arbitary limits on such things.
What will probably not suprise anyone (should not suprise you anyway) is that since 11th September 2001, NO ONE is going to chastise or in any way over-rule any security checker who finds something in your baggage that he does not like the look/sound/smell/feel (or whatever else) of. And what should also certainly not suprise anyone after Sept 11th is that ANYONE trying to argue their way out of such a situation is 99.99999% sure of loosing that argument.
What was said by others about not volunteering too much info, and about labelling is also quite correct in my view - IF we are talking about trying to travel now, today, together with what some security checker thinks of as "a suspicious bag".
So what's the answer then?
Well first of all, I'll say don't take models by air unless you really REALLY have to, simply because whatever "secret tricks" you try, they may or may not work - BUT, unfortuantely, you won't know if they work or not until you try (and even if all is OK on the way out it may not be OK on the way home, or vice versa)! What is implicit in the above is that you, the passenger, are most certainly not in the best mental condition to have "discussions" with a security checker about what is or is not dangerous on the day you want to travel - and even if you can stay calm and patient enough to put forward calm and reasoned arguments, the security checker is anyway NOT the right person to be hearing your arguments - in 99% of cases he/she is neither trained nor even empowered to make any sort of decision. (That's why at the 1st sign of "trouble" from a passenger you'll hear them calling for their supervisor - usually also not trained and empowered by the way!).
So what's an Australian (for example) going to do to bring his models and gear to Sebnitz in July?
My 1st suggestion is to pack EVERYTHING securely into your check-in (NOT carry-on) baggage - I really cannot see any merit whatever (or reason) for carrying a TR engine (for example) on board into the cabin with you (see below). My next suggestion is that the whole team travels on the same airline, and that DAYS, if not WEEKS before actual check in, one person representing all of you (the Team Manager?) makes contact with the Customer Service people of the airline concerned. Basically, this is a "bulls--t baffles brains" exercise, and what we want is for the TM to cozy up to a real specific Cust Service rep (a person not a department), because we're trying to convince the Cust Service rep that aa) you're all a bunch of fine upstanding individuals who wouldn't dream of doing anything even slightly illegal, let alone becoming a suicide Terrorist, that bb) you're all technically competent people who've got enough technical understanding not to potentially damage either the safety or the structure of the a/c by packing something that could leak/explode/etc with disastrous consequences, that cc) this is all for the glory of the country so as "national flag carrier" they should support their national team (this last if appropriate of course). As above, all this is done well before travel day, with the goal being that said Cust Serv rep will himself be waiting at the airport on travel day (or it may even be the day before travel) to personally supervise the check in of all your group's bags/model boxes. (And BTW, the TM or whoever it is doing all this cozying up also makes sure that the now tame Cust Serv rep at the departure end also gives a good name/E-mail/telephone contact for his Cust Serv rep buddy at the other end - we need his buddy at the other end, aa) to be sure of getting the stuff out of the airline at the arrival end - especially if, by bad luck it got sent somewhere else), and bb) because we're going to need this guy again to do exactly the same as the above when the time comes to prepare for the flight back home).
And a couple of other points too - someone has mentioned it already, but wherever possible, try to fly just "Departure/Destination" with no intermediate stops (in the case of Sebnitz if that means flying to Frankfurt then travelling the remainder by hire car or train, it's worth it, because intermediate stops only increase the possibility of an airline refusing to carry your/your bags) - and whatever else you do, do declare the true value of the goods in those model boxes, and make sure that the airline understands the true values, especially the motors of course.
My other suggestion (if you can't get all that above to work, or the airline people won't play ball), is to consider shipping all your stuff by air freight. It's not the major exercise you might imagine. First you need to contact either a freight forwarder or the cargo department of your chosen airline - whichever it is, you need to explain exactly what it is you want to ship. Again I've done this, and just like the above, it really does depend on you developing a good personal relationship with a person - not just a voice on the phone (who will anyway be someone else the next time you call). Get the forwarder/airline to fix a definite flight number for the outbound shipment (and again get the name and contact details of the corresponding guy at the other end - for the same 2 reasons as above); and get the forwarder to arrange to have his rep meet you and assist you with clearing Customs when you arrive at the other end (apart from anything else, cargo is normally handled from a different building to pax at most airports). Note that within reason, your freight consignment does not have to arrive at your destination on the same day that you do, and note also that when despatching your shipment you will get an all-important document called an Air Way Bill (AWB for short). This has a unique number and provided that you have given the forwarder/the airlne the true value of the goods your're shipping (those valuable motors again), amongst all the other advantages (such as traceability if your box does get lost) you will at least get your money back in the unlikely event that your stuff goes completely missing (but only if you have declared the true value - right Bill?).
And there's one other advantage to air freight too - unless you are going to be shipping fuel and/or fuel ingredients, it's much cheaper than excess baggage too (typically EB costs 1% of 1st Class fare - and a lot of airlines are going back to charging that, now that revenues are down, especially on "Y" class pax with a 20 Kg baggage allowance).
For those coming from countries with strange trading relationships with the rest of the world, or for those thinking about the forthcoming Sebnitz World Champs (where, sorry to say it, but due to their previous political background, there most probably will be some difficulties with Customs clearances), you may be concerned about Customs Duties when importing and exporting your models by airfreight as above. Ask the advice of the forwarder/airline concerned for the specifics, but as a general rule, using the freight method I described above you would only be temporarily importing the models into the country concerned (with the definite intention to export them all again on a pre-defined date), so to do that you should normally only need a form called a Carnet. These are normally very cheap and easy to arrange, and in the case of both Switzerland and the UK (where I have done such things several times), a Carnet costs about 20 Swiss Francs from the local Chamber of Commerce.
That's about all I can think of off hand - if your reaction to reading all the above is "phew, that's a lot of pre-planning and work", then I would agree, it is - in fact, if you're thinking about Sebnitz, it's not too late to be starting now!
Against all that preparation work you have the "I'll take a chance" approach of just turning up on the day, hoping that you will get away with it. As was already clear from the answers from others on this group, the answer to that is "you may get away with it, you might not" - but exactly as in the case of Sylvia's pen knife, please do understand that there is NO chance of winning such a confrontation in the post Sept 11th environment if you do get "caught out" by an alert security checker or an overly sensitive machine - the choices are only aa) give the pen knife away, bb) check it into your checked bags (in this particular example), or cc) don't travel. For a penknife it's not a problem to make that decision if you have to, but for a box of models and the chance to represent my country at a World Champs I know that I would not want to put myself into the position of having to make a choice like that.
8) Having used BA for the past two years and being satisfied with their box handling and group arrangements, and after checking other fares I decided to use their direct flight to Los Angeles for the team and supporters; some people opted to return at different times and one or two went out apart from the main group, but I obtained the same group fare for all of them.
9) I went to considerable lengths to ensure that safe box handling was pre-arranged. I confirmed with BA that the boxes could not use the normal baggage belts and would be hand-carried, and advised those taking boxes (which with the people flying in the World Cup events totalled around 26) to wrap them in a way that emphasised their delicacy and supplied suitable labels regarding handling. I made sure that no extra charge would be made for the boxes (the weight was unlikely to be a problem, as 2 x 32kg is permitted on long haul), as there was a possibility that there might be a charge for more than two hold items per person. I obtained BA contact names for both ends of the flight and also for those returning from San Francisco, and a dedicated check-in desk was arranged for us at LHR and SFO to speed the departure process. I ensured that I had a note of the bin number and cargo hold in which the boxes would travel, and made sure that the ramp supervisor on arrival knew of the need for hand carrying. I also arranged to go forward shortly before landing to make sure I got off the aircraft first to be in the baggage hall in time to supervise the boxes' arrival there. From past experience very careful advance planning is vital to ensure the travel arrangements and box handling go as smoothly as possible, and on the outward journey this went well.
10) The team and supporters travelled home in two main groups, with one or two individuals flying back on their own at different dates. I asked John Cuthbert to take charge of the check-in for the one I would not be with, and passed the BA contact details to him to ensure safe box handling. It was unfortunate that one F1B team member in the first group decided to check-in his box and baggage on his own at LAX and this resulted in some problems when they went on the normal baggage conveyor rather than being hand-loaded in the dedicated bin that had been arranged with the rest of the group's boxes; the box then had to be extracted from the system and then checked-in again with the rest of the team. The fact that this same team member decided to come half an hour late to the team meeting arranged at Lost Hills may have meant he was unaware of the arrangements.
11) The second main group returned from San Francisco and the check-in arrangements were satisfactory, with a dedicated check-in desk reserved for us, although one F1A flyer was delayed in traffic. We waited an hour for him and then checked-in the boxes which were hand-loaded into a dedicated cargo bin. He turned up shortly afterwards and his box was subsequently loaded into the same bin. However, on its appearance at LHR there had been some damage to the models and signs of a heavy impact. Other boxes had been inverted, contrary to the labeling instructions. When they appeared in the baggage hall on a trolley pushed by a couple of Sikh ladies, two were stowed on their sides; when I queried this they explained this was so the boxes did not fall off. There may have been a reading problem here; the matter is being taken up with BA, especially in light of a foul-up with boxes belonging to two of the group who flew to Kiev for a contest in the summer.
From T.M.'s Guide
1) It is vital to do everything possible to ensure careful handling of model boxes by baggage handlers. Labels in both English and local languages should be distributed to all team members for use on boxes. I use the following: This Side Up; Lift Here; Do not Shake or Jar; Not to be Placed on Any Baggage Conveyor; Hand Carry Only; Highly Fragile; Please Handle Carefully. I have translations of these in Romanian, Hebrew, Portuguese and Serbo-Croat. I suggest that copies are held at the office and that team managers are made aware that they exist for their use.
I also advise team members to use bubble-wrap on the outside of their boxes, to make them look fragile, and to always handle their boxes with exaggerated care at airports.
2) When making airline reservations it is important to stress from the outset that the boxes will have to be hand-carried at all times and that they must not travel on the belt. At this stage it is also helpful to establish that there will be no excess baggage charges; get this in writing. Approximate box weights will be needed from each team member.
3) If the aircraft is a wide-body type then it may be helpful to ask in advance that they should be loaded into a dedicated container. At the airport team managers should note the number of the container to ensure it can be identified immediately the aircraft arrives and before the baggage handlers get hold of it.
4) Attaching Dayglo orange spots to all the team's personal baggage helps on arrival, so that those who reach the belt first can remove all the UK baggage as it appears.
5) If the group is fairly large ( a dozen or so) it may be useful to suggest that the airline operates a dedicated check-in desk for the team so that team members and boxes are not mixed up with the rest of the passengers. This eases things for the airline staff as well as the team.
6) Ensure team members all arrive well in advance of the normal check-in time. Make sure that people stay in a group both at this stage and when clearing security.
7) If possible arrange that team members hand-carry their boxes to the departure lounge; they will then be hand-carried to the aircraft by ramp staff. Locate someone in the lounge with a radio in touch with the ramp, so that the t.m. can monitor operations.
8) The t.m. should be the first one to reach security, so that the boxes that follow may be explained and any dubious items spotted on X-ray can be clarified to staff without opening the boxes.
9) No fuel or inflammable liquids such as thinners may be taken on board or loaded in the hold. Trying to slip something through may jeopardise the whole smooth flow of checking for the rest of the team, as well as being a safety hazard.
10) Ask the airline for the name of the station manager at the arrival airport, so you have someone to ask for in the event of any problem.
11) It is also useful to establish contact with the air attach=E9 at the British embassy, to advise him of the Championships and to seek help with the box handling, visa arrangements and car rental. The embassy will usually have an agent at the airport, and contacts at this level can be helpful. It may also be thought useful to inform the embassy that we can supply details of the Championships and the UK team for possible local use by the embassy's press office.
12) If possible t.ms. should arrange (again well in advance) to have an airside escort so they can be on the ramp to oversee the actual loading of the model boxes into the aircraft hold. Note which hold they are loaded into.
13) Once in the cabin contact the purser/senior cabin supervisor and make them aware that a national sports team is on board, and that it would be helpful if you could leave the aircraft first on arrival to supervise the box handling; you may be moved forward to club class a few minutes before landing to facilitate this. Ask that the captain radios ahead to alert the ramp supervisor that the boxes are on board and must only be hand-carried. It may be possible for the t.m. to escort the boxes from the ramp into the baggage hall to ensure all is properly done.