Avalanche airbags on Airplanes


Ortovox ABS bagTaking your avalanche airbag system onto an airline is becoming a lot less problematic than it used to be. However, it’s still not entirely hassle-free. We do still sometimes come across people who’ve had difficulties getting these things through the airport check-in, or have had their gas canisters confiscated or discharged.

Here are some tips, which may help if you’re intending to fly with an avalanche airbag system.

E-mail your airline carrier at least 2 weeks before you fly, informing them that you will be travelling with an avalanche airbag system, as allowed in the IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations 2.3A, paragraph 2.3. Ask them for written confirmation that this is in order.
Be ready to print out your emails and relevant information to show airport and airline employees – most will not know their own website nor even their own regulations and they most likely will not even have a regulations manual handy.
Bring the following paperwork with you to the airport, for both the inbound and outbound flight:

  • Copy of your authorisation from the airline carrier, as above.2 print-offs of the current IATA Dangerous Goods Table. Here’s a link to the part of the ABS website where you can download this PDF. Keep one copy with you, and put the other one
  • 2 print-offs of the current IATA Dangerous Goods Table. Here’s a link to the part of the ABS website where you can download this PDF. Keep one copy with you, and put the other one with the backpack, gas canister and activation handle in your hold luggage (as it may be checked again by staff loading the plane).
  • Print-off of the technical data about your avalanche airbag backpack system. You can find this on the different manufacturers’ websites.
  • Print-off of the technical data about your avalanche airbag backpack system. You can find this on the different manufacturers’ websites. Detach the canister and activation handle from the airbag so that nothing can

Detach the canister and activation handle from the airbag so that nothing cannot be accidentally triggered. Also check the canister cap is on.Place the detached canister, handle, airbag and backpack in your hold luggage. ABS recommends that you keep all this equipment together so that its purpose is obvious to airport staff. (IATA regulations say that you can take it through as hand luggage, but as this is where people encounter the most difficulties, we don’t recommend it.)

Place the detached canister, handle, airbag and backpack in your hold luggage. ABS recommends that you keep all this equipment together so that its purpose is obvious to airport staff. (IATA regulations say that you can take it through as hand luggage, but as this is where people encounter the most difficulties, we don’t recommend it.)

If you do encounter problems at the airport, show the staff your paperwork and explain what the airbag system is all about. They may need to speak to their manager, but fingers-crossed, all should be resolved.
But what do you do if the worst case scenario does happen, and, like the unlucky few we’ve encountered, you do have your gas canister taken away or emptied at the airport?

Find out which retailers in your chosen resort can service your particular brand of airbag system. If you always go to a favourite resort, and are thinking of buying one, this could be a good reason for choosing one brand over another (as some resorts, regions and countries seem to favour one brand over another. For example, it would be a shame to show up in a resort in France with a product that is known only by local shops in North America)! In Val d’Isère, where we’re based, Jean Sports ski shop can exchange an empty ABS canister with a full one for €30, or sell you a new steel one for €100, carbon €200. It’s worth researching to see which retailers in your resort offer a similar service.

Another solution, definitely worth considering if you only ski a week or two a season and want to use an avalanche airbag system, would be to go down the rental route. Also, you might want bear in mind that carrying these systems as hold baggage will add quite a bit to your weight allowance! Jean Sports were renting full ABS backpacks for €23 a day last season, or the canister alone for €10 a day, rates decreasing for the more days you hire.

Hopefully, though, by planning ahead and following our tips, all should be well and you won’t end up having to deal with the ‘worst case scenario’.

We hope you’ve found this article helpful. Please feel welcome to comment if you have experienced any problems transporting these pieces of equipment, or have any other useful advice!