Savvy Dive Travelers and the TSA Rules and Regulations

editor@diverwire.com (John Flanders)

DiverWire.com senior contributing editor John Flanders did some research on scuba travel and related challenges. In this article he looks at TSA restrictions and their impact on divers.

Diving with Scuba gear offers many challenges.  However, the thought of using rental gear on that “dive trip of a life-time” is enough to make an Open Water Diver cringe.  The good news is you can bring scuba gear on-board an aircraft; however a savvy traveler understands the TSA rules and airline baggage restrictions.

First let’s look at the Transportation Security Authority (TSA) rules and restrictions. The TSA has nothing to do with weight considerations, but everything about what you can carry on to an aircraft and what you check in the cargo hold.

Travelers may bring regulators, buoyancy compensators and masks, snorkels and fins as carry-on or checked baggage. In fact, it is quite surprising how easily these items pass through the TSA scanners without a wink of scrutiny from the TSA personnel. As a rule, all traveling divers should carry on their Scuba regulators, computers and submersible pressure gauges.  These items are part of the life support system and shouldn’t left to possible damage in the airplane’s cargo hold.  If you wouldn’t check your laptop computer, why would you check your dive computer?

For travelers who need their pony bottle, Spare Air™, or rebreather bottles at their destination, there is good news: Compressed Scuba cylinders are allowed in checked baggage or as a carry-on only if the regulator valve is completely disconnected from the cylinder and the cylinder is no longer sealed (i.e. the cylinder has an open end).  The cylinder must have an opening to allow for a visual inspection inside. I tape the end of the Scuba cylinder with “painter’s tape” and attach a note to the TSA security officer to replace it after inspection.  To date, I have not had an issue doing this.

As a rule, TSA Security Officers will not remove the seal or regulator valve from the cylinder at the checkpoint.  If the cylinder is sealed (i.e. the regulator valve is still attached), the cylinder is prohibited and not permitted through the security checkpoint, regardless of the reading on the pressure gauge indicator. TSA Security Officers must visibly ensure that the cylinder is completely empty and that there are no prohibited items inside.

Of course, it is no surprise, that dive tools (a.k.a knives) are prohibited from carry-on luggage. These items should be packed in checked luggage.  If you travel with a small tool pouch or spare parts kit, you should check those items as well. Spear guns are prohibited from carry-on luggage. These items should be packed in checked luggage. A quick tip, knives and spear guns cannot be brought to a security checkpoint. Pack these items in your checked baggage. If you bring these items to a checkpoint, there it is almost guaranteed that the TSA will confiscate them and a fair chance that you may miss your flight while being detained by the TSA.

Like any other baggage, Scuba bags will be scanned and probably hand searched by TSA officials.  Do not pack anything suspicious, As always, safety being the highest priority, the TSA requests that all Scuba divers should sheath or securely wrap any sharp objects you pack in your checked luggage to prevent it from injuring baggage handlers and security officers.

As we have learned, the TSA doesn’t care how much your luggage weighs or how much of it you carry. They do, however, care very much what is in it. Staying on top of those regulations is important; however it is the airlines that set the bottom line. In these tight economic times, the airlines are doing everything they can just to stay alive. Many of their tactics, come at the expense of traveling Scuba divers, just like you. Just recently, Continental airlines, joined several other airline companies, and announced they will be charging for meals. Scuba diving is an equipment intensive sport. Divers accept the fact that, to reach their objectives, they need to own and travel with their equipment. That means coping with the airlines tight and expensive restrictions are a part of every trip and a necessary evil.

When booking your airline ticket, you need to do your due diligence and factor in baggage costs. Of course, if you travel first class, much of this is a non-issue. However, for us “Joe Divers”, we will be riding in the back of the plane and paying for our luggage. When researching your ticket, you need to know how many bags you will be bringing, per person, what the weight is of each bag, what the dimensions of each bag are, and what you will be carrying on the plane. An extra bag or two, that are oversized and overweight, may make a first class ticket look cheap. Our advice, be aware of the airlines fees prior to pushing the “book it now” button!

Following is a list, airline by airline, of fees for checked bags on major US airlines. These fees are for domestic economy class travel (which in some cases includes Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and Canada) only and may be higher or lower on international flights.

There are all kinds of exceptions to these fees, especially for certain classes of frequent flyers and military personnel. These fees are cumulative and are double for round-trip travel. They are subject to change and were accurate to the best of our knowledge as of March 1, 2010.

Airline: Airtran Airways

First Checked Bag: $15

Second Checked Bag: $25

Additional Bags: $50

Overweight Bags: 51-70lbs = $39 / 71 to 99 lbs = $79

Oversized Bags: 62-70 total linear inches = $39

71-80 total linear inches = $79

Airline: Alaska Airlines

First Checked Bag: $15

Second Checked Bag: $25

Additional Bags: 3rd through 6th bag = $100 / 7th or more = $150

Overweight Bags: 51-100lbs = $50

Oversized Bags: 63-80 total linear inches = $50 / 81-115 total linear inches = $75

Airline: American Airlines

First Checked Bag: $25

Second Checked Bag: $35

Additional Bags: 3rd through 5th bag = $100 / 6th or more = $200

Overweight Bags: 51-70lbs = $50 / 71-100lbs = $100

Oversized Bags: 63 inches and over = $150

Airline: Continental Airlines

First Checked Bag: $25 (discount for paying online)

Second Checked Bag: $35 (discount for paying online)

Additional Bags: $75 Non Stop / $100 Connections

Overweight Bags: 51-70lbs = $50 / over 70lbs = not accepted

Oversized Bags: 63 and over = $100

Airline: Delta Airlines and Northwest Airlines

First Checked Bag: $25 (discount for paying online)

Second Checked Bag: $35 (discount for paying online)

Additional Bags: 3rd bag = $125 / 4th through 10th bag = $200 each

Overweight Bags: 51-70lbs = $90 / 71-100lbs = $175

Oversized Bags: 63 to 80 total linear inches = $175

Airline: Frontier Airlines

First Checked Bag: $15

Second Checked Bag: $25

Additional Bags: $50

Overweight Bags: 51-100lbs = $75

Oversized Bags: 63 to 80 total linear inches = $75

Airline: JetBlue

First Checked Bag: $0

Second Checked Bag: $25

Additional Bags: $75

Overweight Bags: 51-70lbs = $50 / 71-100lbs = $100

Oversized Bags: 63 to 80 total linear inches = $75

Airline: Spirit Airlines

First Checked Bag: $25 (discount for paying online)

Second Checked Bag: $25

Additional Bags: Bags 3 through 5 = $100

Overweight Bags: 51-70lbs = $50 / 71-99lbs = $100

Oversized Bags: 62-79 total linear inches = $100/80 inches and over = $150

Airline: Southwest Airlines

First Checked Bag: $0

Second Checked Bag: $0

Additional Bags: 3rd through 9th bag = $50 / 10th and more = $110

Overweight Bags: 51-100lbs = $50

Oversized Bags: 62 to 80 total linear inches = $50

Airline: United Airlines

First Checked Bag: $25 (discount for paying online)

Second Checked Bag: $35 (discount for paying online)

Additional Bags: Bags 1 through 4 = $125 / 5th or more = $250

Overweight Bags: $100 (it wasn’t specific, but 50lbs is the anticipated limit)

Oversized Bags: 63 to 115 total linear inches = $125

Airline: US Airways

First Checked Bag: $25 (discount for paying online)

Second Checked Bag: $35 (discount for paying online)

Additional Bags: Bags 3 through 9 = $100

Overweight Bags: 51-70lbs = $70 / 71-99lbs = $120

Oversized Bags: 62 to 80 total linear inches = $100

Airline: Virgin America

First Checked Bag: $25 (up to 70lbs)

Second Checked Bag: $25 (up to 50lbs)

Additional Bags: Bags 3 through 10 = $25

Overweight Bags: 51-70lbs = $50 / 71-100lbs = $100

Oversized Bags: 63 to 80 total linear inches = $50

The average Scuba diver checks two bags weighing a total of $100. With the exception of Southwest Airlines, this would equate to “extra baggage fees” when traveling on most airlines. After reviewing this chart and figuring you are “just an average diver”, then you should figure $50 to $100 additional for each passenger. If you are traveling with a rebreather, high end video and photography equipment, or Scuba tanks, extra baggage fees could run you more than the ticket itself.

The Savvy Dive Traveler plans for these expenses and isn’t surprised at the airport.

Dive and travel safe!

The TSA has gone to great lengths to inform travelers and specifically traveling Scuba divers.  To learn more about TSA rules, information and prohibited items please visit www.tsa.gov.