Gearing up to take off

Here are a few tips on how to fly while carrying often hazardous outdoors gear

Posted: Sunday, September 10, 2006

Even people who know how to prepare for Alaska wilderness have found themselves unprepared for the airport this summer.

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"They've definitely tightened things down significantly," Kristen Romanoff, a wildlife education specialist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

In June, airport security stopped her from taking empty fuel tanks and a repair kit for an inflatable skiff on a flight to Sitka, she said.

Kerry Kirkpatrick, owner of Alaska Boat and Kayak, said she has had to refer about four customers renting kayaks to a place in Juneau to buy camp stoves. It wasn't that they forgot to bring camping stoves, she said. They had to give them up at the airport.

"They're a little ticked off," she said. "They don't know anyone who can mail it, so they have to give it up. They get hit twice."

Camping gear that many folks consider essential is problematic for airline travelers and requires special handling. Some items are off-limits completely. Getting to remote areas often requires a small charter plane, and the rules are different from commercial airline policies.

On commercial airlines, camp stove fuel and all other fuels including gasoline, strike-anywhere matches, flares, flare guns and virtually all lighters are not permitted in carry-on or checked bags. Bear spray is off limits. Camp stoves and empty fuel bottles may or may not be permitted, depending on their condition. That's the call of the Transportation Safety Officer, formerly known as the screener, at check in.

Romanoff said she expected that she wouldn't be able to take bear spray and had the Sitka field office acquire it for her. She was surprised she wasn't able to take the empty fuel tanks and the Zodiac repair kit, something that is needed regularly on an inflatable boat that scrapes against barnacles and rocks.

"We had to scramble in Sitka before we were dropped off at our site," she said.

The problem was the glue, she said.

"It's a little tube of glue when the plane is carrying so many gallons of fuel," she said. "From (Juneau), they go through your cargo meticulously."

The Transportation Security Administration allows ammunition and guns in checked bags, but dictates a few provisions. All firearms must be declared and must be unloaded. The firearms must be carried in a locked, hard-sided container.

People carrying firearms must provide the key or combination to the screener to open the container while remaining present to take the key after the container is cleared.

Ammunition must be declared to the airline at check-in and securely packed in a wood, metal or cardboard box, or other packaging specifically designed for the purpose. Some airlines allow the ammunition to be in the same case as the firearm, as long as it is properly packed. Black powder and percussion caps used with black-powder type firearms are not permitted.

Bear spray is not allowed. One 4-ounce (118-milliliter) can of Mace or pepper spray is permitted in a checked bag, provided it is equipped with a safety mechanism to prevent accidental discharge. That size is more in the class of personal, anti-mugger-type spray and is smaller than the standard size (7.9-ounce) spray used for protection against bears.

For those who need bear spray, the TSA suggests they buy it at their destination and leave it behind after the trip. That's true of fuel, lighters, matches and fire starters as well.

For those headed into the field for fishing, hunting or backpacking, flammable items and firearms may be loaded into the cabin of a small charter plane. These items are regulated by the Department of Transportation as hazardous materials. Virtually all camping equipment and related gear can be transported out to the field, but rules vary with charter companies.

Ed Kiesel of Ward Air said carriers appreciate the needs of hunters and people preparing to spend time in isolated areas, and they generally try to be accommodating.

"Just be sure and let us know what you've got," he said. "Weight matters. You don't need to take the kitchen sink. Think twice about whether you need it or not."

Different carriers may have certification and approval for different hazardous materials, said Raven Stewart of Skagway Air.

"Certain companies don't carry hazmat at all, some are approved and some are not," she said. "Skagway (Air) can carry hazardous material - it does have to be declared - and some materials can't be carried on scheduled flights with passengers."

Vanessa Thompson, with Tok-based 40-Mile Air, said carriers are trained and certified to handle hazardous materials.

"Call the carrier in advance," she said. "The majority of hunting and game transporters are going to have it, but even Coleman fuel needs paperwork."

A few items are off-limits under all circumstances.

"Matchlite charcoal - the kind that's really easy to light - is forbidden on any aircraft," said Deb Barry, with Wings of Alaska in Juneau. "Sterno is also not allowed. I remember there was this catering event and someone wanted to fly all these chefs up somewhere, and we couldn't take their Sterno for the warming trays."

Ed Kiesel of Ward Air pointed out that floatplanes are very different, because of the storage outside the cabin. "We have hatches in the floats, and fuel and bear spray go in the floats."

• Riley Woodford is a writer with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Wildlife Conservation. Empire reporter Tony Carroll contributed to this story.

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