Travelling with kites: Overweight baggage strategies.
Airline baggage allowances are tight and getting tighter, but there's not much value for you (or the kite event you're going to) in spending $3K on an airfare and arriving with only 10kgm of kites to fly (unless you fly miniatures). Paying for the excess isn't a solution either; just 10kgm overweight can cost as much as another airfare. How then to take as many kites as possible without breaking the bank?
The first answer is that kite fliers who aren't yet doing so should learn to live out of their carry-on bag (typically 7kgms). It's easy , here's the male version but there is a female equivalent: Wear a jersey, jacket and other heavy items such as presentable (at the start of the trip anyway) shoes and trou. Pack five shirts, five pairs of unders, a pair of rough trou for on-the-field, and Crocs for kite flying (290gms and easily discarded when lines snare your feet in a threatening manner). With toothbrush, razor and one big cake of soap (blaa to hotel soap), this leaves 3kgms out of the original 7kgms for an extra pilot kite or two.
Washing? Shower or bath with the day's wear, put on clean set for the evening and re-cycle them for the next day's flying (when you'll be moving too fast for anyone to pin a sniff to you anyway). Drain the washed set on the bedroom carpet overnight and hang up to dry somewhere during the next day. Towel? Use a tee shirt you're going to wash anyway. Actually, you really only need four sets of clothes, even for a month or more away, but this is leading you towards travel efficiency in gentle steps.
The second answer is take kites that you will use, and use all of them. Not having spare kites can be a risk in case of damage or loss- but pilots are at greatest risk, and you have spares in your carry-on remember. All other damage (to soft kites anyway) can be hand repaired with needle and thread. In the last 100 or so events, only once or twice have I had damage too serious for on the field repair. Four metres of seam per hour is the German sail making standard for hand sewing, and it's about right. (An aside here; organising access to a local sewing machine almost always takes longer than hand repair- and even when one is available, it won't sew through cord, generally the thread will be hopelessly weak, the only needle will break, and every second stitch will unaccountably miss- which will "never have happened before".)
And, take weight-efficient lines and accessories. Line reels are wasted weight that doesn't assist at all in keeping more kites up for longer. Layering lines in bags instead frees another 2kgms for kites.
The third answer is to push airlines in every way short of paying to get as much weight allowance as possible. The strategic problem here is that check-in is an end-run. If you've pushed too far or get unlucky, there can be no alternative but to reach for the credit card. Domestic flights aren't a big worry, as excess charges are usually under $100, it's the international sectors with $2000 plus bills that are really unwelcome. Careful planning and careful packing makes all the difference:
- Load your check-in bag(s) to the maximum, but don't go over, not even by 100gms. It's unstated, but I believe that the industry margin on a 20kgm allowance is 3kgms. I've never been pinged at 22.9kgms (hundreds of check-ins), but at 23.1, have been charged for the 3.1 extra. Once over the invisible line they tend to go for the lot; probably by the theory that you're already be pissed off, so what's the difference.
- Weight-up your carry-on's as much as you dare (which depends on the airport, airline, and local knowledge as to how hard-line check-in staff will be).
- Duty free bags are invisible, else wise airports wouldn't be able to charge their shop tenants such exorbitant rents, and else wise, this income would have to come from airlines instead.
- Computer bags are generally invisible- even when there are signs proclaiming "only one carry-on per person". Craig (Hansen), PLKites Ltd, has made a computer bag that he can get a midi octopus in.
- Carry stuff in your pockets. Craig also has a special jacket with big pockets in the back that can hold 10kgms or so of tightly packed soft kites, which check-in staff aren't supposed to be able to see. It makes him look so hunchbacked they offer him a wheel chair and nurse (no, I'm kidding).
- Attitude at check-in is critical- yours and theirs. Often whether to give you a hard time or let things go seems to have been decided before you even get to the desk. Perhaps there is a memo out requiring a crack down, or maybe the sight of big ugly kite bags working up the queue sets the scene. From your side there are really only two choices- the friendly, happy, approach, or going for their throats right from the start. The first can work because airlines like to keep the atmosphere happy. The second (I've seen it used effectively), is based on complaining loudly about something without let-up from as soon as you're in range, hoping they'll then buy you off by ignoring excess. Neither is sure-fire.
- Last minute check-in. Some travellers swear by this, hoping there'll then be too much concern about getting everyone through to worry about a bit of overweight. This can go wrong though when increasingly harassed staff, before you can even start making excuses, bark out "$2000, pay or don't fly".
- Size matters. A small overweight bag can get through, where a big one of the same weight won't. This is because the supervisors who roam around jumping on staff who are too friendly, judge first by size, not weight. Long bags (for kites that still have sticks), are a special problem but labelling can help. Many airlines have special allowances for ski's or golf clubs- which is why many kite bags are labelled as such.
- Don't carry wet kites: That it will rain in the last hour of the last day at a kite event is a better predictor than any weather forecast. Except by flying in dry conditions, there's almost no way to get kites dry. Even after hours with the hotel bathroom hair drier, a wet maxi kite will still be up one or two kilos, triggering excess. Therefore, it's best to book return travel for the afternoon of the day after the event. Flying on beaches is also a problem- sand always seems to add at least a kgm/kite until there's been an hour or two of flying over grass. I have no answer for sand except allowing a margin when initially packing.
- Inveigle extra allowance from the airline. They will often pre-arrange up to 10kgm more for a good story- national interest, representing the country, that sort of bullshit. But a word of warning; 10kgm extra on 20kgms (which is actually 23kgms as above) by their view is 30kgms, not 33. Frequent flier status also boosts weight allowance. Gold card holders on most airlines get an extra 20kgm (23), and can check in at the first class counter- where they are much less inclined to argue over a few extra's than they will at the economy desk- 'cos it makes a bad impression for the other up-themselves who check-in there.
- Check your bags all the way. Your local airport is likely to be more generous to you, so use airlines that do interline connections and insist that bags get checked all the way. Coming home? If you haven't sold or lost stuff by then, you can give something away or leave it there for next time.
- Book your own travel rather than accepting offers from the event to do it for you. Organisers tend not only to disregard your time costs but they go for the nominally cheapest, ignoring the lower weight allowances that budget airlines apply. This can end up costing someone, probably you, more than using main carriers. Also, budget airlines don't provide baggage check through, and every extra check-in is another chance that you'll be caught for overweight.
- Travel to, from, or through the USA is best of all, then rules are different. You need only one US touchdown in a sequence of flights and the allowance for all sectors goes from 'by weight' to 'by piece'. The minimum then becomes two bags at either (nominally) 20kgms each or even 32kgms each, depending on the carrier.
Peter Lynn, SQ 285, June 27 '09
PS: and thanks to GKPI for two of the attached photos.