Kite Travel FAQ
Here are some of the most frequent questions we've been asked, and our best advice on how to get your gear and yourself to an overseas kite event with the least wear, tear, worry, and expense.
During the past 20 years, we've been to more than 250 overseas kite festivals. I've been on literally thousands of flights with my kites. Our bags have logged over a million miles. They have never been lost or damaged, and on those handful of occasions when bags have been delayed, they've been delivered direct to our hotel or home within 24 hours.
How has security changed since 911?
The short answer -- Airline travel with kites, as we know it, has changed...
First of all, forget about spars in your carry-on. The new (Federal) screeners are more polite, but also smarter and much more conservative than the old ones. And the rules are still quite strict. Odds are that your kite will get confiscated, so better to just pack it and not take any chances.
Wanna have some fun -- while you're being patted down, ask the security folks if they've caught any bad guys yet....
Anyway, checked baggage rules have changed too. The main thing is that weight limits have dropped from 70 to 50 pounds for most flights. This has nothing to do with security and everything to do with making money on heavier bags. It also wreaks havoc with those of us that carry show kites to events.
As for packing fragile kites, ultra-lights, and spars, you have all kinds of options from ski bags, to PVC tubes, to hard golf cases. Some airlines are implementing smaller size limits, so I suggest breaking the kites down all the way. Take a longer soft bag along so you can assemble leading edges when you arrive and not have to disassemble every single day.
The airlines will take the kite bags no problem. But you may have to sign a damage waiver if they realize you have kites and not skis or clubs. Makes no sense but that's life.
Once you check in, the security folks will take your bags for a scan, x-ray, or search. Knives, spars, stakes, and scissors are fine. But peanut butter looks like an explosive on their machines. (Feeling safer??) Just remember not to lock things. Use a plastic zip-tie if you are worried about theft. And leave the peanut butter at home.
How do I pack kites for the airplane?
Soft kites are easy, we stuff them into our Wonder Bags or specially made compression bags. For sticked kites, I like tough Cordura bags specially designed for kite gear. Some people I know use hard sided golf or snowboard carriers too. Some even insert PVC tubes into their soft-sided kite bags, but I think that's overkill. Hard sided luggage gets banged up and solid frames inside soft bags cause the fabric to wear through.
The secret is to pack enough kites so that the spars protect and support each other. Don't leave a single spar extended or squeezed between several line winders where it will crush or break. And remember to place lighter or more fragile spars together with stronger ones. For ultra-fragile rods, consider using a separate PVC spar tube that you can slide into the bag.
Tell me about baggage charges?
Airlines are now applying charges for checked bags. Those charges vary by airline and also based on your frequent flier status. Check which airline offers the best deal!
Plan your equipment to meet the current requirements or be prepared to pay extra! And donít forget to factor in your carry-on luggage. Pack clothing in your carry-on with a few extra things in one of your kite bags!
What about restrictions on baggage?
Airlines have three baggage restrictions -- the number of bags, their size, and the weight of each piece. Limits vary by airline, and also depend on whether you are flying domestic or international. It is important to check the rules before you pack.
On United international, you are allowed two checked bags per person, each weighing a maximum of 70 pounds and not exceeding 107 inches in length+height+width. For domestic travel, the limit is two checked bags, each weighing a maximum of 50 pounds and not exceeding 62 inches in length+height+width You are also allowed one or two smaller carry-on pieces.
Remember, two small light pieces count the same as two big heavy ones.
I carry a lot of gear so I tend to travel with one large "barrel" or duffel for soft kites, line laundry and line, and one long "ski-type" bag for sticked kites. When I really need a lot of big kites, I use two duffels and slide a few sticked kites into a sleeve that I carry onboard. Extra clothing, coats and boots can be stuffed in the duffels.
I prefer a long bag that is well under the six foot limit, so most of my bags are only five feet (the length of my rokkaku cross-spars). A slightly shorter bag minimizes problems with automated baggage moving equipment.
Can kites be carried on?
It depends on how big your kites are. It also depends on enforcement of all the new security rules. generally, I'd advise against it. You don't want to risk losing anything!
I've often seen smaller bags brought onboard. Sport kite contestants who carry only a few kites can separate spars into their shortest lengths and toss the bag in the overhead. And as I mentioned before, I often carry on one or two sticked kites when traveling with two large duffels.
Don't count on using the coat closets up front. Those are generally reserved for the first class fliers. Carry on baggage should end up overhead where you are sitting.
The overhead bins will usually accommodate a bag of up to five feet. But don't push it. Most airlines are now cracking down on excess carry-on. Besides, other passengers are often rougher with your stuff in the overhead bins than the airlines are in the cargo hold. And if something that you carry gets damaged, you get no compensation.
Any tips about check in?
Keep smiling. A positive attitude will get you a long way. And if the airline folks think you are carrying skis, let them go right on thinking that. Kites are unusual and will probably require you to sign a waiver.
I avoid the "sky cap" guys out by the curb and prefer to take things inside the terminal for check in. Since long bags don't fit most baggage systems, they will get put aside by the guys outside and may be forgotten. You get more attention inside.
Make sure all bags are marked with your name on both the inside and outside. And when they get tagged by the airline, check the destination to make sure the baggage is going the same place you are.
What about extra baggage fees?
Extra fees can be charged whenever you exceed the size, weight, or number of allowed bags. And when they charge you, they charge a LOT. One hundred dollars a bag is not unusual. So avoid extra fees whenever you can.
Pray that it doesn't rain the last day of the festival. Wet kites are heavier than dry ones.
Finally, keep in mind that baggage fees are almost always at the discretion of the person that checks you in. If you know you are going to have a problem, consider using the sky caps and tipping big.
What about sewing machines?
Sewing machines? Yes, they make good anchors for smaller kites...
Seriously, if you are flying to a kitemaking event and want to take your machine, I'd advise you to carry it on unless your machine comes with a very good case. While heavy, most sewing machines easily fit carry-on size restrictions.
Are there ways to avoid having bags delayed?
In my experience, bags delays are almost always caused by tight connections or changes in your carrier.
Kite trips usually involve a plane change. Make sure there is plenty of time between these connections. Keep in mind that odd shaped bags like yours are often left for last while all the more typical baggage is processed. So give your bags time to make those connections.
If you find yourself in a situation where you change from one airline company to another in mid-trip, there is an increased chance that your bags will get left behind. (This happens most often when you are sponsored by a foreign airline for the overseas trip, but have to get to the "gateway" city first.) And of course, each airline will blame the other when something goes wrong - which leaves you with no compensation.
If you have to change airlines, the safest thing to do is actually pick up your bags in the claim area and check them in again with the new airline. It's a hassle, but at least you know where things are and where they are going.
What if bags are delayed?
Oversize bags always are delivered last to the claim area. Often they are brought to a separate place nearby. So if your bags don't appear to arrive with everyone else's, look around and ask staff where oversize bags are.
If your bags don't make your international flight, don't panic. They may be on another plane that arrives minutes later. I once had bags routed to a different flight that actually arrived before I did. But if your bags really don't make the flight and can't be waited for, insist that they be brought to you or your hotel immediately upon their arrival. Get it in writing.
And it doesn't matter if your destination is miles away. I once had Jose Sainz and Randy Tom's bags delivered from Germany to the Danish island of Fano - a six hour drive and ferry trip away. The airline screwed up. They had to fix things.
Any advice on kite anchors?
Anchors are a challenge when you travel. Metal stakes and tie-downs are much too heavy to carry around. We usually rely on straps and bags. Straps are versatile and can be tied to anything near the field. Bags can be filled with sand or dirt and work well for most size kites. Remember to roll them into the hole the sand came out of. As a last resort on a crowded field, you may have to actually hold your kite. That's fine except it means you can only fly one at a time.
If you have other questions, let us know and we'll add them to our FAQ.