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Air Travel Hacks for Ski Trips

When it comes to air travel with ski or snowboard gear, getting there is not half the fun.

Usually, flying entails lugging two extremely heavy bags around, paying extra baggage fees, eating overpriced airport food and drinking overpriced beers, all the while wondering if the bags are going to your same destination, or a vacation of their own. As frustrating as air travel can be, however, there are plenty of ways to make your trip less painful.

While none of these tips will guarantee that your bags will make it nor that a hottie will be seated next to you, these bits of hard-earned knowledge will hopefully keep frustration at bay, make your travels more comfortable, and maybe a few extra dollars in your wallet.

Carry On your Ski Boots

While this may seem like old news to seasoned winter travelers, I’m always blown away when even pros fail to abide by this golden rule of air travel. Even if you’ve never had any custom boot work done, your ski (or snowboard) boots are by far the most customized (read: irreplaceable) piece of equipment you own—every turn you’ve made and every step you’ve taken has helped form your liners and foot beds to your feet. Why take a chance with them getting lost by the airline? Even if you can find the same model and size boot at the rental shop at your destination (unlikely), these loaners will never fit the same way. Furthermore, boots are heavy, and while it’s a pain lugging them from Chili’s to Cinnabon to your gate, those extra pounds saved means you can fit more gear in your checked luggage.

bootsA good boot bag, like the DAKINE boot locker, makes it easy and convenient to keep your precious boots close at hand.

Use a Standard Duffel

On most airlines, you have 50 pounds per bag. Why use up to a quarter of that weight on a fancy roller setup? Unless you’re heading to the airport on public transportation or doing some sort of spiritual trekking quest with your luggage, odds are you’ll actually be carrying/hauling your bags for a very short portion of your trip. Yes, those minutes you’re carrying your bag will be a bit tougher, but the extra gear you can bring will be worth it. Same goes for ski/board bags.

Don’t Forget the Puffy

A puffy is not only the ideal layering piece, but it also serves as a portable pillow and a comfy comforter both on the plane and at the gate when your flight’s delayed. That much is obvious. But the pro tip is that it can also serve as a short-term warmer for that hot snack you grabbed in the terminal but don’t have a chance to eat until you are on the flight. Just wrap up that burrito in your puffy (try not to get beans on your down) and it’ll stay warm(er) until you’re off the ground and can deploy the tray table.

puffyA puffy companion can help make long flights more tolerable.

(Morally Questionable) Weight Tricks

Even with the lightest duffel and the heaviest carry-on, sometimes you just have too much gear and you break that 50-pound barrier. Depending on your airline, this may mean the difference between a gratis bag and up to a $250 hit. Being a morally upstanding person, I happily hand over my AmEx if I’m overweight. However, I have “friends” that suggest the following:

Slide your ski boots (that you’re carrying on) up against your side of the scale. Then, straddle your ski bag between the scale and your boots, thus taking some of the weight off of the scale. Beware, seasoned check-in agents know this trick, and my “friends” have looked foolish trying it.

My “friends” have also taken advantage of a separate oversized bag drop-off. If you know your airport has a separate drop-off, have an extra bag stashed away and discreetly place it in your ski bag between when you weigh in at the check-in counter and when you take it to the oversized bag drop.

The Ski/Board Swap

If you’re traveling with a friend and both have two pairs of skis, mix the pairs of skis so that if one bag gets lost, you each at least have one pair of your own skis. That is, your bag will contain one pair of your skis and one pair of your friends, and vice versa.

Be nice

If being a decent member of the human race isn’t motivation enough for you to be kind to airline employees, consider this: these employees (that are on the receiving end of hundreds of peoples’ travel attitudes all day) will ultimately decide what sort of fees, if any, you’ll incur. Smile. Say please. Say thank you. Really, just demonstrating grade-school level courtesy will go a long way toward letting that 53lb bag slide.

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3Comments

Here's what the community has to say.

Adam N

Adam N

Agreed that one trick is understanding that a Boot Bag + Skis are ONE checked item. I get the call-out to carry on your boots, but if you have a sufficiently padded boot bag, carrying on your boots may not be best strategy for maximizing your luggage. The duffel call-out is totally key. We have the big XL North Face Base Camp bags for ski trips -- totally essential as regular suitcases are not bulky-ski-clothes friendly. Last call-out I've learned -- as a frequent frequent frequent traveler on Delta (like every other week), I look at my fare and the difference between the Coach fare and First. Sometimes you can be in First for an extra $50 or $100 -- far below the cost of excess baggage and in First you get THREE checked pieces, plus with the ski/boot bag thing, you actuals get FOUR. So one hack is to NOT pay baggage fees but instead upgrade -- spending less and getting a roomier ride.

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Tong W.

Tong W.

When I flew back to China from Chicago at 1 month ago, I used the self check-in machine because there's no counter available. The machine asked me if I had a luggage with more than 1.5 meters total length, I chose yes due to my skis, which costed me 200 USD. Did I mishandled it? Should I say no?
BTW, the airline is UA.

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rtkane

rtkane

While this violates the "carry on your ski boots" rule on the way out, it can be a blessing to not carry that heavy bag when you and your legs are beat up on the way back: many airlines consider a ski bag and a separate boot bag as one item. Here are a couple examples:

United: United accepts one item of ski or snowboard equipment per customer as checked baggage. Equipment must be securely encased in a suitable container. An item of ski equipment consists of: Up to two pairs of snow skis and associated equipment in one bag and one ski boot bag.

Delta: Ski and snowboard equipment are allowed as checked baggage. One ski/pole bag or one snowboard bag and one boot bag is accepted per person. The combined weight of the ski/snowboard bag and the boot bag may not

American: You’ll be charged the checked bag fee of your destination and the following items will be treated as a single item:

1 pair of skis
A snowboard
1 boot bag with only boots/bindings, helmet and life preserver

Your boot bag can be up to 45 inches (length + width + height) and must contain only boots/bindings, helmet and life preserver. If you put anything else in your boot bag, you’ll have to pay an excess baggage fee. You may be asked to open your bag at the airport.

For all of the above, normal weight limits will apply, of course!

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