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It is now so easy to fly to any country on the other side of the world in less than a day for a much accessible price than it used to be before. When you are a scuba diving traveller, there are a couple of things to know to make your trip safer and cheaper when flying and diving. The most important of all is of course the time you need to wait when flying after diving but you will also find tips about how to manage the weight of your diving bag with most airline’s companies.
Schedule your flight 24 hours after your last dive
In the case of scuba diving and health issues, I always rely on DAN. Divers Alert Network (DAN) is a non-profit medical and research organisation dedicated to the safety and health of recreational scuba divers. As they explain well on their website:
“The current position is: wait at least 12 hours after a single no-decompression dive and 24 hours after repetitive, multiple days or decompression diving. DAN’s recent results suggest that in the second case 17 hours will probably be safe, but the study is still going on, and the official recommendation has not changed yet.”
Here are the minimum requirements for flying and diving if you want to be safe:
- Allow 12 hours minimum before going diving. Flying long hours from one side to another of the globe is tiring and dehydrating. Most people never think about it, but as you learnt during your open water, it is better a have a good night sleep and avoid alcohol before a dive the next day (alcohol is dehydrating). Here it is the same thing.
- Do not forget that driving after scuba diving, especially when your trip includes a portion in higher altitude, will have the same risk. In areas such as Bali, Canary Islands, Hawaii or South Sinai in Egypt, it is frequently the case. Make sure to wait enough time after scuba diving before driving.
- Up to 48 hours if you did at some point any decompression diving. This is why after my trip to Costa Brava when I did multiple deep dives for almost a week, I went back to Paris by train: problem solved!
So I understand you want to make the most of your scuba diving holidays, but it isn’t worth putting your life at risk. Just plan a day off and take it as an opportunity to go and discover what is around. What about this interesting museum? What about food sampling at the local market? Take inspiration from the destinations I cover on World Adventure Divers’ blog as I always include information about what do to discover above water.
Choose a scuba diver friendly airline company
Even if you follow all the tips I’m giving on this article to get rid of unnecessary kilos; we are not precisely travellers who travel light. So before you book your next flight, check what the allowance of check-in luggage is for at least one bag.
- With low-cost companies, in Europe or Asia, this will always be an extra cost you need to add to the price of the flight ticket itself. Most of the time, you pay accordingly to the weight of your bag. So get organised and invest in a luggage scale (see picture above). Generally speaking, this additional cost is not necessarily too expensive if you can get an excellent deal on your flight. But the time of 5€ last-minute low-cost flight tickets has been over for a while now. So unless you can make an early booking, be sure to compare the total cost including the options.
- With standard airlines companies, if you take an economy class ticket, you will almost always have checked-in luggage of 23kg the majority of the time. With the backpack I bring to the cabin and my scuba diving bag with both clothes and gear inside, I always managed not to go over 23 kg. Moreover, there is a general belief that these airlines are the most expensive. This is not always true. If you book less than 3 months in advance, can be a bit flexible on the schedule and take into account the cost to reach the airport, I often found the standard airline companies to have competitive pricing with better departure hours. Be careful, because of the rough competition with low-cost airlines, these companies have started to issue low-cost flight tickets with no luggage allowance, double check and be thorough with what is included in your fare.
I recently found out that some airline companies have special treatment for scuba divers. Always good to know. For example:
Etihad Airways gives free of charge an additional set of scuba diving equipment of 15kg maximum.Update: Etihad has changed its conditions from the 1st of June 2017.
- Qatar Airlines gives a free bag of scuba diving gear of 10kg.
- Sri Lankan Airlines also give an extra luggage allowance of 10kg for scuba divers.
- Virgin Atlantic gives one piece of sports equipment at no charge, and for scuba diving, it is not less than a free bag of 23kg.
- Garuda Indonesia also gives a free bag of 23kg for scuba diving gear.
- Egypt Air is very scuba diver friendly, carrying many divers to the Red Sea they offer a total luggage allowance of 46kg.
My ultimate trick is to be loyal to an airline alliance. With Flying Blue (the loyalty program of the Skyteam alliance) from the Silver level only, you are already entitled to a free additional 23 kg piece of luggage. In my case, I don’t need more than one bag for the outbound flight. But I love to count on the second free bag for my inbound trip to bring back many goodies home!
Learn what scuba diving gear to put in the hold
To let in the baggage hold:
- Mask (to put in your fins to protect it and avoid carrying its box)
- Diving knife (for obvious reasons)
Note: If in any case, you would like to take tanks with you, you need special authorisation at additional cost from the airline company.
To take with you in the cabin:
- Dive computer (too expensive, too small and too easy to steal)
- Torchlight (not allowed by airlines in the hold luggage and the battery needs to be out)
- Camera and its housing (let the housing open if possible)
The regulator issue
There is a whole debate about it. The only valuable argument about not putting it in the hold luggage is, according to many divers the high price of the equipment (same as for dive computers and cameras), and the fear that it might get damaged or stolen. In my case, I always wrap my regulators in the wetsuit and towel inside my BCD and never have an issue. I tried a couple of times to travel with my regulator in my cabin luggage: every time security has stopped me. I always asked if I needed to take it out explaining what it was. I would be told no, and after the X-ray check, they would ask me to take everything out! I got tired of this so I decided to let the regulators in the hold luggage.
Take time to thoroughly dry your diving equipment
It seems obvious, but I cannot count the times I heard scuba divers telling me how upset they were to have to pay for extra weight back at the airport whereas they carefully packed and weighed their luggage before going. They just forgot to dry their equipment correctly. A wetsuit can easily contain 1 – 2 kg of water. Have you thought about your BCD you didn’t empty properly when rinsing it?
While you take some time off diving before your flight (see point 1), think about putting your gear in a place ideally with sun and wind for quick drying time. If you are in a colder area, a heated room is what you need. I also always ask scuba diving centres if they have some space for me which is ideal for letting my gear dry before my flight. Nobody has refused so far!
Try flying with a carry-on only
Ultimately if you become good at only taking what you need, you might be able to keep it as light as with cabin luggage only. Carefully check the dimensions and maximum weight allowed for cabin luggage. The low-cost companies are very strict about it, be ready for inspection. With a 3mm wetsuit, a light regulator, a back inflation BCD and short fins (which are usually the most complicated item to fit in cabin luggage) you should be able to make it. In the pictures above you can see the successful trial,I made with the Aqua Lung Explorer carry-on. Of course, it won’t be enough if you plan to dive in Iceland or Patagonia with a drysuit!
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