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May 2004 Vol. 30, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Tanks, Rebreather Bottles, and Spare Airs May Be Confiscated

from the May, 2004 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

If you're packing for a dive trip abroad, keep in mind that the U.S. Transportation Security Administration specifically prohibits scuba tanks "or any compressed gas cylinders" from being included in carry-on and checked luggage. This prohibition applies to pony tanks and rebreather bottles as well. And in some cases even the small Spare Air.

Submersible Systems, the makers of Spare Air, interprets the TSA regulation to mean that it's okay to include a Spare Air in checked luggage (never in a carry-on) as along as the valve is off so that the screeners can see it's empty of compressed air. Undercurrent, however, has received reports that some screeners have confiscated empty Spare Air cylinders, and Spare Air marketing assistant Keith Thomas confirmed those reports. Thomas is aware of "15 or 20" Spare Airs being confiscated, which he attributes to some screeners being "improperly trained" by TSA. In another case, a passenger was told his empty rebreather bottle was verboten because the screening equipment couldn't see through it.

And, keep in mind, when something is confiscated, you may not know it until you get off the plane.

So far, the confiscations seem random, and many tanks sail through security checks with no problems. Thomas even heard of a case where one diver in a group had his checked Spare Air confiscated, while they allowed others to check theirs.

Brett Gilliam, publisher of Fathoms Magazine, suggests that a friendly, cooperative attitude may go a long way in dealing with screeners. Gilliam travels six months a year, often with pony or rebreather bottles, which he packs with the valves removed. He also packs a letter with his dive gear addressed to the screeners, explaining what's in his luggage and asking that they check with him for an explanation of its use and safety before removing it. So far his only problem has been explaining his sophisticated camera equipment and strobes, rather than cylinders.

Spare Air's Thomas has requested an interpretation of the ruling from TSA, and although he told Undercurrent he'd received an oral confirmation that empty tanks are okay, he's had no replies to his request for a written opinion. Until cooler heads prevail, one way around this hassle is to ship tanks ahead to one's dive destination, if they can't be rented onsite.

Besides the prohibition of carrying on a tank or spare air, other TSA guidelines for transporting scuba gear include:

Regulators, buoyancy compensators, masks, snorkels, and fins are all acceptable as checked or carry-on baggage.

Knives, spear guns, and tools must be packed in checked luggage. Any sharp objects packed in checked luggage should be sheathed or securely wrapped to prevent injury to baggage handlers and security screeners.

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