A Svea 123 white-gas camp stove had been Bob Madsen’s trusty companion through decades of traveling to backpacking destinations by land and air. The relationship changed dramatically a few years ago when the Spokane man was notified by Federal Aviation Administration lawyers that he was being fined $80,000 for packing his camp stove in his airline luggage.
“It was scary and embarrassing at the same time,” said Madsen, a pilot whose father retired from an aviation career. “It caught me so off guard. I’d traveled with that stove since the ’70s. My dad bought it for me when I earned the rank of Eagle Scout.”
Post-9/11 aviation security rules have changed the way Americans travel – campers are no exception.
Madsen said his ordeal was magnified by a combination of carelessness on his part and confusion over changing rules.
“I got called up to the counter before takeoff and they asked me questions about the stove in my luggage,” he said. “I told them the stove was empty, the tank air-dried in my back yard, and I was going canyoneering in Utah.”
But the airline authorities were not amused or persuaded. They confiscated the faithful 30-year-old Svea as well as a Bic lighter he always carried with the stove in the nesting pots.”
A few weeks later he received a letter from the FAA charging him with eight violations that carried fines totaling $80,000.
“I failed to label the stove or declare it or package it properly. They found (fuel) residue in the tank, and then there was the lighter, which isn’t allowed in checked luggage, and so on,” he said. “Each charge was $10,000 a pop.
“Even the FAA Web site at the time didn’t list all these rules.”
A friend of Madsen’s who worked in air freight suggested he write a letter of apology, but that didn’t solve anything.
“When they have your undies around your ankles, there’s not much you can do,” Madsen said. “I went back and forth with them and figured I was going to have to hire a lawyer, but I finally got an FAA lawyer to say he’d settle for a $750 fine.
“He said it’s my job as a passenger to abide by all federal regulations.”
Madsen paid the reduced fine after hours of research convinced him it was the cheapest out.
“The FAA lawyer warned me to never let it happen again; that $750 was just a slap on the wrist.”
Madsen said he’s humbled and fully committed to never again violating an FAA rule.
“I bought a Honda Civic,” he said. “Now I drive to Zion (National Park) and my other favorite camping destinations. I just went to Capitol Reef this spring.
“I put my camping stove in the car and I didn’t worry whether it had fuel in it or not.
“I don’t worry about tweezers, or nail clippers or lighters, and I carry my Swiss Army knife – no problem. It’s so convenient, and way cheaper than taking a chance on getting nailed for a rule you didn’t know about.
“It’s got to be out of the country before I’ll fly to go camping.”