September 13, 2009 in Outdoors

Stiff penalties await campers violating airline stove rules

By The Spokesman-Review
The Spokesman-Review photo

This alcohol stove, made from an aluminum apple juice can, can boil a pint of water in four minutes. It weighs less than one-fourth ounce.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Airline rules affect campers

 Highlights from The Transportation Security Administration advisories that affect campers:

Camp stoves can travel as carry-on or checked luggage only if they are empty of all fuel and cleaned so that there are no vapors or residue. Simply emptying the fuel container will not qualify. The only stoves certain to get through are new, unused and in original packaging.

 (Note: Some campers say they have satisfied airline security by air-drying their stove fuel tanks and bottles and then filling them with vinegar before packing in checked-luggage.)

Common lighters have been allowed since 2007 in carry-on luggage. However, the lighters are not allowed in checked luggage. Torch-type lighters often used by pipe smokers remain banned.

Matches are not allowed in checked baggage. However, one book of safety (non-strike anywhere) matches is allowed as a carry-on.

Bear spray (pepper spray) is allowed in checked luggage if the volume is less than 4 ounces and its active ingredient is less than 2 percent. Effective bear repellants exceed these limitations. TSA recommends buying larger these products at your destination and leaving them behind for the return.

Batteries – alkaline, NiMH and NiCad types – are acceptable. Spare lithium metal batteries, used in many cameras and GPS units, are not allowed in checked luggage. Put them in a carry-on bag.

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.”

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