Last edited : February 18th, 2014. 5th version.
If you’re the adventurer kind of nut that both likes to fly a paramotor and to travel, you’re soon going to face the question “How on Earth am I gonna get this overseas safely ?”
The first time I did this, I saw traveling with a paramotor as a huge challenge but I finally sorted it out and have done it twice since. My gear is a Nirvana Electric, weighing total 35.4 kg without a wing.
Excess baggage by Sea Freight ? Expensive and long.
I looked into see freight of excess baggage. The price was quoted based on weight and dimensions (volumetric weight). From Malaysia to France would have taken 70 days and about 900 Euros one way door to door. And I heard that customs clearance is a huge pain in the neck because any motorized engine, regardless of how fuel-spotless it is, is considered as dangerous goods. And 900 Euros one way ?! You know how much cool equipment or trips I can get for that price!? So no way.
Excess baggage by AIR Freight ? Fast but VERY Expensive.
They (abdabag.com) initially told me they charge only by weight. Considering the massive volume of the gear (119 x 80 x 75 cm) that was very good to hear. Total price would have been ~330 Euros, which was almost reasonable. Too good to be true, I asked the man to double check, and he confirmed they charge by weight only, volume didn’t matter. But asked by my instructor to triple-check, I called them again only to realize that they DO charge by volumetric weight. Total price would have been 1000 Euros, door to door. Total rip-off.
Checking it as sporting equipment? Worth trying for part of the weight only.
What comes first to the mind is to check it in as Sports Equipment with your airline company, if they have a separate luggage allowance for that. Air Asia does and it’s cheaper than regular luggage. Jetstar doesn’t apparently.
So I called Air Asia and told them I want to check all in as “paragliding equipment”. They said no on the phone. Too bad I had already bought 20kgs of sports equipment allowance.
So naturally at the check-in though I tried and managed to take part of the weight (the frame + harness bag) as sports equipment. Maybe it’s because it was obviously some sort of weird equipment, or…was I just lucky?
Note that the weight limit for sports equipment was 20kg so that’s not enough to cover the paramotor itself. If they start to be stubborn about the kind of sports equipment they allow, tell them this was flown in with their airline and is very expensive and you have no other choice but taking it back with you.
THE SOLUTION: FOLLOW THIS CAREFULLY.
You will check it in as any other luggage. BUT:
- VITAL : LAW, LAW, LAW. Check the official AND non-official air law. Countries like Malaysia are very tolerant of paramotors flying almost anywhere not busy. Meanwhile, countries like France, or worse, Germany have a heavy procedure to be able to fly legally. The best is really to start by contacting a school in the country you’re going. Buy them dinner and try to fly with them in return for the advice. Then you may want to book the country’s specific air test far in advance to get that studied beforehand and cleared as soon as you land.
- MONEY BUDGET: A round-trip from Malaysia to France cost me total about 300 Euros just for the paramotor gear : buying excess baggage allowance, flight changes to add weight, servicing (cleaning), bubble wrap, paying someone to come with me to the airport, taxis, cleaning products, taxis, taxis, and more taxis + a lot of tiring muscle effort + some time shopping + a lot of time cleaning (1 full day). To this cost may be added a car rental….So do the math before you travel your engine and think twice to figure out if it’s gonna be worth it.
- TRANSPORTATION AT DESTINATION. Make sure to have some sort of transportation in the country of destination. Either a chauffeur or your own car, a car you rent…you name it. But do plan that. 40/50 kgs of gear is bulky and heavy, without proper transportation at anytime you will be like a slave with his metal ball.
- EMPTY THE FUEL FAR IN ADVANCE, at least one week before your flight. You want to empty the paramotor from the fuel, dismantle the carburetor to flush the fuel from it with a compressor or canned compressed air, and let everything dry to get rid of the traces of fuel and of the smell. You also want to clean every grease you find and make it look brand new. Use something friendly with metals to clean, or you will make all the engine rust. Do that at the very least 3 days hours before the flight. Remember you need to shop and clean, that alone if your lucky will take only one full day. The early you do it the least time you will spend taking the smell off “by hand”.
- SHOP IN ADVANCE :
- Pair of kitchen gloves (to protect your hands from the strong perfume) (2€)
- Find on old piece of fabric to clean, ideally microfiber (peanuts)
- Buy a roll of tissue paper (1€)
- Buy a small bottle of AirWick for cars or home interior (5€) — Prefer vanilla to lavender, strong lavender actually smells like gasoline while vanilla smells sweet and covers the remaining smells of grease/oil.
- Buy 2 rolls of 20 meter x 30 cm cling wrap (3€) — Cooking or better: industrial-grade from hardware shop — The larger the easier
- Buy bubble wrap : (1€ per meter if you get decently ripped off). 10 meter square is PERFECT for Nirvana engines & bags. No more, no less.
- You may want to put a bag of activated charcoal to absorb the remaining smell. Not sure it absorbs gasoline smell very well. Half a bottle of AirWick perfume will make it smell incredibly good, but do wear gloves and do in open, that’s very strong stuff, bad for your skin and lungs !
- The Inception of Wrapping :
You want to put cardboard and as much protection and bubble wrap as possible. Especially around the parts that are coming out as sharp corners. These will be the contact points so protect them. I tried 5 meters of bubble wrap, 1 meter large, it gave a good layer of 5~8 cm in thickness. Inserted in every hole of the engine a piece of paper full of perfume. Then Layer 1 : one roll of plastic wrap. Spray perfume. Layer 2: 5 meters of bubble wrap. Spray perfume. Final layer, one roll of plastic wrap. Don’t use Febreze, even with textiles bags it doesn’t do much against petrol smell. Let the bag out for days then spray with strong perfume in and out. You may want to plastic wrap the final bag again to : prevent theft, retain smell, avoid being bothered at check-in. AS A FINISH PUT GENEROUS AMOUNTS OF CLING WRAP OUTSIDE THE BAG TOO. On my second trip with the paramotor, I found the zipper was cut in several locations.
- Make the holding parts and handles obvious, if not the carriers will grab whatever they can and that could break if the bag is heavy. Happened to my paramotor bag. One handle is gone!
- Book if possible as much weight as you need, especially if you’re traveling alone. If there are several people and one paramotor, JACKPOT, no excess weight to pay for. Make sure the airline doesn’t have a policy against bulky luggage.
- DO LOOK AT THE COST OF EXCESS WEIGHT before you book the flight. I paid 30 euros for the extra 3 kg, you could end up paying as much as 30/50 Euros per kg depending on the airline. SO CHECK THAT. On the return flight I book normal heavy luggage (30 kg) + Sports Equipment. Way enough, and they took it no problem. The guy asked me what is inside. The answer below…
- If your personal insurance doesn’t include luggage, DO TAKE THE AIRPLANE COMPANY’S INSURANCE
- Check-in question: “What is in the bag, Sir ?” Honest answer: All my sporting equipment. If asked more, you can mention paragliding.
- MUST DO : During check-in ask them to put a “FRAGILE” tape around everything you check in. IN THE GOOD DIRECTION, they put it upside down on a bag, which I found upside down during its final collection…
- MUST DO : During check in, ask if you can check it is as BULKY LUGGAGE or OVERSIZE (In French : Grand Gabarit/Format or Hors-Format). You may have to go to another counter to send it away to the plane, and usually you collect these items at a seperate location not far from the regular luggage collection site. I suspect that oversized luggage receives a special treatment because they are usually fragile items (music instruments, bicycles, fishing rods). It’s also often collected faster and at a different belt line where you will usually meet other cool travelling sports people 🙂 which I love.
- SHOULD I TAKE THE WING ON THE PLANE OR CHECK IT IN? In the last version of this article I recommended not to, now the answer is updated: If you’re traveling with a wing, you may want to buy one of those plastic bag you can vacuum to make it less bulky. You want to carry it with you on the plane because it’s so fragile and airline luggage transporters are total brutes. And some airlines explicitly specify that they allow to carry wings on the plane.
- CHECK EVERYTHING RIGHT AT COLLECTION to make sure nothing is broken or missing, if so you’ll be able to register a complaint at the airline company’s booth right away.
- The gear is HEAVY (~40/45 kg total) , and not public-transport friendly AT ALL. You can barely actually move the whole thing on the ground by yourself without a trolley. So unless you work that aspect out, you will for sure have to take taxis or get someone to help you and come pick you up by car. DO NOT USE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION, it’s just too heavy.
- Have a backup plan if your engine is refused on board. Bring a friend with you or prepare an emergency round-trip to home from the airport to leave the paramotor there. Or try get a cancellation insurance in case YOU can’t make it (cancellation insurance is usually to protect you from the airline when they cancel the flight).
- Have some solid tape and extra bubble wrap JUST IN CASE they asked you to open the bag to see inside, so that you can repack it safely if they accept it after verification.
After writing this article, I read an article called “The Great Escape” (pages 61-62) issued in Fall 2007 in Edition 03 of Paramotor Magazine. It’s about traveling with your Paramotor! In that article, a few international professional pilots mention EXACTLY the same exploration as mine. Much pleasingly, they provide exactly the same advice as above, in less details though. Unlike me however, they can say “done it countless times” which is reassuring. And good news, they always traveled freely following this discipline.
Another article on this matter of traveling by plane with one’s paramotor came up in the Paramotor Magazine some time in late 2012, I read it all and it also did not have more information than I put here. If any more articles come on this subject, please do let me know so I can update this article. Thanks!
That’s all folks. Enjoy your paramotoring trips! And feel free to comment on your past experiences or ask questions.