Dealing with a Baggage Allowance

How to get mountains of gear to China without shipping it

Recent successes/failures

Swiss air, London to Hong Kong, 36 kg (James Alker)
??, Beijing to London, 300 kg between 8 people (China Caves Project)
Emirates, Heathrow to Dubai to Bangkok to Hong Kong, 92 kg (Matt Ryan) 2003.7
United, Washington to Hong Kong, 183 lbs/83kg (Erin Lynch) 2003.7
Cathay Pacific , UK to Hong Kong, 37 kg (Mel Reid) 2003.8
China Southern , Hong Kong to Guilin, 37 kg (Mel Reid) 2003.8
Turkish Airlines, Edinburgh to Heathrow to Istanbul to Bangkok to Hong Kong, 45 kg (Brian Judd) 2003.9
Emirates, Manchester to Dubai to Hong Kong, 55 kg (Jenny Drake) 2003.10

Let us know how you've fared, and we'll see if there's a trend among airlines or departure points.

Do you really need to be over the limit?

Start by leaving as much at home as possible. In China you can buy shampoo, soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, towel, pillow, duvet (to use instead of a sleeping bag on expeditions that won't be hiking), novels (in Yangshuo and Hong Kong at least), CD's, AA batteries, contact lense solution, a change of underwear, etc. Leave that bulky Lonely Planet Guide at home (just photocopy the relevant cities and the language section in the back). Don't forget to wash your caving gear--clean gear is much lighter! Remember, if you have a washing machine at your disposal there's no need to bring more than one change of clothing for above ground.

If you're travelling with a friend who isn't carrying a load of caving equipment, exploit their baggage allowance.

Remember the difference in responsibilities between different airport staff

The check-in desk is the one to get through, because they are worried about weight.

The security people are only interested in making sure you are not a dangerous terrorist. They could not care less about your weight. it is possible however that they are now more concerned with SRT kits and ropes as I suppose these might be useful in a hijack situation. Sometimes the final check-in at the gate can be concerned about weight, so you have to be careful with them too.

Pack for success

  • Put about 25kg in the rucksack which they usually turn a blind eye to.
  • Put about 8 kg in a small rucksack which you sling nonchalantly over one shoulder as if it was as light as a feather.
  • Carry some stuff in a full triple lined plastic bag with an old duty-free bag on the outside in the small hand item cage on most luggage trolleys. hide this underneath a jacket or newspaper. the point here is, airports are always happy for you to buy duty-free in unlimited quantities and carry it on a plane. You just have to get this through the weigh in.
  • Fill said jacket pockets with all your heavy items. Make sure you have a jacket with big pockets! Some people use a a fishing jacket consisting entirely of pockets. But don't wear this jacket yet because:
  • Wear up to 100 m rope wrapped around your body under your clothes with e.g. a cagoule on top

Specialized packing

  • Remember you are allowed a laptop bag in addition to your carry-on allowance.
  • If you have a large camera, it can be worn around your neck.

Never let 'em see you sweat

Smile, look relaxed, make a joke with the check-in person as soon as you approach the desk. Do not joke about carrying guns or bombs. Maintain eye contact so they don't look too closely at your luggage. If you give them loads of stress, they are very good at reflecting it back. Don't have an argument about whether you want a window seat!

For the security people, maintain sense of humour, explain everything in more detail than they are interested in, and try to be their source of entertainment for the day.

Exploit your fame

Casually mention that you are exploring the deepest cave in China. Be upbeat and enthusiastic, but not overbearing. Maybe carry a press clipping with you.

Internal flights

Be prepared to only check in 20 kilos per person. It doesn't seem to matter much if an individual bag weighs more than 20 kilos, but if there are 7 of you and they start making noises after 140 kilos have gone on the scales, don't put anything else through. Obviously check the largest and heaviest bags first. My experience has been that as long as you only check 20 kilos, you can carry on the most ridiculously heavy and bulky items (such as a 60 liter rucksack!) and they won't even blink.

As a last resort

If you do get stung for excess baggage, try acting dumb, flustered, like you didn't realize your bags were so heavy and hope they'll take pity on you. This works best if you're travelling on your own and don't look like a seasoned traveller. If they don't relent, then

Unpack absolutely everything covering as much acreage as possible in front of the desk. Make yourself such a nuisance that they'll put your bags on the plane just to get you out of the way.