• Time Stamp in the Airport
     Time Stamp in the Airport
  • TSA without a hitch.... except this photo
     TSA without a hitch.... except this photo
  • Leavin' on a big jet plane
     Leavin' on a big jet plane
  • Repack so I can hit the road
     Repack so I can hit the road

TSA and ABS - Avalanche Air Bag

Monday, November 9th, 2015

We have heard the hubbub about traveling with an EXPLOSIVE and we know that our ABS bag has a 1 time use explosive charge handle right? Now, lets take it through TSA. Yeah right, should be no sweat. Well, let's put it this way, you will have more issues trying to snap a couple pics for your article than you will with your bag as long as you follow the rules.

Lets get a little explanation of the classification of explosives to start....

Classification of explosives

Explosives are classified using the United Nations’ system for the transport of dangerous goods. In this system:

  • most explosives are classified as dangerous goods of Class 1.

  • Class 1 is subdivided into six Divisions which are 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5 and 1.6.

  • each division is also assigned any of thirteen Compatibility Group letters which are A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, J, K, L, N and S.

This system of Classification and Compatibility Groups is designed to explain which explosives are compatible for transport and is also used for storage and handling. See the 3rd edition Australian Explosives Code for a detailed explanation of the Divisions and Compatibility Groups.

The more common explosives used commercially are Class 1.1, 1.3, 1.4 and 1.5 and the more common Compatibility Groups associated with these classes are B, C, D, G and S. Examples of these are:

  • detonators may be classified as Class 1.1B, 1.4B, 1.4S;

  • ammunition may be classified as 1.4S

Ok you got all that right? Keep in mind that we only brought in the part that relates. Now, your ABS has a 1.4s designation and this is a little bit of a problem. Here is the kicker, we can't fly with a charged cylinder so why bring the handle?  So, you just take the canister out and the handle off and leave them at home, a lot of dealers rent or loan so just call ahead and make arrangements. You can find a retailer or dealer at the other end to rent one from, or ABS has that info right here. If you are moving and must take all of the components with you, deploy and unscrew the top off the tank and follow all instructions, or simply mail it to yourself. If you choose to mail it to yourself, make sure to check shipping guidelines as well. 

So, now with a little background we are ready for an adventure. Rumor has it, that if you deploy within up to a week before flying, you will test hot for explosives. This rumor suggests that you should allow for an extra hour to explain yourself. Me, I figure my flight is at 0600, why not deploy at about 2000 the night before and go straight to the TSA without washing my hands or changing my clothes, should we test this out?

So, we deploy and get the bag packed. I deflated the bags with my chest and body trying to get as much of what ever magic is left in there on my person and on my hands, and by 2033 I am loaded and ready

to head off to the airport. Although I admit, I didn't go straight to the airport. I got hungry, so I did what any man would do, I stopped for some Mexican dinner. I made a conscious decision to not wash my hands, a little gross, but hey, it was for science. Now with a belly full of burrito, I'm back on track. Arriving at the airport around 2300, I took my short trek towards security and I begin to get nervous. All the stories of windowless rooms tucked into the bowels of a huge airport and hours of questioning. Bright lights, one really nice cop with coffee and one that threatens me within inches of my life. Ya know, just like the movies. So, I saddle up to a conveyor system and empty my pockets, being sure to check for any last excuse for hassle from TSA. No shoes, no belt, fluids in a quart sized bag, nothing over 3 ounces, I want untainted results! 

The full body scan reveals reason to pat me down and inspect my person. Apparently I am too dense in certain areas. This reveals that I have complied with all TSA regulations and a quick swab of my hands leaves me certain that I will come back positive for explosive residues. But much to my surprise! I come back negative, free to carry on about my day. My bag is my last remaining hope for interrogation and yet, no one turns a head. So, at this point I start asking questions and explain why I am concerned at my free passage. I asks the tough questions: Why didn't my bag turn up any results? How had my hands come back clean? How could this all be going so smoothly? To which I was met with a stern reprimand for asking too many questions in an otherwise slow, lifeless TSA line. Fun Fact: Taking photos in and of a TSA facility is a horrible idea and will most likely get you an interview with the FBI. On to my terminal. 

After a weekend at the Annual Wisconsin Snowmobile Convention, deploying several different manufacture's bags, and being careful not to get too clean, I know that I will experience extreme scrutiny at my next TSA encounter. They can't even imagine avalanche terrain in their dreary florescent-lit airport hallways, let alone comprehend an avalanche bag and it's life-saving capabilities. I storm into the airport defiantly knowing my destiny. As I make my way through TSA's serpentine, I am confident that some explaining will be necessary. Yet again, I am unhindered in my progress. This time, I am also greeted by friendlier TSA Agents, some of whom, are familiar with my avalanche bag and are willing to answer my "tough questions." Turns out, after an explosion, the chemicals that they are testing for are burnt away. They've done been exploded. So, on a swab of the hands, the residue should come back negative. Much like discharging a firearm prior to travel, would come back hot for GSR, but not for actual gunpowder. The airport tests for the explosive itself and not the aftermath residue. I could assume that it is hard to blow anything up with explosives that have already detonated. Fun Fact: Do not ask to be overly swabbed for explosives. This makes people very leery of why you're hanging out with so many questions. Also, if anything does come back positive, your belongings will now belong to the government. Let's just hope it's not your undies. 

Final thoughts on traveling with an ABS-Avalanche Air Bag, easy peasy. Follow the rules, have a safe trip and no need to worry. Proof in testing, shows free passage. Side Note: Four days after our travels, one of our hosts in Wisconsin flew into Denver and was detained for trace elements of explosives on their hands. As hard as we tried, we couldn't come back positive and a student that hadn't handled explosives or discharged our ABS bag tested hot. Our conclusion is that airbags have been on the market long enough and TSA Agents have been educated enough, to make travel easier and easier for backcountry enthusiasts. 

 For a little more information from ABS check out this link it will help you be prepared, also I printed and carried with me the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), you can get them from the same link. ABS also has a lot of international air travel information but moral of the story there is that TSA has more restrictions than IATA (Internation Air Transportation Association)