A few years ago, I flew with Easy Jet from Manchester to Munich, then caught the train to Innsbruck. It was my first time in the Austrian Alps (and South Tyrol) plus my first time on a mountaineering trip. We had a 10 day guided tour combined with training, put on by the AAC(UK) for young members.
At the time, I knew nothing about carrying mountaineering kit on aeroplanes or trains. Here are some of the tips and tricks I’ve picked up on how to make the most of your budget airline allowance.
1. Take Lots of Hand Luggage
You will be amazed at how much you can fit. I took all my gear, including a load of karabiners and a helmet, through no trouble. The scan of the bag did get a double take on the way home from Innsbruck airport, but only because the karabiners were showing up as a large blob of metal.
Note that I did not take an ice axe or crampons in hand luggage (more later).
I used an Osprey Mutant 38 with flipflops, gaiters and a pasty strapped on the outside. Loads of room.
2. Don’t Stress Too Much About Bag Size
Standard Easyjet fares leave you with hand luggage size of 56x45x25 cm. This worried me a bit, because my over-packed Mutant 38 was 56cm tall with the floating lid taken off, and 25cm deep if you squished it. But here’s the thing: they never ever checked the size.
Maybe I just got lucky, but if you only have hand luggage, you don’t need to go through the check-in desks. There is a really handy ‘hand luggage size’ metal box at the bottom of Easy Jet signs next to the check-in desk. If your bag doesn’t fit, you can repack to your hearts content.
Tip: If you’re really struggling, bring a dry bag for a 60L rucksack that’ll fit everything inside it, including your hand luggage rucksack. Dry bags are nice and flexible, so you can push and shove it into the box until it fits.
3. Wear Your Boots (Loosely)
Do not take up precious bag space with your winter boots. Wear them all the way, even if you feel a bit overdressed in the airport. BUT don’t do them up properly.
Some airports will ask you to take your boots off as you go through security (kinda makes sense with the metal bar in them…). Do not be that person who holds the queue up undoing reams of laces. Either just shove the laces into the boots, or tie them around your ankles.
4. Fill Your Belay Jacket
Easy Jet also allows you to bring an ‘overcoat’ separate to your hand luggage. This basically means the coat with the largest pockets you can find. My belay jacket is made by Rab and has the trademark long pockets that you can put a newspaper in.
Incidentally, you’re also allowed a shawl, an umbrella and a walking stick!
For up to date Easy Jet hand luggage rules, see these guidelines.
5. Keep Electricals in Pockets
On the subject of filling your belay jacket pockets… the best thing you can fill them with is your electricals and that tiny clear bag of toiletries. Why? This makes them far easier to get out at security, so you don’t need to disturb your careful packing.
6. Fill up After Security
Security are really strict on liquids. We all know why. But it can be a bit of a pain when your flight is at the very end of a long day’s travelling. If I don’t drink anything all day, I’m going to collapse on the plane.
Fortunately, the tap water in airport toilets is (usually) drinking water. So you can just pop into the toilets after security and fill up your water bottle or bladder. Genius!
7. Get Through the Gate Early
So you’ve made it through security smoothly and your flight’s almost ready to board. My advice is: get to the gate early. Why? The front of the gate means the front of the queue for passport and ticket checks. It also means the most choice of seat in the bit before you actually get on the plane.
Note: this will vary from airport to airport, but typically it’s better to be in front. It also means that you’re less likely (allegedly) to get your hand luggage turned away than the people at the back.
8. Skip the Queue
In terms of getting onto the plane itself, it’s better to sit by the door out to the runway than anywhere else. That is, if you’re impatient and want to get on the plane first. By sitting next to the door, you’re getting yourself higher up the polite queue that forms to leave the gate after passport checks.
9. Have a Picnic
You can bring your own food, no problem. At time of writing, it doesn’t have to be pre-packaged or anything. Make your own sandwiches for the trip – no one cares. If you’re like me and think aeroplane food is nasty, then discovering this for the first time is wonderful! Security only care about liquids, not bread or biscuits.
10. Borrow Sharps Out There!
One of the main problems with going on a mountaineering trip via plane is that you can’t take pointy things in your hand luggage. I mean, I can kind of understand why it’s not ok to have an ice axe with you in the cabin, but a nicely stowed pair of crampons…?
My advice for going light-and-fast is to simply hire your ice axe and crampons out there. This is (usually) cheaper and quicker than paying for a hold bag, waiting for the hold bag at the other end, hoping it turns up and then lugging it around the mountains with you. It means you won’t necessarily have the perfect fit of crampons or the perfect length axe, but if you’re not doing anything too serious, I think it’s worth it for the reduced faff.