One of the downsides of travelling with your scuba equipment is being charged excess luggage fees by increasingly thrifty airlines, especially if you’re using budget carriers. Here’s some tips to flying with your scuba gear in South East Asia less expensive and less hassle
I do a lot of travelling with my scuba diving equipment around South East Asia, and I have used a lot of the budget airline carriers that now dominate Asian flight schedules. I am a big fan of the budget carriers because they do offer great value pricewise, but travelling on them with your scuba gear can be a pain.
The budget carriers standard international baggage allowance is 15kg. My dive bag with my full set of scuba gear, a hefty Ikelite camera housing, a couple of books, a few changes of clothes and a washbag of toiletries weighs in at around 26kg. My camera backpack which I carry on can weigh anything up to 12 kg with camera, strobes, laptop and the assorted chargers and cables. I try to pretend the backpack is superlight as I nonchalantly stroll towards the check-in desk, but inside I’m screaming…
Even with the excess charges, it’s still usually much cheaper to fly with one of the budget airlines than one of the traditional carriers who usually offer a 30kg allowance, although you shouldn’t take that as gospel. (Check on Kayak.com for a spread of current fares offered by the big name carriers and Skyscanner for the budget carrier prices – and don’t forget the airline websites themselves).
The other thing to consider is that budget airlines are point-to-point, which means they will not transfer your bags to another flight – you have to retrieve it and go check in again yourself. If you have multiple flights, you probably want to avoid doing this.
The big problem with excess scuba baggage is the sheer hassle of actually checking in. The weighing, form-filling, and paying at another desk is a time-consuming pain, and there’s always some uncertainity about how much you will be expected to pay. Most of the time it comes down to what mood the check-in staff are in. This can make check-in a fairly unpleasant and stressful experience.
However, things are starting to improve if you know where to look and so I thought a rundown of my experiences with various Asian budget carriers and their scuba diving equipment policy might be useful for other budget scuba travellers.
Multi Country Budget Carriers:
AirAsia – the biggest of the budget carriers in Asia and the one you are most likely to encounter. AirAsia have a strict policy of charging for all excess baggage which they zealously enforce. However, this Fee Schedule page on the AirAsia website shows that AirAsia have a sporting goods weight allowance, which they’ve always kept very quiet. The customer pays a fixed excess fee of around $10 US for up to 15kg extra (ie 30kg total weight allowance). On recent AirAsia flights from Bali – Jakarta – Bangkok, I had to check in twice and on showing a print out of this AirAsia webpage was allowed the Sporting Goods Weight Allowance. I don’t think I would have got it without the print out – the staff were all ready to charge me the full excess until I politely showed them the fee schedule.
Jetstar – lets you purchase a Sports Gear allowance at the time of booking. Much more civilised as then there is no hassle at check-in. I have no problem with paying a fixed amount extra to transport my dive gear on a budget carrier. You have to purchase the allowance for each sector or leg of your journey, so for both going out and coming back and any stop-offs inbetween.
Tiger Airways – Tiger also have an enlightened Sports Gear upgrade policy, where you buy an allowance at time of booking. As with Jetstar, you need to buy the allowance for each sector of your journey.
Air Philippines (not to be confused with Philippine Air) – Will wiave any excess baggage charges if you show your dive certification card (e.g. PADI). This is the official AirPhilippines webpage that states the scuba weight allowance.
Cebu Pacific – Cheap prices but a nightmare customer experience. Cebu always charge for the excess and will sometimes ask to weigh your hand luggage as well to ensure it’s not over the prescribed 7kg. They make zero allowance for scuba divers despite scuba diving being a prime driver of Philippines tourism. Cebu Pacific’s domestic charges for excess baggage are fairly minimal, but Bangkok to Manila can be expensive at 200 Baht per kilo over 15 kg. Cebu’s flights are so cheap that even with the excess baggage their prices are still way below any other carrier, hence why I’ve flown with them numerous times, but they could be a lot more efficient and effective.
Nok Air – wiaves any excess baggage charges if you show your dive certification card, but it depends on the staff. In Bangkok the check-in staff volunteered this information, which was a pleasant surprise and a money saver. In Krabi, the staff had never heard of the policy and had to spend several minutes finding a supervisor to approve it. I suggest printing out this page of the Nok Air website which specifically states "Carriage of diving equipment is accepted. Weight of diving equipment is included in normal checked baggage allowance, and is entitled of 20 kg free of charge."
I flew domestically with Garuda, LionAir, Merpati and Wings whilst getting to and from Raja Ampat in Papua. We were not charged an excess as far as I know, but we were being checked through as a group by our liveaboard company MSY Seahorse. I don’t know if there were excess charges that the liveaboard guys took care of without telling us (would be expensive for them) or if being a group the airlines simply let it pass. I don’t have any further experience of flying with Indonesian airlines, so if anyone can clarify, that would be great.