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Backpacking by Plane: Transporting Fuel and Stoves

Important information you should know before you go - from the American Hiking Society For many hikers, an eagerly anticipated trip along a quiet trail does not begin at the trailhead. It starts at the gate to an airplane. Unfortunately, thats also where many trips end. While checking in, some hikers are dismayed to find their camping stove and fuel confiscated by airline personnel. According to Jennifer Antonielli of the US Department of Transportations Office of Hazardous Materials Standards, the stoves are confiscated because they use kerosene, butane or propane. [These materials] pose a serious hazard, especially by air, because theyre under pressure and they are flammable materials, Antonielli explained. If this is true, then why aren't all hikers encountering this same barrier to their hiking trips at each of the various airlines inspection stations?

[PATC Pagemaster Note: It should be noted that confiscations are occuring for ALL types of backpacking stoves, including those that use "white" gasoline or Coleman fuel. A.H.]

American Hiking Society has discovered the main reason for the contradiction is that each airline has its own policy regarding what can and cannot be carried on an airplane. Some airlines are more hiker-friendly, while others adhere to stricter rules and policy. To add to the confusion, official Federal Aviation Association (FAA) regulation contradicts many airline policies.

The FAA sets the standards for all airlines, but these guidelines reflect only the minimum requirement that airlines must follow. Individual airlines can add stricter regulations at their own discretion.

According to Christopher Glasow, a hazardous materials specialist with FAA, carrying a properly purged camping stove by air is not a problem, and a hiker can transport it either by cargo or carry-on. Glasow noted, "There is nothing in the regulations that indicates that a properly purged stove is a hazardous material--its like an article of clothing."

By purging, you will eliminate the flammable hazard of the camping fuel. To do this, simply empty and expose the equipment to air and sunlight for several hours.

However, carrying fuel on an airplane is considered much more hazardous and faces greater scrutiny. Glasow explained hikers should take steps to ensure their fuel is transported properly. First, find out what type of fuel is being transported. Next, call the airline to learn what its regulations are. If the airline allows fuel to be transported, the fuel must be packaged and marked according to that airlines regulations, and accompanied by the appropriate shipping papers. If a hiker misses a single regulation, even if airline personnel forgets to mention it, the hiker can be liable for up to $25,000. This penalty also will apply if a hiker packs the fuel in a suitcase and the fuel is discovered by aircraft personnel.

Although it is not illegal to transport the fuel, Glasow recommended hikers buy fuel at their destination. Glasow added, The regulations are so complex, its safer than putting yourself at risk for the large fines. American Hiking agrees with Glasow, and recommends that hikers wait to purchase fuel until they get off the plane. If a hiker is determined to transport fuel or wants to attain more detailed information about the associated regulations, call the FAA Hazardous Materials office at (202) 267-3130, and refer to Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

The following table summarizes various airlines stove and fuel transportation policies as of October, 1995. While official FAA policy does allow fuel to be transported, American Hiking could not find an airline that permits it. Therefore, American Hiking classified airlines into three groups based only on their policies concerning the transportation of stoves and empty fuel containers. When reading the information in the table, note that transporting by cargo is the same as checking in luggage; sending air freight involves making a separate reservation for the stove and fuel container. Based on this criteria and current policies, airlines were designated into one of three groups: "Pro"-Hiker, "Moderate" Hiker and "Anti"-Hiker.


Stoves and empty fuel containers properly purged of residual fuels may be transported via carry-on or in the cargo chamber.

Stoves, lanterns and empty fuel containers properly purged of residual fuels are generally permissible aboard passenger flights, but will travel as luggage in the belly of aircraft. Equipment is subject to inspection and assessment at check-in station, and ultimate authority rests with aircraft personnel.

Properly purged fuel containers and stoves are accommodated on passenger flights as carry-on luggage or cargo. Ultimate authority rests with inspection agent.

Properly purged fuel containers and camping stoves must be transported with luggage in cargo area. Equipment may also be sent ahead air freight, but the fare is not cost effective.

Moderate Hiker

Stoves properly purged of fuel residue are acceptable carry-on luggage. Used fuel tanks, without exception, must be shipped separately by freight; those attached to the stoves must be detached. Shipping empty fuel tanks will run upwards from $30 depending on size, weight and destination.


These airlines will fly used stoves and empty fuel containers only by freight at a minimum cost of $31.88. Northwest will allow new and unused stoves to be transported via carry-on.

Stove and fuel containers will both be accommodated if new and unused, otherwise they must be sent by Express Air. You must call the product manufacturer to receive packaging instructions and the UN number, which classifies the equipment and the fuels. Express Air flight costs at a minimum $30, depending on weight, size and destination.

This airline will transport new and unused stoves and fuel containers. Used equipment is transported as dangerous goods. A dangerous goods agent must be hired to handle paperwork and packaging of materials. Such a process is both exhaustive and expensive.

Always double-check airline policy and restrictions before committing to an airline! Keep in mind that the inspection station attendant servicing each airline has final authority over what goes on the plane, and this may vary from the airlines official policy.

American Hiking Society will continually update and make available in print or on-line this and other fact sheets. For more information on American Hiking projects or memberhship in AHS, call or write: American Hiking Society, P.O. Box 20160, Washington DC, 20041 (301) 565-6704 or visit AHSs National Trail Information Center by entering AOL and typing keyword AHS.

[PATC Pagemasters Note: AHS is currently working on an official Web site for their organization. The AOL information will be posted to the Web when the page is ready. PATC will add a link to the new "official" AHS site when it is available. A.H.]

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