How to fly with an avalanche airbag cylinder

Posted on November 12th, 2012 by | 10 Comments

Remember the age-old warning, “Don’t judge a book by its cover?” The same applies to magazine articles. In our last blog, “Powder Magazine: airbags go mainstream,” we took a look at the well-researched avalanche airbag review in the November issue of Powder. In the same issue there’s an article by Cody Townsend, alarmingly entitled, “Blowing up: traveling with your new avalanche airbag pack could put you behind bars for up to ten years.” Great article, but the headline is misleading. Don’t worry, it’s perfectly legal to travel with your compressed gas cylinder–as long as it’s empty.

BCA Float compressed gas cylinder


Townsend is a great skier, a TGR athlete (how we met him), a Tracker2 beacon user, and a great ally of BCA. He’s also married to Elyse Saugstad, who was saved by her ABS airbag last season at Steven’s Pass. But Cody’s perspective is somewhat limited to his experience with ABS avalanche airbags, which can’t be refilled. If you own an ABS airbag pack, you have to travel with a charged cylinder–and a pyrotechnic trigger–both of which are prohibited by TSA (Transportation Security Administration). Therefore Cody is used to “poaching” his way through airports. This is not necessary with a BCA Float airbag pack and cylinder. All you have to do is discharge the cylinder (good practice: you should do this at least once a year anyway), then carry it through security in your carry-on luggage. You can send the rest of the system through as checked baggage, no problem. When you carry the cylinder through, you should unscrew the cylinder head and put it and the cylinder itself in a Ziploc bag so the TSA agents can look inside, if necessary. This info is clearly explained and illustrated here.

So, what do you do with an empty cylinder when you get to your destination? Just drop in to one of our 181 North American refill centers and they’ll get it done in a few minutes. We have set these up in most ski destinations in the U.S. and Canada, as well as most metro areas where skiers live. A few weeks from now, you’ll be able to find the refill center nearest you here (we’ve just redesigned this page and are now filling in all the addresses). In the meantime, you can just e-mail us at

Traveling outside of North America is even easier: when TSA is not involved, then it’s fine to check through a charged cylinder (don’t’ bring it on board). For more info on this, check out the Float airbag FAQ page on our website.

If you’re traveling from the U.S. to other countries, you still have to go through TSA, so you’ll need to get a refill on the other end. We have a growing network of refill centers in Europe, including all retail locations of France’s largest outdoor retail chain, Au Vieux Campeur. Those listings will also be showing up soon on our refill center locator. In the meantime, feel free to e-mail our European Distribution Center at

Now that you know you won’t be spending the next ten years behind bars, go out and celebrate! Or better yet, go out and splurge on a Float!

  • Evan Reid

    Are you sure that it’s OK to fly with a full float cylinder outside of N. America? The IATA regulations state a limit of 250ml, and the float cylinder is 290ml. Some clarification on this would be much appreciated.

    • edge

      Excellent question, Evan. On January 1, 2013, the 250ml limit in the IATA regulations will expire and there will be no limits on the size of airbag cylinders. We wrote a blog about this last December, check it out at . FYI, I don’t know of anyone who has ever been hassled about their airbag cylinder being larger than 250ml. Do you?

  • Edge

    Excellent question, Evan. The 250ml limit on airbag cylinders will expire on 12/31/12. See our blog on this at
    I’ve never heard of anyone getting turned away for having a cylinder larger than 250ml, have you?

    • KVL


      i just checked the IATA site, as well the document which you link to.

      Both still states that the limit is 250 ml of compressed air. So for me it doesnt seems to be an exception for larger cylinders – e.g the 290 ml Float cylinder.. :/

      Would be nice if was possible to find the above document/exception direcly on the IATA website..

      • Bruce_Edgerly

        Hmm, where did you get that link? The one in our Float FAQ’s was updated earlier this year when they changed the reg and eliminated the 250ml limit. Please go to the Float FAQ re: “Can I transport a Float on commercial airlines?” You’ll see there is no longer a 250ml limit.

  • Evan Reid

    Thanks for that, great to have clarification. Never heard of anyone being refused, but have heard of people being asked the size of the cylinder. Second question, will you be incorporating a list of European refill sites onto your map? It will be helpful for us to point them out to our clients (we’re European BCA stockists-

  • Matty

    Just bought a float 32. Love the bag. Headed to hokaido next week. Any refill centers there?

  • gas safety device

    Great informational post thanks …………

  • Jason

    Any Refill Centers in St Anton Austria. Heading there in a couple weeks.

    • Dane Olson

      Please email for European refilling or exchanging inquires. K2 Europe will be able to assist.