In this blog post, I reveal TSA drone policy, and share various Tips and Trick which will help you SAVE money while traveling with a drone.
As a drone pilot in the United States, I’m frequently called to film various productions to train drone pilots all over the United States and beyond. While international travel and even long distance domestic has its own unique nuances, I’ll be focusing on the mainland for today. Whether you are taking a short regional flight, or flying cross country there are certain nuances that will help you save money and time.
This article is meant to share information that can help ease headaches and increase the amount of money in your pocket. You’ll learn how to get 200lbs of free baggage and how to avoid arguments with gate agents.
Big Bins = No Fighting on Checking Bags Full of Drone Batteries
As most of you know, you cannot check your lithium batteries underneath the aircraft. So most drone pilots leave their remotes, props, drone and various other accessories in their cases to check. There are some cases specifically made to be carry on cases for your batteries. Here is a good example.
Ever notice when you’re flying from Denver to Austin or San Antonio to Phoenix, you’re sometimes on a small jet. Since you have to carry all of your batteries, this can potentially pose a problem when you’re flying on small regional jets. Often times, little jets like the CRJ-700 or the ATR-42 have small overhead bins, and airlines like American and United try to get passengers to gate check their luggage. This can often times cause a big problem. This is another reason to fly Southwest – they all fly 737’s which have overhead bins that can actually fit cases and roller wheel bags.
Even if you’re flying on a larger aircraft, and if you’re late to the gate or in the tail end of the general boarding area, you may not be able to have enough space in the overhead bins for your carry-on battery case. And if you’re already carrying a camera bag or a personal bag, you’re really in trouble.
The agents may try to force you to put the bag below the aircraft. I’ve had to argue with an American Airlines flight attendant who told me that if I didn’t put the bag under the aircraft, she would have to call the FAA. I responded with “Call the FAA. Here’s my FAA license and I know that by putting lithium batteries below the plane you’ll be breaking federal law.” That’s when a pilot flying stand-by stood up and said, “Put the bag in the flight attendants closet now.”
She put my bag in the closet and it was over. Albeit, not every outcome ends pleasurably. Since then, the only time I’ve flown American was to Hawaii because Southwest wasn’t offering the service yet. Otherwise I’ve gone above and beyond to avoid that airline like the plague. It’s difficult to have good customer service when the CEO and company do not provide systems, resources and a culture of helping each other out.
So that’s why I fly Southwest every time I can!!! Southwest uses mostly 737’s providing for ample overhead bin space for your batteries. Long story short, you can actually rack up significant points for Southwest airlines if you sign up for their credit card. Buy everything on the card, pay it off each month, and you’ll earn a few free flights within 2 months. In addition, it will give you certain perks that will help you stay ahead of the line to ensure overhead bin space.
Southwest recently changed their luggage rules and it has made many production companies and drone pilots very happy. Now, drone pilots or commercial production houses and media houses can board with free luggage. These two bags do not have to be under 50lbs either. With media luggage you can actually have up to 2 bags that weigh up to 99lbs, and yes they can be oversized too!
The key to this rule is having a “press pass.” I know you’re probably thinking, “I don’t deserve a press pass and special access”. Let me shut up your inner negative Nancy voice now… YES YOU DO. Do you know who is entitled to a press pass in the US? Under the Constitution of the United States, anyone protected by the First Amendment is legally entitled to a press pass. I learned this after researching press passes via the National Press Photographers Association. You can even skip the hassle of making your own press pass – Just join that community and get a press pass for $48.00. A quality option that is probably also the easiest solution.
Typically, I travel every two weeks or bi-monthly as a promise to be home more for my wife. As I’ve been traveling consistently, I’ve noticed that even the most experienced gate agents are completely clueless when it comes to baggage fees. I wrote this article a few weeks ago and waited to post it as I wanted to showcase pictures of different ways to acquire press passes. I tested my press pass and it worked flawlessly, except the gate agent had no idea about the policy, and even tried to charge me for the extra size. This, after she told me she was an experienced agent of 22 years and completely didn’t know the policy at all and made a complete idiot of herself. It was rather entertaining! She could certainly use a good class in customer service. It’s ok to not know everything!!! Either way, once her manager came over and I showed her the copy of the rules, they let me go with two free bags, both over 50lbs – goes to show that there is some truth to the Freakonomics episode about how old doctors being worse than new doctors. Statistically, maybe the same rule can go for other careers.
So, how do you get free overweight, oversize baggage on Southwest Airlines?
Quick and Dirty – Define it as media luggage, print out the rule, provide a press pass and walk away!
Keys to success:
I hope these Tips and Tricks help you be a more efficient traveler! Let me know if I need to update anything and check out our podcast for up to date information //askdroneu.com
Check out the gear I use on drone trips: The Ultimate Drone Kit
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