Just last week, the Canadian Air Transport Safety Authority (CATSA) send out a cute tweet that was very timely:

This wasn’t new information, but it did remind me of a loathsome task I’ve been putting off: calling Air Canada to find out how to pack my hiking poles to improve the chances they will actually arrive with me in Spain.

Since I’m taking a small amount of stuff with me to Spain, I intend is to carry most of it on the plane – with the unfortunate exception of my hiking poles. I’d rather find myself in Spain with just about everything except my poles, rather than the panicky thrill of replacing everything for my Camino.

[Ed. note: It’s not that I think the airlines I’m flying – Air Canada and Lufthansa – will break them. As a fairly small package going through two international hubs on two airlines, the FAR likelier outcome is they’ll be lost entirely.]

Calling Air Canada

Here’s why I describe the task as “loathsome:”

“Current average wait time for service is 16 to 23 minutes.”

20 minutes and 8% of my battery later, I got a human, explained the situation  and promptly got transferred to international flights from domestic flights. When I got the next human, I explained my predicament in three points:

  • Hiking poles are prohibited by CATSA from carry-on;
  • They’re the only thing I’m checking; and,
  • Therefore, how does Air Canada suggest I pack them for baggage handling?

“Hmm, let me check.”  Then, two minutes of silence.  To be “helpful,” I told her I was calling because this information wasn’t on their website with the other sports equipment packing information.

What followed was a pretty Air Canada conversation – confusing and completely circular – about how there may be an additional handling fee (of course), how I should make sure the pointy ends are covered (literally and figuratively, a good point), and maybe I could take them on the plane with me as carry-on (and the circle is complete).

In the end, I offered my own suggestion and told her to tell me if it would work or not: a cardboard mailing tube. 

“Yeah, that should work.” While not at all confidence-inspiring, it was something. Will there be an additional handling fee like you mentioned? “No, not if it’s not oversized luggage.” Fantastic. A mailing tube it is.

Packing hiking poles  in a mailing tube for flying

When fully collapsed, my hiking poles are 25-26″ long, and, together,  a little more than 2″ wide. I bought the best-fit mailing tube I could find after taking them to the store and stuffing them into every one: 3″ x 36″.

Hiking poles packing flying mailing tube

There is a bit of excess space, so I am also taking a Swiss Army knife multi-tool with me. This is now justified since it also has to be checked. While we’re at it, I  am also throwing in some less-essential essentials that challenge the limits of my carry-on: liquids in a ziploc bag.

To absorb the shock and shore up the ends, I’ve stuffed the ends with some bubble wrap, and sealed it with strong tape.  I also wrote my name and contact information directly on the tube.  And with that, I’m ready to fly off. Godspeed, stuff!

UPDATE: I’m  happy to report my poles (which I started calling Castor and Pollux almost immediately) arrived safe and sound in Barcelona and had an extraordinary adventure in Spain.

Castor and Pollux arrived in Barcelona!

When it came time to return home, I took the poles apart (they have three sections) and taped them together with the duct tape that had been wrapped around them. By sheer luck, I bought a bag that came stuffed with bubble wrap, so I bubble wrapped the ends, stuffed them in my backpack, and checked the whole bag for the return journey.  Again, I’m happy to report they arrived home with me in Halifax, completely in tact.

If you have questions about packing for the Camino, ask in the comments or tweet me at @bitesizedtravel!