Flying With Ponies
by Erin Corbett
This year’s Breyerfest makes the twenty second time I have flown to a model horse event with a full show string.
There’s a lot of fear and some misinformation out there regarding flying with horses, so here’s how I do it! This is just my process, others may have differing ideas, but these points have worked very well for me over the years. A couple of important notes – IT IS RISKY. There is no way around the fact that airlines sometimes lose bags. I take steps to mitigate the risk, but you do need to know up front that there is a very scary worst-case scenario here. Also, I believe that the risk is only worth it if you are saving yourself a significant drive. If you need to go somewhere and you can get there in less than ~eighteen hours in the car, just start driving. You have far more control over your ponies in the car, and not nearly as many space restrictions.
That said, flying with horses has allowed me to go to shows and visit with collectors across the country that are totally out of reasonable driving distance from the west coast of Oregon. For me, this is worth it!
When I fly, I bring the following bags:
My “personal item” is a large duffel bag. I can fit 4+ traditional sized models in pony pouches in this bag, and I guard it with my life. It never goes into the overhead bin because I don’t want some other passenger to smash against it with their roller bag. This gets carefully (mostly) tucked under the seat in front of me. (pic here of green floral bag)
My carry-on roller bag is absolutely oversized. I can fit six to eight traditional sized models in pony pouches in it, and I have never had damage. But again, it is packed for My Hands Only, so I take steps (outlined below) to make sure I never have to surrender it.
Checked bag #1: Big Pink.
This bag is within in an inch of being oversized. It fits four gun cases, and I pad around the gun cases with my clothes for the trip.
I might look rumpled, but my ponies are safe!
This bag is half for purchases and half for my clothes, stablemates, and other miscellaneous stuff.
The left side has a zipper compartment where I put bubble wrapped horses, and the right is for my clothes and toiletry bag and other such stuff. This is also where I pack in my purse, since I won’t be carrying one on the flight.
A general note on trunks – many folks love to travel with big hinged trunks to shows. I prefer to stick to normal suitcases, because they are overall much lighter and easier for me to manage. I can handle all four of these bags alone, which is critical. Having all bags on four-corner spinners is worth every penny.
Show horses that go into checked bags should be in foam lined gun cases. If you can’t drop your bag from standing height with no damage to the models, they are not packed well enough. Horses that go into hand-carried bags are fine in double-wrapped pony pouches. I wrap mine with fleece and then they go into padded pouches.
I have a few personal ‘flying with horses’ rules.
- NEVER CONNECT. If I can’t fly direct, I don’t go. This includes searching for the nearest airport to where I’m going, and planning to rent a car from there and drive the rest of the way, up to 6-8 hours. I trust airlines to get my bags onto my plane – once. Every time my bags get moved from one location to another is a chance for the airline to lose it, and I am not willing to try my luck.
- If you absolutely can’t get anywhere without connecting, do not check any bags. You could fly with a small show string in your hand-carried bags.
- Always get the business class/economy plus upgrade. When you fly with horses, you should have your most valuable items in your carry-on roller bag and personal item. It is absolutely critical that you board the plane early enough to obtain overhead bin space, so you have to be in boarding group 2 at the lowest. You are not going to have a good time if you book a super-saver middle seat and have to board last!
- Make peace with being That Person With The Huge Bags on the plane. You will be That Person with the larger-than-regulation carry on items. It’s part of the deal, and the flight attendants won’t bug you if you’re in those early boarding groups, and if you’re nice to them. Be mindful of not flaunting your giant bag in the boarding area – sit in the back, don’t attract attention, board quietly and peacefully. If a flight attendant does question you about your bag and its generous girth, be extremely nice and apologetic and explain that it’s full of fragile priceless collectibles and you’re trying to get them to a convention safely. They understand!
- Make sure you are on a big plane! Check https://www.seatguru.com/ to see what size overhead bins your flight has. If you are in a small plane, even a normal size roller bag may not fit. The last thing you need is to have to surrender your carry-on bag because it doesn’t fit – you must plan ahead to make sure this isn’t a possibility.
- Get a frequent flier miles credit card and use it. Many airlines give you two free checked bags, free upgrades, or even a free flight for opening an account. Obviously, manage your personal finances carefully, but if you plan to fly more than two or three times a year, this is totally worth it. Research which airlines service locations you want to go, and what their card accounts offer. I have cards with United and American, as they go 99% of the places I want to fly.
- Send stuff in a friend’s car if you can! If I have friends driving to my destination, I will pay them generously in gas money to bring a couple of totes for me. This isn’t always possible, but when it is, it’s FABULOUS.