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Airline approved cases – a guide to selecting a suitable option

Last Updated 1st September 2021
Posted In: Guides & Advice | Transit Protection

Cases You Can Take on Flights

Protective cases that guarantee safe transportation of your equipment

The Coronavirus pandemic has greatly reduced international travel. But with vaccines now being deployed and restrictions cautiously being lifted, the likelihood is that airlines will become busy again in the near future.

And whilst this applies to consumers heading off for a warm weather break, the numbers of business travellers is expected to return to (close to) previous levels as well.

And, despite the increase in popularity of Zoom and other online meeting platforms, there will always be a requirement for staff to travel with demo kits, new products, prototypes or samples for business meetings and presentations.

This in turn requires suitable protective cases. But as these cases are being taken onto flights, they must meet a raft of regulations. As a result, these have come to be known as airline approved cases.

This guide details the requirements associated with cases of this type, as well as detailing the most suitable options for different applications.

Quick Reference / Contents

The Need for Airline Approved Cases

Why would business travellers require specialist carry on cases?

Before looking at the regulations and options, it is first sensible to identify why business travellers could need specialist cases when flying.

Whilst many will not require anything out of the ordinary – such as those taking laptops, paperwork, clothing, and other typical luggage – many businesses will send employees to see international clients (or potential customers) with specialist equipment, parts, or products.

This is particularly common where engineering companies have developed prototypes or test models specifically tailored to their customer’s needs. These will then be taken by employees to firstly ensure that the items are not damaged or mislaid during transit, but also so that they can be demonstrated or installed when they arrive.

Airline approved cases
Airline approved cases are ideal if you have expensive or sensitive items that you do not wish to place in the hold when travelling via air

Besides this, technical sales team are also likely to require these types of products, prototypes, or tools to be able to successfully win business from potential customers abroad.

Another scenario is where specialist engineers visit existing customers or international locations to troubleshoot and repair specialist equipment (which in turn requires specialist tools and equipment to do so).

All of these situations would see the need for specialist airline approved cases.

Hand Luggage vs Hold Storage

Whilst most airlines have a slightly different interpretation, hand luggage is defined as bags, containers or carriers that are allowed into the cabin of commercial flights. “Hold” luggage however is (perhaps obviously) any carriers, suitcases and containers that must be placed in the aircrafts’ hold.

Whilst the UK government itself no longer sets a maximum size for items of hand luggage, which was the case prior to April 2010, the majority of operators typically allow hand luggage, or airline approved cases, that are 560mm long x 450mm wide x 250mm deep.

Nevertheless, it is becoming more frequent that many airlines, particularly budget ones such as Ryanair and Easy Jet, have their own restrictions for hand luggage and airline approved cases.

And whilst they do vary between airlines, the general rule is that if they fit in the overhead compartment (or indeed under the seat in front of yours) then they can be carried on.

Therefore, it is always wise to check with the specific airline you are travelling with before you depart to either ensure that you can take your case onto the plane with you, or ascertain if it will be placed in the hold (it may also be the case that the airlines’ own rules have recently changed).

ATA Cases

Air Transport Association of America (ATA) Approved Cases

Another term that you may or may not have heard of, is ATA approved cases.

The Air Transport Association of America (ATA), recently rebranded as Airlines for America (A4A), is a trade body that has members including Boeing, Airbus, Fedex, and many others. Its aim is to “foster a business and regulatory environment that ensures safe and secure air transportation and enables U.S. airlines to flourish”. However, many of its practices and guidelines have adopted by airlines operating throughout the world.

But what does this have to do with cases?

Well, one of the policies it implemented was the creation of the ATA Specification 300: Specification for Packaging of Airline Supplies. This document / set of guidelines provides a standardised approach to the design and construction of any transit containers used for shipping or transporting items by air.

The document sets out the following 6 points specifically regarding cases / packaging:

  • Provide sufficient protection with a minimum of tare weight and cube consistent with optimum packaging versatility
  • Ensure proper identification of material and containers
  • Eliminate shipping damage due to packaging
  • Reduce packing and unpacking costs
  • Promote environmentally conscious packaging
  • Accommodate security features to expose unauthorized access during shipment

Besides this, there are various categories and criteria for cases to adhere to. Category 1 cases must be able to withstand 100 round trips for example, with Category 2 ten trips, and Category 3 just one return journey.

There are other guidelines with regards to the specific manufacture and features of the case, depending on its type and use as well. Besides this, it also makes provisions for hazardous goods (such as lithium-ion batteries), testing procedures, and relevant labelling / markings.

Selecting Airline Approved Cases

Choosing a suitable case for your business / employees

With all this to consider, selecting an appropriate case can be somewhat daunting.

As such, the rest of this guide focuses on the different case options that you can use for business applications when travelling internationally. This covers:

  • Original ATA approved case options
  • Most suitable for transit in aircraft hold
  • Best carry-on case option
  • Best option for protection
  • Best for small items / equipment

Please continue reading for further information, recommendations and options covering each of these uses / applications.

01: Original ATA Approved Cases

Custom built flight cases

The original specification as set out by the ATA in effect details what is known as a traditional “flight case” (the clue being in the name!).

This includes the use of aluminium extrusion fittings, steel knuckle ball corners, piano type hinges and even the acceptable types of wall / panel material. It also recommends that transit cases of this nature should be white where possible (to aid visibility), although adds that other colours can be used for branding purposes as required.

As such, there are a number of benefits to using these types of flight cases for your air transit.

ATA approved flight cases
As the name would suggest, flight cases are the original ATA approved case option

As they can be custom manufactured to specific sizes, it ensures that there is no excess weight or space to the cases – both of which can lead to higher shipping costs.

They can also feature elements to improve usability, s=such as castors / wheels, handles, locks, and of course custom foam inserts.

This makes them an acceptable option for transporting items in the hold of an aircraft but, as we will go on to detail, there may be more suitable options.

02: Best for Shipping in Hold

Aluminium flight cases / transit cases

Whilst the ATA sets criteria for flight cases when shipping items by air, there is actually another case (also ATA approved) that can be considerably more suited to this application.

Aluminium cases.

The range of K470 aluminium cases from German manufacturer Zarges provide a number of advantages over traditional flight cases including – crucially – weight.

Being considerably lighter than flight cases, this reduction in weight typically makes these cases cheaper to ship than custom built options.

They also offer a number of additional benefits including strength, ease of handling (they can also have added wheels, include easy to use handles etc.), can be locked and are easily cleaned. These cases are also recognised as ATA approved.

Their only slight drawback is that, as you have to select from a range of pre-determined sizes (rather than specifying custom dimensions) you can sometimes be paying to ship fresh air or excess foam (if the case is too large for your items). However, this is most often offset by the overall weight saving.

As such, if you are planning on sending items internationally via air freight, aluminium cases would be your best option.

Zarges ATA approved carry cases
The Zarges K470 cases are widely used for air freight, due to their light weight minimising costs

03: Best Carry-On Case

Shell Case Standard 500

But what about if you want to take your items on to the aircraft with you? What if you only have small items? What if the items are so expensive, delicate, or important, that they cannot be put into the hold?

In that case, using a carry-on approved case is your best option, with the Shell Case Standard 500 range being the best all-rounder.

Shell case Hybrid 500 carry on cases
The Shell Case Hybrid 500 range are the best all round option for business travellers needing a carry-on case

Looking very much like a hard shell suitcase that a holiday maker would use, Shell Cases actually boast a range of additional features that make them perfect for professional use.

This includes a very tough polycarbonate shell for protection, integrated TSA locks, various branding options (particularly useful if the case will later be used in a sales meeting) and of course can be enhanced with foam inserts.

The size of the cases also mean that they can be stowed in the overhead compartments, allowing you to keep a careful watch over your important kit, products, or samples.

04: Best for Protection

Peli™ / Storm Case™

If you need the highest levels of protection for your items during transit, then a waterproof case with custom foam inserts (such as Peli™ Protector, Storm Case™, Explorer etc.) is definitely your best option.

The Peli™ Storm Case™ range, as well as being suitable for use when travelling abroad, also boast a wealth of additional features that make them ideal for either taking on to the plane or stowing in the hold. The range of sizes also helps here, with a range of options suitable for either scenario.

They are manufactured from an exceptionally tough HPX™ resin exterior shell, are extremely sturdy, have strong and hard-wearing hinges, press and pull latches for ease of use and are also completely moisture and dust proof. They also come with a manufacturer’s lifetime guarantee.

When coupled with Plastazote foam inserts, they will offer the highest levels of protection possible from a case (with it even being possible to create inserts that provide a very specific, calculated level of protection).

As such, for any engineers or technical sales teams with very expensive, delicate or highly calibrated products / equipment, moulded waterproof cases are the go to choice.

Carry on cases
Peli and Storm cases offer a wide range of sizes and are suitable as both carry on luggage and for stowing in the hold

05: Best for Small Items

Peli™ / Storm / Hofbauer Cases

Moulded waterproof cases are also a great choice for transporting small items when onboard an aircraft.

However, as they provide such high levels of protection, they can be a bit bulky and heavy for every application (although this may be required depending on your items being transported).

As such, another potential option is the light to medium duty plastic carry cases.

This includes cases from the likes of Hofbauer, WAG, Rose Plastic, Maxado and others besides.

Within this, are varying options of weight, durability, sizes and features, allowing you to find a case that is a good match for your equipment and / or products and that is also cost effective too (i.e. not too large or heavy).

lightweight carry on cases
Lightweight carry on cases, such as those manufactured by WAG or Hofbauer, are ideal for taking on international sales trips

In Summary

Selecting an airline approved case

If you are heading abroad to visit clients or other sites within your company, attending an important business seminar or even travelling to install or service equipment internationally, then make sure you have a suitable airline approved case.

Please click here to see the available protective cases you can source from GWP, or use the details below to contact a member of our team for further advice.

Further Reading...

About the Author

Richard Coombes

Richard Coombes

General Manager | GWP Protective

Having originally joined GWP Protective back in 2004, working on the factory floor, Richard now heads up the business as General Manager. [Read full bio…]

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