The incredible journey of a scholar in armour – flying over the Atlantic

 Photo editing from a fan - circulated on Tweeter and Facebook

Photo editing from a fan - circulated on Tweeter and Facebook

I tend to turn my scholarly work on late medieval armour into a range of different public outreach initiatives. When I was invited to take part of a Deed of arms (competition in armour with 20 other martial arts practitioners) in Chicago (WMAW 2017), I thought it would be a good idea to benefit from the trip and make a stop at the Metropolitan Museum to offer a lecture. The Department Head was kind enough to offer the venue and so it began.

Planning ahead for such a trip over the ocean with the armour made me think a while. Having a lot of experience of travelling around Europe in armour, car remains the best option, train is ok, provided that you can avoid too much connection. For the latter, it’s easier to wear the armour, than to carry it on one or two heavy plastic boxes. Flying is another story. In armour, I weigh less than 120kg, which is the limit for a single seat on a transatlantic flight. The weight limit for checked in luggage is 24kg (easily reached, both in weight and dimension). Since I had 3 flights, I was unwilling to pay 3 times the second luggage fee (200$). So the decision was made pretty quickly. I would fly wearing part of the armour.

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So I put in a plastic box all armour pieces that looked scary, had edges or were pointy (gauntlets, helmet, feet defences, and so on) and I wore the leg armour (grieves and cuisses), as well as the cuirasse (the upper part covering the torso and hips). As such, I was able to quickly strip out armour alone (mandatory for the security passenger check-in). I had some paperwork done (invitation letters and some document stating that the armour was a replica of no patrimonial value). I announced my project to the airline company, but they were unwilling to provide a written statement telling that they would agree to let my fly in such outfit. They said that if the airport security would let me through, then I could fly with them. I turned then to the airport security, and they said that they would need document stating that the airline company would allow me boarding. The snake was eating its tale again. I decided to take my chances

Keys or coins left in your pocket sir?

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The first flight was Geneva-Newark. Friendly security officers laughing at me first, and then seeing it was serious. A bit of explanation, some smiles and my already prepared joke: “shall I lie down on the tray to go through the X-Ray machine?” made it quite easy to go through security. The flight attendants on United were all willing to have selfies with me of course. I was lucky, the plane was not full, and I had plenty of space to spend the 9 hours flight with the armour on the over-head compartments.

Welcome to the United States of America

The landing was less funny. On the line waiting to the passport control, TSA officers were already giving me looks. After a review of the documents, I got flagged for a more in depth control and had to wait almost an hour to be processed. When I tried to explain that I was here for business purposes and that I was not a lunatic, I had to endure a moral lesson of 10 long minutes by a not-so-friendly officer explaining how I was offensive to others because I wore a fifteenth century armour replica. The taxi to downtown New York was very talkative and walking the fifth avenue in armour was hard (running away from tourists). I could then enjoy lecturing at the Metropolitan Museum.

Hey tinman… can I have a picture?

I was afraid of the internal flight from New York to Chicago, so I took extra-time for the check-in. No need, I went through smoothly at LaGuardia, after having given a crash-course on late medieval armour to friendly TSA officers (one really insisted to try it on!). A few pictures, and a couple hours waiting for boarding later, I got on a very busy plane where I did not have space to undress nor to store the armour. The 2 hours and a half flight was not so comfortable, but the armour is tailored to measure, so I could even get some sleep. The next three days were spent giving workshops and lecture about armour fighting in this well-attended Historical European Martial Arts gathering. The highlight of the days was the Deed of arms itself, where I could have the opportunity to fight very skilled and well-armoured fighters.

How do you manage to go to the toilets?

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The flying back from Chicago to Geneva, via London was quite long, 22 hours door to door. No issue going through security or boarding the plane. Flight attendants were quite excited as well and one really wondered how I would manage to go to the toilets (most of people wearing armour are asked this question quite often according to my experience). The security procedure in Heathrow (having to go through security again even for connecting flights) made me miss the connection. I then chose to stop for an full English breakfast before entering the last bits of the journey. Countless pictures, selfies and overall again explanations finally got me home.

A few advices

I made it look easy, it was not. If any of my readers would like to attempt such trip, I strongly advise to:

  • have a letter of invitation of the event you're going to (best issued from an institution)
  • have a document stating what you are actually wearing (replica, and so on)
  • announce your coming by phone a few hours before arriving at airport
  • shave, wash, and be really nice with the security officers

Enjoy your trip!