I am planning on taking my aviation certified life-raft (Revere Aero Compact liferaft): "Raft inflates automatically in less than 30 seconds with self-contained CO₂ inflation system" on a commercial flight from Switzerland to Miami with Swiss. I have never travelled with it before, only when flying myself. Does anyone have any previous similar experience and is it even allowed in first place?
The CO2 cartridge will probably be considered as hazmat. When I've traveled with Scouts with self-inflating life vests (going to a sailing camp), the vests all had to be in checked luggage. Removing the CO2 cartridges would also work, but the easier solution for the Scouts was to have a dedicated checked bag with all the vests in it. Don't know if removing the cartridge would be an option with your raft or not.
Best to check with the airline well in advance so you can make arrangements as necessary.
No. Life jackets and self-inflating devices are considered dangerous goods and can only be carried if registered in advance See Swiss Baggage rules. I strongly suggest you contact the airline BEFORE you arrive at the airport. I would suggest you do it a number of days before as these things can take time.
This is not a Swiss specific regulation. All airlines have this restriction.
Since the life raft is packed, and you are not allowed to unpack/repack it (only authorised service centres can do it), it will contain a full CO₂ cylinder.
IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations, and more specifically Provisions for Dangerous Goods Carried by Passengers or Crew have this to say:
Gas cartridges, small, non-flammable containing carbon dioxide or other suitable gas in Division 2.2. Up to two (2) small cartridges fitted into a self-inflating personal safety device, intended to be worn by a person, such as a life jacket or vest. Not more than two (2) devices per passenger and up to two (2) spare small cartridges per device, not more than four (4) cartridges up to 50 mL water capacity for other devices (see 184.108.40.206).
So there is no limit on the size of those CO₂ cylinders if they are fitted in a life vest or other personal safety device intended to be worn by a person (those are usually below 50 ml anyway).
For other devices such as your life raft, the limit is at 50 ml.
In both cases you can carry them in checked luggage or carry-on, but there is a limit of the number you can carry, and you need operator approval.
I wasn't able to find the size of the CO₂ cylinders in that life raft, but I've found cylinders for other rafts of similar size and they had a capacity of over 600 ml, so it seems very unlikely the CO₂ cylinder in your life raft will be small enough to be accepted. You may want to ask the manufacturer about the size of the cylinder, but I wouldn't hold my breath.
You'll need to ship your life raft separately (note that it must be correctly labeled as UN2990 class 9 dangerous goods).
If you are planning to carry a full CO2 cartridge: no.
From the TSA:
CO2 Cartridge Carry On Bags: No
Checked Bags: No
Except for personal medical oxygen cylinders, you can only carry an EMPTY compressed gas cylinder onboard a plane. To be permitted (in either carry-on or checked baggage), it must be clearly visible to the TSA officer that the cylinder is empty.
It's due for inspection in 3 months anyway
So you might as well either leave the CO₂ cartridge in your home country ... or just drain/empty it and carry it separately. Now you have no trouble with the carry-on.
Then, when you get to the USA, have a shop inspect and (as part of that) re-fill the CO₂ cartridge.
Now, you are sitting in Florida with a freshly inspected and freshly charged raft ready to go. Do your thing with it.
Now how do you get that home? Easy - ground transportation. Take it to a Private Mail Box provider such as The UPS Store and they will cheerfully throw it in a box and mail it to your country. Tell them it contains a charged CO₂ canister. If UPS/DHL/FedEx sticks it on an airplane improperly, not your problem.
I decided to try and just put the life-raft inside my checked baggage today on a flight from Luxembourg to Zurich, as I arrived, it was still inside my bag, so I guess it worked out ... I will update this if it worked onto the flight to the US ;-) Thanks for the great help! Same goes for the flight back to Zurich.