Flying with your Camera Gear

Summer is just a few weeks away, which means vacations. Which means traveling with your camera gear. Last year, 2.9 million American flew somewhere for the Memorial Day weekend. Here are a few tips for you to consider before hitting the Wild Blue Yonder.

I’ll cover tips for auto travel later; it’s a topic I’m more familiar with.

USAF fighter planes practicing maneurvers
I don’t have pictures of airplanes; these’ll have to do. @jenphotographs

Carryon vs Check

I’m not going to even debate the pros of cons. If you plan to check your suitcase into the airplane cargo, don’t pack your camera gear with it. Just don’t.

  1. Theft. It’s too easy for someone to steal your items when you’re not in control of it. There are several stories about TSA and airline worker thefts (like here, here and here). And it’s difficult to get reimbursed.
    Look at it this way: you wouldn’t leave a diamond ring worth $1,000 in your checked luggage in case it was lost or stolen, right?
  2. Damage. TSA and luggage handlers aren’t known for being gentle with luggage. There are stories about camera gear getting damaged in transit (like here and here). And bonus? Many airlines won’t reimburse for damaged electronics. As an example, this is from United‘s site:

The good news, though, is some Homeowner’s Insurance providers will cover loss or theft of goods while traveling. But there’s a catch: there’s often a high deductible, and it’s not always worth it to make a claim.

You can alternatively purchase Travel Insurance. This might be a good option for people who don’t have Homeowner’s Insurance, like apartment renters. However, not all travel insurances cover damage or theft. Shop around, read the policy carefully. They often have a limited cap, somewhere between $100 and $200 per lost/damaged item. So you might not recoup the full value of a camera. But, hey, $200 is better than zip.

OK, so you’ve decided to carryon your camera gear. Great!

USAF fighter planes practicing maneuervers
I don’t have pictures of airplanes; these’ll have to do. @jenphotographs

The next question is:

How to Pack the Camera Gear

A lot of people think they can just fly with the lens attached to the camera body. I’ve done that a couple of times in the past. Here’s the thing, though.

TSA security aren’t the most knowledgeable with camera gear and electronics. They won’t necessarily know how to handle your camera. And they must, per the new policies and regulations, check your camera.

What if the TSA drops your camera, lens and all? Then you’re potentially out both the body and lens.

The solution is pretty simple: grab one of these body caps for your camera body, and the rear lens cap for your lens to keep them dust free, and pack the body and lens separately in your bag.

This way the mount system is less likely to get damaged from manhandling, and if a piece of camera gear is dropped, you need to replace only that item, rather than both.

Do be sure to keep everything together — the batteries included — and accessible in your carryon bag. TSA might ask you to power on your camera and demonstrate that it works.

USAF fighter planes practicing maneurvers
I don’t have pictures of airplanes; these’ll have to do. @jenphotographs

“Uhoh, You’re Being Asked to Check Your Bag at the Gate”

This happens on occasion. Sometimes the plane runs out of storage space. And sometimes they do actually check the size of the carryon bag, and have determined that yours is too big.

So, what do you do?

Two options:

  1. Offer to check your larger bag if you can get your camera gear into a smaller bag.
  2. Inform them that your camera uses a Lithium Ion or ni-cad battery, and thus cannot be checked.

Be polite, but avoid checking your camera into storage. Politely ask them to ask other passengers.

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pinterest graphics Flying with Camera Gear plane airplane

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