With all the recent changes in airport security, it’s only going to get harder and harder to get your camera gear onboard a commercial plane. In fact, I predict that soon, it will be impossible. In fact, it is impossible to get the usual amount of gear on from Canada right now. A friend of mine was told he could not bring ANY carry on during his flight from Edmonton to Seattle. He was allowed to put his D3 around his neck. He had to check everything else.
I am not going to get into the security or politics of this decision. I’m just going to address the real-world impact it will have on photographers.
Since we can’t lock our checked luggage. And since we can only bring limited carry ons – soon maybe no carry ons, how are we going to get that gear from here to there?
It seems that the only reliable way left is to ship it via private courier such as UPS. I have a big trip coming up. I have to fly from Seattle to Nashville then Nashville to Tampa then Orlando back to Seattle. All over the next two months. I am shipping as much gear as I possibly can to Florida and only taking pocket cameras to Nashville.
I am recommending that all traveling photographers take the following precautions:
1. Make sure you have insurance for your camera gear. Really. Make sure. Call your agent and ask him/her what would happen if your gear was stolen. See if you can get what’s called an Inland Marine policy. This guarantees full replacement value for your gear if stolen.
2. Avoid checking camera gear in commercial airline baggage. Since you can’t lock it, there’s every reason to believe it may be stolen. While we should be able to trust TSA and the baggage handlers, it’s a fact that we cannot. There are numerous reported instances of both stealing camera gear from luggage.
3. If you are flying from outside the USA to the US, don’t count on getting any carry-ons onto the plane.
4. Flying domestically in the USA is no guarantee that your carry on will be allowed. Rules are changing from day-to-day, airport-to-airport, screener-to screener. If you bring a camera bag as a carry on, have a backup plan to get that bag to your destination.
5. Get an account with all the major shippers. They treat you better if you have an account.
6. Identify trustworthy individuals at your destination who can receive gear for you and hold it until you arrive. Also be sure to offer to compensate these folks for their time and arrange shipment back before you leave for home.
All of us need to pitch in and help here. If someone asks you to receive gear for them, oblige. You may need the same favor soon enough.
The situation is frankly not very good. I fear that commercial airline travel for photographers is only going to get harder. What worked last month probably won’t work next month. Be flexible, research everything you can and devise alternative methods to get your gear from here to there.