Having spent a significant portion of the past year on the road, I wanted to comprise a primer for airline travel. There are a number of packing lists and rulebooks available from fellow photographers, but this is information that I have found useful.
To start, this article from Matty Vogel covers the basics of solo travel with a camera system of up to 3 bodies: Flying with Camera Gear 101
Here are some general rules that I might add/agree with. This list is not comprehensive, so I would be happy to add any additional information others deem important.
- Pack light - only what you need and can carry. Vogel's article mentions that size and weight restrictions vary by airline and destination, so it's worth looking up each leg, especially if you're traveling to a remote area.
- If at all possible, do NOT check the bag with your bodies, lenses, and media equipment. Checked bags are subject to uncertainties, so pack your essentials accordingly. If you're on a regional jet, your essentials bag dimensions would be best served as smaller than (18Lx14Wx7D), which equals around one body, three lenses, tablet, and a few accessories.
- If confronted to check your bag by an airline employee, show them your media pass (mentioned below) and explain that you are carrying expensive, breakable equipment and cannot take the risk to check it. (Though, please be considerate of others' situations on the flight. As many will attest, kindness goes a long way in these circumstances.)
- Batteries must be in your carry on bag or jacket, as they are a fire hazard.
- It's worth purchasing a travel scale to take with you to make sure you don't hit weight overages.
- Don't stuff your bags to the brim, as you might need to transfer items between them at some point due to weight and storage limitations.
- Everything should be easily accessible for inspection (i.e. your laptop), because you will likely be inspected when traveling with that many electronic devices.
- If you do find yourself overloaded, bring a jacket like the one recommended by Philip Bloom in this article:
- If you are traveling with lots of gear where you will need to check baggage. It's worth looking into a media pass, for discounted baggage rates.
- Baggage Allowance for A/V equipment on American Airlines:
"Camera, film, lighting, and sound equipment will be charged a rate of $50 USD per piece when tendered by representatives of network or local television broadcasting companies, commercial film-making companies, professional photographers ... A maximum of 25 pieces is allowed per organization/company per American Eagle flight or 40 pieces for American Airlines flights. This policy is subject to seasonal and permanent baggage embargoes. The maximum size and weight allowances are subject to the policies in place for the destination."
- Obtaining a media pass is very simple and can be done online. Websites like the one listed below allow you to upload a picture and create your own. Stick it in a laminate, and bring your business card with you. Show these to the airline representative when checking in. They might want to verify your bags have media production tools, but you should have no trouble otherwise.
- Data backups should be kept separately (on your person and in another bag), or with more than one person, if possible. This helps prevent losing your work if something unfortunate arises. I use these for travel and they've proven fast and reliable:
- While there are many good cord keepers and accessory holders, I use these in quart, gallon, and 2.5 gallon sizes to keep everything I have organized and visible.
- Don't leave your lenses attached to your bodies while traveling. Most of the time, it likely won't result in damage to keep them on, but IMHO it's not worth the risk.
- Take a picture of your packed baggage (items in view) for your records, in case anything is stolen. Most homeowner/renter insurance can cover equipment for a small fee if it's not for business use. If you're a pro in need of insurance, check out someone like
- Lastly, as a general travel rule, make copies of your IDs, travel records, etc, and keep them in a safe place. Some people recommend a travel wallet for physical items and packing a separate record of backups.
Bag makers that I've used and would recommend:
- Think Tank Photo - great gear all around, worth the investment
- Pelican Waterproof Cases - heavy, but reliable (best for checked bags)
- ONA The Camps Bay Backpack (Field Tan) - very well made backpack
Quality doesn't always connote a high price, but as you have probably discovered right now, photography is an expensive endeavor. The links I've included are items/services that I feel are "buy once, buy right" in nature. There are plenty of reliable baggage makers that offer inexpensive items, but if you are paying thousands of dollars for bodies and lenses, why would you not have the right gear to maintain and protect them?