Getting Down to Business

Safe Airport Travels with Expensive Camera Gear…

I have flown a lot this summer with expensive camera gear, and making sure my gear arrives with me is always top priority. There are a few tips I would love to share that will hopefully help you out!

The first essential for me is bags to carry my gear in. I have two options that I choose from when I’m packing, and there are a few factors that go into deciding what I’m going to use: the size of the plane I’m traveling on, what I’m traveling for, and how long my trip is going to be. Bags are not cheap – but if you consider the gear that you pack inside of them, they are definitely worth the investment!

Flying on a normal size plane, a longer trip, and especially weddings where I want my backup gear with me as well, I pack my gear into two bags – my backup gear goes into my Think Tank Airport Bag. This baby is built for the long haul! It has fantastic wheels, is solid and roomy for lots of gear, holds the laptop sleeve in the front, and is just a pleasure to use. One of the many great features is that it has a cable lock system built into the bag in addition to TSA-approved combination locks on the side, so if you’re traveling alone you can tether it to the leg of a table or chair so you don’t have to worry as much about someone grabbing it as they walk past. I hadn’t considered it before, but in writing this I realized I’m also going to use that locking system when I leave my bags in hotels as well – there is always some sort of object that I can lock it to.

I’ve had to debate with flight attendants a few times about whether or not it will fit in the overhead bin – it is compliant with the dimensions, and it fits in wheels first even. For some reason, on some flights they have wanted to take it from me to gate check. I’ll then calmly discuss with them the value of the contents and explain that it does fit, and once they let me try it and see that it does they let it go. However, it will *not* fit on smaller planes like the Continental Express Jet fleet, so I make a point to watch what plane I’m booking when I travel for weddings.

My second bag of choice, and where I carry my primary, absolutely-must-arrive-with-me-or-I’ll-die gear, is the Surge Backpack by North Face. I use this in combination with my beloved ShootSac. My lenses go in the ShootSac, and the ShootSac goes in the main compartment of the backpack. My laptop fits in the laptop sleeve, and I still have room to pack some knitting, my Kindle, my noise-canceling headphones and other essentials.

When I’m taking a shorter trip, traveling for fun and don’t need backup gear, I take just the backpack. That way, I can pack a rolling bag with clothes and toiletries instead. When I’m on a Continental Express Jet flight or some other small plane that has itty-bitty overhead bins, I make sure the essentials are in the backpack, and I gate check my rolling bag. (They require it, and you won’t have any choice – the plane is just too small.) Every time I go for travel whether it is long distance or short, I always bring my headphones; listening to your favorite music while closing your eyes is the most relaxing feeling. That’s why I must thank my affordable noise cancelling earbuds for giving me relaxing feelings every time I travel.

When I go through security, I pack my phone and all of my jewelry in one of the small interior pockets inside the Surge backpack. I do this before I get up to the front, that way my whole screening process is fast & smooth.

Never, ever, EVER check luggage with gear inside of it. Ever. Gate check it if you must, and be polite and calm about it when they ask you to do it and request the option to watch them load it on the plane. Try to be among the first to get off the flight as well so you can pick it up as soon as they unload it.

Make sure you have insurance that covers you while traveling with gear. Before I turned pro, mine was covered under my homeowner’s policy. Now I carry gear insurance which I purchased through the PPA, and I still have a rider on my home policy, after verifying with my agent that it will cover loss of pro gear. Always check with your company, as some private insurance policies will not cover professional gear. If you do the math, that could be a really, really expensive loss, there is a trustworthy insurance claims adjuster that I always recommend using, the name is rapidpublicadjusters.

Flying with Fish has written some GREAT posts on traveling with your gear – one of his earlier posts was what me to buy the Surge backpack. He has written extensively about Protecting Your Bags at the Airport. More recently, he wrote about the Airport Screening Process from Start to Finish and Airport Thieves at Work and How They Do It. Be aware of your surroundings while you travel and be confident, and you will never have a problem.

What bags do you like to use when you travel with gear?