Flying with gear…

13
Feb
2012
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Ethics Statement: I am not an affiliate of any of the mentioned companies, although the Amazon links do go to my affiliate where, at no cost to you, I get a small percentage of purchases made. 90% of the bags and stuff I mention I have bought. The DSLR Backpak from Petrol was supplied to me for review and I can thoroughly recommend it. Please read more in my full ethics statement here. 

I have been flying with camera gear for 20 years and I can say one thing: flying today is a nightmare compared to when I first started to fly.

In my old days I used to have my BETACAM SP camera as hand luggage (no laptop, as they didn’t really exist then and we didn’t use them!), Flight case with 3 X Red Heads, Vinten tripod in tube, flight case for sound gear, flight case for batteries and charger, flight case for stock, about 4 LARGE flight cases for our edit gear…put it this way, it was a lot of stuff, way more than I take today. Which of course is great, since if I flew with that all the time, I would have excess baggage bills for many thousands. Of course that depends on with whom you fly. Some airlines are better than others!

Let’s take last year. In 2011 I was abroad for 9 months of the year, I took around 60+ flights. The most I had with me was probably around 9 or ten bags. That was the most and completely excessive!! Generally I have around 3 to check and try to sneak on two as hand luggage, as many airlines only allow one.

I am not going to get into things like Carnets and stuff. Just about luggage and what you can and cannot get away with. Flying has become the single biggest stress for me for these jobs. Be nice to drive my truck everywhere, but it would take a fair while to get to Australia!

HAND LUGGAGE

Let’s start with hand luggage and the issues you can have with that. Some airlines have a limit on weight as well as size. For example, the airline I usually use for transatlantic flights and the one I am using to go to Australia, Virgin Atlantic, for economy (which I avoid!) they allow one single piece of 6kg, which is a paltry 13lbs. This is nothing. My 17″ MBP is half that allowance on its own!

I never check cameras and rarely check lenses. Too fragile so they always go as hand luggage. I also always keep my hard drives/ media as hand luggage. No way I am trusting an airline with my rushes!

For almost all my flights, taking a full size ENG camera loose has generally been accepted (wrapped up in my coat and blankets!), take it in a soft bag and they often say no. Putting it in a big flight case and checking it scares the crap out of me, both for fear of damage and also because luggage gets lost easily. I remember waiting for my luggage at Heathrow last year and seeing a Sony F900 HD cam camera in a flight case left on the floor by the carousel. Obviously not where it was supposed to be. I phoned the production company to tell them it was there, and they said their crew were on their way to Thailand…obviously without the camera. Scary stuff!

With smaller cameras it’s a bit easier, they can go in smaller bags like the ones Petrol make below (which take my C300 or FS100 just fine, too tight for my F3). My main carry-on bag is made by Think Tank. I use the Airport Security V2 when flying to the US and back or within the US, and the Airport International for the rest of the world. The US hand luggage max size is slightly bigger than the rest of the world…like the country ;)

I have flown with my Epic in the Airport Security V2 (padded up of course) and lenses. It’s pretty damn spacious. Although heavy when loaded up so if your airline weighs your luggage…be prepared for a fight!

Think Tank Airport Security

Think Tank Airport international. Trust me, it's smaller!

 

"DSLR camera rollpak"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are of course loads of different types of other types of bags. The most solid being Peli/ Pelican cases. They’re really rugged but the problem is they weigh a fair bit even empty. So if you are having issues with weighed hand luggage, these are not for you…

You can be sneaky with hand luggage though and WEAR you stuff. You see, hand luggage does not include your coat, so a good coat with lots of pockets can get you out of a sticky situation. There are a few different solutions. Some cheaper than others…

This deeply attractive waistcoat style jacket can hold about 12KG of stuff, though make sure it’s padded as it’s rather thin. But it does work and the pockets are deep. It’s called a Rufus Roo! If you are going to do this then make sure that stuff is protected in there and not knocking against each other!

A more elegant solution, and more expensive, is from Scottevest. They do a variety of vests, coats and jackets. I recently bought some and will try them out on my two and a half months of flying coming up (8 flights in 2 weeks!) One of the ones I bought is below. They are not that cheap, this one was $200 but with 22 pockets it could come in very handy.

Ok so with these neat tricks you have got away with your hand luggage. I have never had issues in the US with hand luggage. Mostly Europe!

Checked Luggage

Different airlines have different policies. I did a blog post around a year ago about some of them, so do check that out here…

Basically if you can get a press pass for some airlines, it can save you a packet. Some don’t care. Just avoid the airlines that charge per kilo excess and stick with per bag excess or overweight excess. Guaranteed way to piss you off!

As mentioned earlier, Pelican cases are rugged as hell but heavy, so I rarely fly with them. What do I use? Well I use a lot of standard looking bags. Ones which don’t look like they have expensive gear in them generally! I do use some professional bags but generally I avoid them. I don’t want my bags to look attractive to light fingered people the bag can encounter on its journey!!

Below is my luggage for my recent trip to Dubai (The think tank is not in there yet) in the back of my truck to go to the airport. It consists of a big snowboard bag to take my 3 foot PB Kessler Pocket Dolly (wrapped in clothes). I also have my tripods in there, wrapped up VERY well with (more) clothes, a large Petrol RED case which goes on all my gigs. No RED in there, but perfect for putting bits in and solid but not too heavy. Also a large Petrol DR bag which I love for putting my rigged up camera in for transporting whilst there. Going out it has “stuff” in it.

Bert wants to come with me...in the RED Petrol bag

The key to a successful, and not to expensive flight abroad with gear is to pack well, as in protected, but not bring too much stuff. I am very guilty of flying with too much stuff. When I fly Virgin I get Gold luggage allowance as a very frequent flyer, which means 4 x 32KG of hold luggage. That is a lot. But I manage to fill it every time!

Make a list of essentials before you go. NEVER pack last minute. GUARANTEED way to bring too much stuff. I speak from experience! Make a list. Keep things in separate pouches, ones for batteries, chargers, cards etc…

I rarely fly with my lights now, I generally hire on location. Too many, and too big and heavy. Of course renting other stuff could save you money, but not everywhere is LA, NY or London where renting is easy.

Some people ask me why don’t I ship my gear…simply because I need it pretty much up until the day I leave and after I get home, so it needs to be with me. Oh well!

So basically, much of this is common sense. Remember: baggage handlers do not treat luggage well and sticking a fragile sticker on it guarantees nothing. Make sure everything is very well protected, doesn’t look too valuable (stealable) and you don’t bring too much stuff! :)

This Petrol lens bag is great. Just don't put it in the luggage hold like this. The bag will not protect the lenses from the nightmare of baggage handlers!

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Comments

  1. JW Lee says:

    Phil, got to love the Scottevest, one of my favorite pieces of clothing. Fortunately, I got mine as swag when they sponsored a show I worked on. Having all the pockets is great (not to mention the clear ones for the iPhone) and I really like that you can remove the sleeves to make it a vest. I take it with me everywhere and it’s like having a photog vest when on shoots. Looks like everyone who is on the road is using the Thinktank gear, definitely going to go that route.

  2. Timon says:

    In November i flew to Australia with 3 bags:

    Fly with 3 bags.
    All my camera stuff: Batteries, camera, lenses 3x, H4N, microphone, 7 inch screen, 4 harddisks, 17 inch macbook fits in a cinebag revolution backpack (which is carry on luggage.) 17 KG…

    1 bag for all my clothes, 23 KG

    1 bag for crane, slider, tripod, shoulder mount system a golf bag which perfect fits. I used a sleeping bag to protect everything. 26 KG

    I pay 100 euro for everything both ways extra on my flight ticket.

  3. Tom Anlezark says:

    I put a DSLR neck strap on my Sony Z5 and carry it on. I’ve never had it counted as an extra bag, but Australian airlines don’t seem to be as strict as European ones. I also got a Portabrace cover for it, which protects it from being knocked about in the overhead bins.

    My basic rule of thumb is to have everything in need for a simple setup in my carry-on, so if my checked luggage is lost, I can still get on with the shoot, albeit with a stripped down kit.

  4. Jiri Vrozina says:

    Nice but i prefer Hard Cases with wheels for DSLR gear.
    Pelican and others make some good ones.

  5. snasht says:

    Philip, could you update the link to your blog discussion about airlines–this one goes to the jacket company.
    thanks

  6. Great article Phillip, love reading your articles.
    Do you, or anyone ever have problem with carrying battery, lead acid battery, like the one for motion timelapse, such as the kessler crane Elektra drive bundle battery?
    Thanks
    Oh yeah, Phillip, I guess I’ll see you in Sydney

    1. Philip Bloom says:

      Got away with it so far!

    2. Jon Bryant says:

      I travel frequently to the US and have a Kessler set up with the mini controller, and batteries. I’ve never had an issue packing the battery as checked luggage. The only thing is, when I pack the slider, batteries and tripod in a suitcase it is always systematically opened by TSA. I use a special TSA approved lock, on a polycarbonate shell samsonite (this is pretty durable). I place the battery in a separate padded bag as extra protection. As I have had TSA check my bag so many times, I now put a polite note to them explaining what the equipment is and that I’d appreciate they put everything back where the find it post search. They do just that, and I’ve not had any issues so far.

  7. These are great tips Philip! And often all the rest is just up to luck.
    The most I paid for excess was $4,500 US each way – 18 roadcases with old tape to tape edit and camera gear. Luckily my foreign editor was okay about it.
    Had a bag stolen off the baggage carousel at Sydney airport! Thanks to Const. Lawson, Rocks Police I eventually got the gear back but not the bag.
    Commercial “short-hop” Outback flights in Australia can be dodgy. The planes are tiny and the pilots have pimples instead of stubble. I once had gear that would not fit in the cargo hold so I very quickly arranged for a trusted local to put it on a bus! Halls Creek to Broome. Got there no problem.
    Had a bag stolen at Karachi airport but spotted the bag and thief in the carpark and was able to grab it back.
    Walked across the tarmac to my plane once and noticed all my roadcases sitting on a trolley unloaded. I was going to Lima, Peru….the bags were tagged for La Paz, Bolivia.
    I’m really interested to know what you think about Carnets. Just shot for a week in Bosnia. The carnet cost 800GBP!
    On one of your future Australia trips you really should make time to treat yourself to Tasmania.
    Enjoy the trip. Makes me homesick.

  8. Chris Bogle says:

    Good post Phil. I flew with my kit for the first time last month and had a steep learning curve. KLM charge 50 quid for the 2nd bag but then it goes up to 200+ for a third. Luckily I had a nice check in lady who allowed me to put my laptop inside my camera bag, take my camera out and stick it over my shoulder and take my suitcase on as a second piece of hand luggage. Was a fretful airport experience! Live and learn!

  9. Philip,

    Will you be doing a few words on the Carnet topic, I am involved in a cross continent motorcycle trip, we have a carnet for the bikes but were wondering on the camera and general items situation. is there a limit to which a carnet comes into effect.

    Cheers matey.

  10. Alan says:

    Phil, here in the States airlines play games with charging people for their 2nd and 3rd bags, sometimes even the very first. Anywhere from $25-$50. More for over-sized and overweight. And over-sized, overweight bags. Forgetaboutit!

    The most TV Crew friendly airline I have found so far (by far) for travel inside the USA is Southwest Airlines (Who, contrary to their name, do offer service all over the country). Southwest does not charge for your first two bags. Period. Big deal, right? The key is that Motion Picture/TV crews do not get charged for being over-sized or overweight until 100 pounds! 45+ Kilos! 2-45 Kilo bags, no problem, FREE. 2-45 Kilo bags that happen to also be over-sized? No problem, FREE!

    Here is their policy:

    Media cameras are exempt from the sizing box restriction imposed on other carryon luggage, and, if carried onboard, must be stowed in accordance with FAA safety regulations. If the camera is to be secured in a seat, however, a ticket must be purchased for that seat.

    Camera, film, video, lighting, and sound equipment will be accepted when presented by a representative of a network or local television broadcasting company or a commercial filmmaking company. A fee of $50 will be charged for each item in excess of the free baggage allowance. Media equipment will not be assessed oversized or overweight charges.

    I’m not sure just how large you can go, as they don’t state a physical limit. I guess it has to fit thru the door on the airliner. Although I was not charged for bringing my 97lb. Arri light kit case. The TSA did manage to wheel it over to the inspection station and tip it over from full vertical onto the floor. All 97lbs of lights and stands made quite a boom and scared most of the passengers in the terminal at 5:00am. Glad I took the globes out the night before!

    Here in Los Angeles we are lucky in that the airline employees are used to crews traveling. When I wheeled up to the SkyCap he simply asked, “Camera crew?” To which I responded, “Yes, Sir!” With a Big (I’m gonna take care of you with a very nice tip) smile on my face. He was great. He even got me a special pass to go to the front of the security line. I think he mistook me for someone else. Oh well, it’s Los Angeles, it happens all the time…

    A smile and a kind greeting (genuine of course) will get you far. After all you are the guy trying to smuggle several lbs of very heavy gear onboard. Keep in mind that they have to deal with frustrated travelers all day long. We get to travel to exotic locations and photograph beautiful people. When in airports I always approach people working with the right attitude things just go much smoother.

    One day I really confused the TSA when they tried to x-ray my 1930s Eye-mo 35mm film camera. These are the windup camera that shot WWII. Well the x-ray machine didn’t have a 1930s mechanical camera in their database. She confirmed that it did not contain electronics or wires and asked what it was. I told them it was a motion picture camera made in the 1930s and that was that. She then tried to get an audition for her sister! True story!

    Good luck, fellow travelers. Remember to spend you travel dollars with Southwest Airlines. We as a community need to support companies that make our travel lives more affordable and easier than their competition. They also sponsor the Honor Flight Network which flies WWII Veterans back to Washington so that they may view firsthand the WWII memorial Honor Flight erected in their honor.

    Ethics Statement: I am not an affiliate of any of the mentioned companies, I just feel that we should support companies that support us and our Veterans

    Cheers,

    Alan

    ps: ALWAYS print out a copy of the airline’s baggage policy and keep it with you when traveling, so when they try and tell you differently you can show them their own policy. In the case of Southwest, I never needed it. But it was in my back pocket. So to speak!

  11. Bal23 says:

    All very useful information Mr Bloom. I had a bit of a nightmare with gear last year. I was flying to Qatar and checked with British Airways if it was ok, to take sound gear on board as carry on (I’ve got a Petrol electric handbag). They said it was no problem. Anyway, I flew out and did the job. However, on the way back I got into a pickle. I went through several security check points without a glitch. When I got to the final one the security guard didn’t like the look of all the sound kit. He asked me what it was, and what I was doing with it. After explaining he said he wanted me to check it in. There was no way I was going to do that. I asked if I could speak to someone from British Airways. He point blank refused. He then told me to leave the kit on the floor and go and have a coffee. You can imagine what I thought of that! Anyway I just sat there with the kit and said I wasn’t going to budge until a BA representative arrived. Eventually (after an hour) one did. I explained that everything had been cleared from the UK and all I was carrying was basic sound kit. Like the security guard, he didn’t like the look of the kit and wanted me to check it in.
    Luckily for me I had a couple of colleagues that backed me up and explained that we were TV crew and it was the norm to carry kit with us. He eventually buckled and let me through.
    I can’t explain how stressful the whole ordeal was, and something I don’t wish to repeat. I’m certain that if the kit had been checked in, it would not have made it back and if it did; not in one piece.
    When I got back to Blighty I wrote to BA and suggested they train their personnel to become media savvy. They weren’t interested.

  12. Thanks so much for this post, Philip. Really great info.

    The Think Tank rolling bags are really the best available – highly recommended. I also use regular looking suitcases to transport my gear. Although you may be the cool guy on set, I would never travel with a flightcase or bag that says CineGear or sth. This is just an acronym for “Steal me, I contain valuable goods”.

    My personal experience with KLM/Transavia have been really good. It helps if you contact them beforehand so they can place a remark with your booking that your travelling as media with additional gear.

  13. Marcus West says:

    Thank you very much for this information. I am still new at shooting video and I just bought the Thinktank bag from the link on your website. I will be going to Afganaistan for 6 months next week and needed to have something to carry my Canon t3i, Zoom H4n and other smaller gear as well as the Macbook Pro etc. This will work very well I hope. Now I just need to get the footage I wanted while deployed. Thank you again and to all the other people who gave thier comments this helped me too.
    Later
    Marcus

  14. Next article ” How to fly so much without getting sick”

  15. I am press but wasn’t aware that airlines had press passes which provided extra baggage allowances. Whom did you contact to get these passes?
    Steve

  16. PJWM says:

    Hi Philip,

    Great article and just in time too.
    I have a Think Tank Security 2.0 as well.
    I however have never used it for traveling yet, until that is tomorrow.

    I’m flying to Miami, FL with Delta Airlines. Do you know if they have a weight restriction for carry on luggage??
    And have you had problems with the Think Tank Security’s size?? As it meets US size requirements but when you actually measure it, it’s actually an inch or so bigger here and there.

    A response would be brilliant as I can’t find any weight information online.

    Thanks!

    1. Philip Bloom says:

      Hello!

      Delta won’t weigh bag. They will take size but if it’s a connection flight the plane is small so it won’t fit in overhead. They then take it off you at plane steps and you get it when you get off plane

      Good luck!

      1. PJWM says:

        Thanks for you reply Philip.
        I’m flying from Heathrow to Miami. Should that be ok?

    2. PJWM says:

      Ok,
      I believe I found the weight for Delta Airlines. They don’t have it on their website. Other sources say: 40lbs / 18KG.
      Here are some links that show these size and weight allowances, they have lots of other airlines too.

      http://www.farecompare.com/about/worldwide-baggage-fee-chart/
      http://honeymoons.about.com/od/airlinessites/qt/carry-on-bag-size-limit.htm

      Would still love to know if you have any problems with the Think Tanks Security’s size / weight issues with airlines such as Delta.

      1. PJWM says:

        Back from my adventures in Miami, I’m just replying to review the Flight / baggage experience.

        Delta like Philip said are amazing. No Problems with the Think Tank Airport Securtiy 2.0.
        They did not check the size or weight.
        Even though it is a large roller bag! I did not see anyone with a larger carry on bag than mine.
        I jam packed it with as much as I could whilst keeping it padded and safe with the lenses inside and all.
        The case was packed with my Canon 7D, 4 L Series lenses, my dismantled zacucto / red rock handheld rig, follow focus and DP4.

        I made sure I would be one of the first to get on the plane, so I had plenty of overhead space for the case.
        It will only fits sideways / lengthways.

        I think in future I would probably spend the extra £50 in more leg room space etc. As it was pretty hard to find leg room space for sleeping.

        If you ever do have a problem with your case in the overhead locker then i recommend getting an Aisle “E” Seat.
        As there are no obstructions underneath the seat, compared to the other aisle seats. I don’t know why this is, but I chose different “E” seats flying out and returning and they had the most amount of space for leg space.
        It would of fitted my case underneath (just) but then you get no leg space for yourself.

  17. Peter Olsen says:

    I recently flew domestically with Continental in the US and they ruined three lenses, a matte box, and put a 10″ crack clean through my Pelican case. And I didn’t even check it! I use the Pelican 1510 roller case which is designed to fit in overhead bins. And it does. I have traveled with it extensively. Except that this time, the flight attendant decided it was too tight a fit (even though I had already closed the bin) and that she was going to gate check it. Despite my protests. It was not packed to be checked – just padded dividers, no foam. And sure enough – despite being plastered with fragile stickers (in case of just such a situation) – massive damage. For which of course they will take no responsibility. I have tried pursing a claim with them, spent countless frustrated hours, on the phone, on line, and in person, trying to get reparation, to no avail. Ultimately, as it says in the fine print, the flight attendant has final say and can do whatever the hell they want with what you carry on. Not sure what I’ll do next time I fly. Certainly I will not choose Continental.

    1. Just my luck I’ll be the one in the TSA line behind someone with a scottevest as they empty all those pockets at the xray belt…”wait, I found another pocket!”

  18. kirtap says:

    I will like to be “Bert ” , i will sure to work on one of your film project. ;))
    yours blogs are really complete .
    good works!

    patrick Martens
    score composer

  19. Be very careful with KLM and SkyTeam! (Hand) Luggage allowance differ between the partners. Even if you book the flights through KLM, they expect you to check the baggage allowance of the actual operating partner for each flight.

    I had to check-in 4kg of gear at the airport because of Alitalia allows only 8kg, and KLM up to 12kg.

  20. jek803 says:

    Hello Philip…big fan!

    In regard to your post about “flying with gear”; can you tell me what your experience has been with transporting Lithium Ion Batteries?

    thanks,
    john

    1. Philip Bloom says:

      i have been fine so far…so far!

  21. Andrej Pacher says:

    Hello, I’m a big fan of both your work and your blog, I was just wondering whether you ever had issues with not being able to bring a rig as carry on because the construction could be used as a weapon? I fear it will get turned down because of the carbon rods. Thank you, Andrej