The nightmare of flying with your camera gear.

It really very rarely is fun these days. Baggage allowances have got smaller and smaller over the years, both for cabin luggage and hold luggage. You also have that dilemma of what you put in the hold and what you hand carry.

Whenever I fly with my big cameras then I hand carry them, even then it’s up to the discretion of whomever is checking you in AND at the security check point. I have carried my F350 in a Portabrace bag before and been fine, but often I am told it’s too big and have to carry the camera “naked” meaning I have to go back to check in and check the empty bag in and carry the camera by hand with no protection. Never fun. Then I just have to wrap it up in coats and blankets to protect it in the overhead.

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What I used to travel with

With the advent of smaller cameras it’s a little better, but then that is voided by the fact I generally travel with a 35mm adaptor and a large amount of lenses. So a lot ends up going in the hold.

Now I try and hand carry as much as I can but you are limited. For example on this trip I am on now to India I have my 5d, one lens, my 17″, my 13″ MBP, some Lacie Rugged hard drives and I am over the limit for cabin luggage but got away with it.

Baggage allowance have dropped a lot from the early days of my traveling with kit. I used to be able to take 32kg in Economy, now this is often 20kg and excess baggage can vary hugely route to route, airline to airline. If you are in the US and flying out or flying to the US then you are lucky. You generally get double the allowance if you fly to or from the US than you do flying to other destinations. Here is an example.

When flying Business Class to the US recently my allowance was 3 x 32KG. When flying Business Class on the same airline to Delhi tonight my allowance is just 30KG. When paying excess to or from the US you pay per extra bag or anything over the allowance up to a max of 32kg. BUT other routes you pay per KG. I have just paid £600 for 20 KG excess. If I was flying to Shanghai that would have gone up from £29 per kilo I paid tonight to £44 per kilo. I have tried to find an explanation and spent ages on the phone to Virgin but nobody could explain it to me or how they could justify such an outrageous amount per kilo.

The most I have ever paid for excess in recent memory was £3000 one way from Japan to the UK. Astonishing. It actually took me a long time to get this money back from the client as they were reluctant to pay it. In the end I got it back but it took legal action and being out of pocket for 10 months.

So what happens is you have to compromise on what you can bring on a shoot? Be great if I could bring my Wally Dolly or my lights on this trip but it was out of the questions on cost grounds. Tripod wise I am lucky I am using the 5d as the Miller Solo DS 20 is compact and light. If I was shooting with a Letus and EX3 then it’s my big Vinten Vision 11 Fibertec and that is heavy. I have taken my Miller on occasions to save on costs but this has been a compromise.

Also putting valuable gear in the hold is risky. I have been lucky, so far, not to have anything nicked. But I know many who have. Also then you get delays, that happens often. Important gear doesn’t make it screwing up the first couple of days shooting. One thing I never do is put my main camera in the hold. Just too risky. Always hand carry. That’s the best advice I can give.

Will things get better or worse? Well as things have been in decline in recent years I am pessimistic. We can but hope.

One tip I have come across when flying internally in the US. South West airlines actually have a discounted media rate, it’s way cheaper to fly with them with lots of gear than American. I flew one leg South West and my excess was $50. My next leg was AA and it was $750. See what I mean?

Here is a rough list of carry on allowances.

Please share your experiences below…

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14 comments

  1. I work on cruise ships as a cameraman and editor occasionally, and I take my Sony EX-1 and lots of computer equipment with me, besides all the personal things I need. So I exceed the weight limits all the time. Usually, 20 kg are accepted, and mostly the airlines are fine with 22 kg. I have a Seamans Book (a document from port authorities), and some airlines accept 40 kg when I show it at the check in. But it depends, you never know.

    A friend of mine traveled with the seamans book, and the airport authorities did not accept it. The told her to pay 600 € for all her extra luggage. She got upset and called the manager, it took some discussion, then it was fine and they accepted the extra luggage without charging extra money.

  2. I used to love to fly to jobs… As a steadicam owner/operator and DP I always flew to jobs as I live in the Caribbean and if I were to depend on local jobs I’d starve.

    But these days its pretty much impossible to get to jobs with a functioning kit. While you can take the more delicate items in the cabin (still no easy task) the folks in baggage and security have an almost genius level of talent in breaking gear or simply sending it off to Mongolia.

    Roll on DSLR’s!

  3. Always carry my cam in hand-luggage. Whenever checking in with Lufthansa or other Sky Alliance at Munich Airport Germany I had problems with hand-luggage (restricted to 8kilos max.). Flying with BA from Munich hasn´t been a problem so far. On my last project I had to re-pack, disassemble F-350 camera, lens, viewfinder etc. and pack it into two small ready-padded backbags at the airport (1 bag per person, each max. 8kilos). Flying to jobs has become really difficult these days. I´m really looking forward to easier travelling with my 5dMKII kit soon.

  4. I specialize in shooting POV on water footage and usually carry 12+ POV cameras. Weight is not the problem but having to explain that I’m not “hot wiring” hotel rooms all the time get’s a bit monotonous. Maybe i need to update my passport photo …hahaha.

    Rambo

  5. Yes, traveling sucks any more.

    I went to 5 different Asian countries on some doc work and packed my camera (Z7U), 17″ MBP, dual HDD raid box, mics, CF cards, portable light, power accesories and two extra batteries on the plane with me.

    I was over the weight limit, but could pull out and carry the laptop separately if need be. My tripod and extra HDD’s went in the bag. I figured I could still shoot without my tripod and change of clothes.

    I had absolutely everything I needed. I’m looking at making my set up smaller and lighter for some upcoming trips. That could including having contacts rent certain gear for me on the ground.

    (my wife made a custom padded case for my camera).

  6. So interesting to read this. This last month I have spent travelling every few days to different places. I agree with pretty much everything you say Philip.

    One trick I tend to employ is walking up to the secuirty check in with my HB 207 slung over one shoulder. I don’t know if this actually works though because coming through Berlin Schoenfeld I was stopped.

    If stopped what I advise is explaining that the bag contains sensitive gear and that the bag is designed to travel within the restrictions. I said I don’t want to ram my bag into that little grill they ask you to do!

    In a way I’m glad I’m not the only one struggling with this problem.

  7. I shoot abroad say 8 times a year and find traveling a nightmare. I will never put anything expensive in the hold having had my bags raided three times in the last five years and have spent the last two years minimising my kit to the smallest minimum possible.

    I now carry two Peli 1510 one for the hold and one for hand luggage and never now travel Virgin as hand luggage restrictions are now too small with the excuses of “its to save fuel” and “passenger safety”. Im a working class guy trying to make a living.

    To combat the carry on restrictions however Im now using a Bellingham photographers jacket and load the kit in the pockets. As its a jacket Ive always been able to get away with loading upto 25lbs of kit often emptying the Peli 1510 of hardly any kit so its light through check-in then reloading the Peli around the corner when out of sight. I suppose its a loophole as I insist its a jacket and they are not quite sure what to say so I get away with it!

    Im mostly a stills photographer and carry two camera bodies, three lenses, 4 flash units and battery packs and two Monfrotto 5001B stands with my Macbook Pro 13inch. I used to carry the Panasonic DVX100A for video but adding that to the kit just took it over the limit as its an awkward shape to carry but now I have just brought the Panasonic GH1 (after seeing this website) and wow what a great camera. I can again shoot behind the scenes videos of my shoots!

    1. I avoid Pelis as they are so heavy and weight is everything. I have locks on all my bags but its difficult if they stop you taking what you want to as hand luggage. I got away on my return leg by loading by goretex jacket with all me lenses in the pockets. Weighs about 15kg but saved me a fortune!

  8. Hi Philip,

    in a DOP magazine, I read about, that X-raying of cameras in airport security may harm the sensor and that one should, whenever possible, avoid this procedure. How do you handle this ?

    Rolf

  9. I have been traveling with my camera and 12 cases of gear for the past year and half. For two years before that I was on a plane with a smaller “eng” kit sometimes as much as six times a month working in politics. In all that time I have had one monopod get damaged and it was replaced by the airline. It was stored in my PortaBrace tripod bag which I now ship in a hard tripod case.
    My bag are always locked, and tie wrapped. I use Clydesdale type case for my audio gear, large lenses and filters.My matteboxe and Brevis and smaller lenses are in Pelicans as are my lights. Never had anything missing.
    SInce excess baggage costs have gone up I now ship everything except cameras via Air Canada Cargo who are sensational and super reliable. If you can use them DO IT! The cost is much better than excess baggage and your stuff goes in sealed containers and is handled extremely carefully.
    There are usually customs brokerage costs associated with doing this when going abroad but if you do the research and paperwork yourself you can save considerably.
    My trips to the Barbados included a Kessler Crane and its tripod along with other larger light stands etc.
    SInce I am a one man band and travel with a producer/director ( who helps with loading the gear btw) we usually find someone locally as an assist and get the car rental company to remove seats from the vehicle.

  10. Hi Philip, im trying to not make a habit out of replying on posts that are ancient! But alas, I have a question!

    I am about to make a trip that is going to require me to throw some rigs and camera accessories in the hold :S

    I have had stuff been “lost” in transit before and never got it back. The airline did compensate me at the time though!

    This was a few years back, I was hoping you could shed some light on weather that still remains the same? If some one took off with my gear while it was in transit, would the airline usually cover the cost of the loss?

    Thanks!

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