Flying with camera gear. The best and worst airlines for excess baggage

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This is a much needed blog post that will become a “sticky” and will require as much information from you guys as possible.

I fly a lot and have had excess baggage charges as high as £3500 one way at times with one airline whilst another will charge me £150 for the same baggage. It’s finding the right airline. A cheap fare is all well and good but if you get screwed by their excess baggage policy where is the saving in that? This list is aimed at people travelling with gear, some airlines are better than others.

So what this post is going to do is collate all the information from your experiences and be constantly updated, so whenever you fly you come to this post and check out the info.

I will divide it into regions so it will be easier to read, hopefully.

So to get us started…

I generally fly Southwest in the US for internal flights.

SOUTHWEST: Checked baggage is 2 bags at 50lbs each. A charge of $50 per bag if it is overweight up to 100lbs. Extra bags are $50 each up to 50lbs with again a charge of $50 for excess weight up to $100lbs. This is up to 9 bags. Over 9 bags each bag is $110 (does not say up to what weight…) Carry on is 2 pieces.

DELTA: When I don’t fly Southwest I fly Delta, they have a media deal. If you can show a recognised media accreditation ID you can bring up to 25 pieces of 100lbs each for just $50 a bag. You will have to argue this with them as most check in staff don’t know their own policy. This is the webpage with the policy, print it off and bring it with you. Make sure you allow extra time to argue with them 🙂 One thing to be aware of, if you travel Delta connection it’s four bags MAX!

In Australia the airfares have come down a lot and the airlines seem to have decided to make their money with excess baggage.Qantas seems the best to be lenient, but I have found Virgin and Jetstar to be vicious. The computers at check-in are making it hard for the ground staff to just be kind to us camera crews. Worst case is $10 per kg for anything over 23kgs. No cases can carry over 30kgs and all your lithium batteries have to be carried in the cabin with you. I have been told by a check-in girl that you can purchase excess baggage when you buy your ticket at a cheaper rate than they charge you at check-in. I haven’t tried it but I have gone from carrying 7 or 8 cases to 3. I carry my digi on board and stuff my camera case with as much other equipment as I can. Regards Geoff Stock.


  1. Not that I have all that much experience with airlines and excess baggage, but Finnair have a calculator on their costs at:

    Shortly support for a fourth piece of baggage will be added. However, I don’t know what the exact policy is on maximums and so on, perhaps this page: will offer the info you need from them.

  2. Hi Philip. In Australia the airfares have come down a lot and the airlines seem to have decided to make their money with excess baggage.Qantas seems the best to be lenient, but I have found Virgin and Jetstar to be vicious. The computers at check-in are making it hard for the ground staff to just be kind to us camera crews. Worst case is $10 per kg for anything over 23kgs. No cases can carry over 30kgs and all your lithium batteries have to be carried in the cabin with you. I have been told by a check-in girl that you can purchase excess baggage when you buy your ticket at a cheaper rate than they charge you at check-in. I haven’t tried it but I have gone from carrying 7 or 8 cases to 3. I carry my digi on board and stuff my camera case with as much other equipment as I can. I am in Brisbane and if there is anything that I can lend you or source for you here to help out, let me know.
    Geoff Stock

  3. Girlfriend recently took excess luggage on a London to Hong Kong British Airways flight. BA initially wanted to charge just £40 flat fee but then if you transfer in the region from one airline to another the costs go astronomically silly.

    My girlfriend had a short hop with Cathay Pacific from HK to Taiwan (1 and a half hour flight) as part of her BA booking, and BA wanted to charge her £350 for just 7KG over the limit. You can imagine what 25KG to Oz would cost on those rates. If your suitcase had legs you could probably book it a seat in first class for less.

    Business class, you’re allowed huge oversized hand luggage usually. She refused to pay and they were quite prepared to have her miss the flight until another check-in guy took pity and intervened to get her fast tracked through security with a massive suitcase. She took it on board the flight, stored it up in business class and sat back downstairs. The air stewardess was really pissed off!!

    That’s the way to travel but I think it only works if you’re a girl and your airline has driven you to tears first.

  4. American Airlines has a similar media deal, if you have a valid press accreditation with you. Do yourself a favor and check these special policies before you fly. They can change and some airlines require this in advance – like Airberlin. I have found that it is often up to the supervisor to make a call and if you are nice, and are not in a rush they will do their best to help you.

    However be flexible, I have insisted that my cameras fly in the cabin with me and often times the head steward on the aircraft will not want a 60 pound bag coming crashing down out of the overhead compartment in an emergency; so they may store it in a closet as a favor to you. Having my gear in a locked ThinkTank roller bag, gives me some more piece of mind on the flight.

    Pascal Depuhl
    Miami, FL

  5. When you have elite status on any airline it really helps. For instance I am Platinum on American Airlines. With that status I get two free bags. If a second person is flying with me and are in the same “folder” not only do they enjoy my platinum status they also get two free bags as well. One word about Delta. I discovered (to my horror) on Delta when two people fly there is a maximum of 8 total bags you can check. I do not know if this is the case for other airlines. On most airlines there is a “Media Rate”. If you have some sort of identification that you are a member of the media you can sometimes get a reduced rate for excess baggage. It kind of depends on the person at the ticket counter. I always bring a chocolate bar, it doesn’t always work, but a smiling face is more likely to help than not. Mmmmmm chocolate.

  6. I have only logged 20 trips with gear, but my experience is every trip is different. Airlines and personnel aren’t consistent, so printing that policy is a great idea. Sometimes I have been charged $200 for a bag one way that was $50 on the return trip.

    Note that Continental simply does not accept bags over 70 lbs. Frontier is a great airline and has reasonable fees but they don’t fly everywhere.

    One airline employee suggested I check out first-class fares and their baggage limit/fees because sometimes it is a better deal than coach+fees.

  7. In the U.S., JetBlue allows two carry-on pieces plus one checked bag (up to 50 pounds) free of charge. A second checked bag costs $30, 3+ checked bags are $70 per bag (all up to 50 pounds). Each bag 50-70 lbs. costs $50, 71-99 lbs. costs $100.

    I usually carry on a laptop bag and Pelican case with cameras and lenses, and check everything else.

  8. Hi Philip, what about limitations and problems with carry-on cabin baggage? With airliners ridiculous carry-on limit of 8kg you can’t bring much.

    My laptop, DSLR, a few lenses and some personal stuff weight about 14kg. Philip how do you manage to take all these sensitive stuff with you on the plane ?

  9. This is a GREAT topic to discuss. I travel and film all over the world as well and love to share with others what works and what doesn’t. The tips on Phillip mentions for Delta made me laugh because that’s exactly what I do! The counter staff NEVER know about the media deal and will argue with you like crazy. I ALWAYS print out their web page showing the baggage rate the night before I’m heading to the airport so they can see it’s still a valid policy. I’ve had employees in the past tell me that the media rate is an old policy that is no longer in use, so a current printout eliminates that excuse.

    I just came back from a 6 week shoot in Antarctica and had a huge problem returning with Quantas. I (or my staff) always weight all of the cases before I leave so I’m prepared at the airport and know exactly what the charges should be. I flew American Airlines to New Zealand in route to Antarctica. American has the same media rate a Delta ( I checked two pelican 1610 cases (49# each) a larger SKB trunk (95#), and a large Nalpak tripod case that also had a short jib and slider crammed into it (78#). One of the 1610 cases got checked as part of my international allowance for no extra charge, the other three were checked as extra and I paid a total of $150 (USD) as expected. (I never have a problem leaving my home airport as they all know me and the policy well.) When I checked in at the airport I realized that the last leg of the trip (LAX to AKL) had been changed and was now operated by Quantas. However, everything went fine and the gear arrived without issue.
    On the way back, again it was an American Airlines flight that was now switched and operated by Quantas on the AKL to LAX leg. Quantas informed me that even though it was an American flight, it was their rules and they don’t have a media rate. They told me that my three excess bags would be charged $250 (USD) each. But when they found out that two of the cases were over 70#s, I was told they would not accept them at all. Quantas has an agreement with their Baggage handlers union that prohibits any bag over 70#s (32KG). So I was literally stuck. When I told them that they brought them down 6 weeks ago, they said that sometimes that happens when they receive baggage from other airlines and they have no choice. After talking with several supervisors and managers, I realized that there was no way I was checking the two 70#+ bags and ended up air shipping them as cargo with FedEx for a mere $1450 (USD).
    End result… Outbound excess baggage charge: $150. Return: $1700. All for the same gear on the same flights.

    Another point to note about Quantas is that they have a carryon limit of a whopping 7kg (15#) and can be a real stickler on enforcing it! On the way down I carried a Cinebags CB23 backpack with two bodies, 4 lens, MacBook Pro, and various accessories. It weighed about 38#. (Yup, it was stuffed!) A staff member traveling with me carried on a pelican 1510 case full of hard drives that weighed 22#s. Both made it down with no problem, but were flagged on the way back. They wanted to gate check them and charge us $190 (USD) each for the excess weight. Thankfully I was able to talk my way out of this and we got them on board. A good way to do this is tell them that it’s all camera/electronics gear. (they don’t like to handle electronics) I also tell them that I want a written guarantee that they will cover any damage and I’m happy to stand there holding up the line until they provide me with it. Usually the gate employee realizes it’s easier to look the other way for a moment then deal with me and I’m back on my way.

    This is only one example in over 25+ years of working in this industry.

    My advice is to double check your entire itinerary and know what the policy is for each airline you’ll be traveling on. In the U.S. Delta is my 1st choice followed by America as both have the media rate. Southwest is also good as Phillip mentioned.

    Geoff, I actually found JetStar to be flexible when flying between Auckland and Christchurch. They actually brought two baggage handlers out to the counter to look at my cases and they said no problem and even cut me a deal on the rate.

    A whole different topic is how to protect your gear when traveling! I’d love to talk about that as well. It can certainly be challenging!

    Happy travels!

    ~John Major

  10. Hi Philip!

    Great Blog! Since we are on the topic of Travel! I found myself in a precarious position flying to Little Cayman last year! We flew Delta, from Toronto to Atlanta, on a CR9 holding 70 people. The anxiety began setting in once I boarded the aircraft and viewed the overhead baggage compartments. In this aircraft they were the size of mini me from the Austin Powers movie.

    Luckily I was able to squeeze the large camera bag that held my 2 cameras (the size of a large nap sack) in front of my seat below. My E-Image tripod was taken and put in some safe compartment by the flight attendant.

    The connecting Delta flight was a nice size. The MD88 holding 150 passengers and a large overhead for my camera bag and tripod fit easily and was a relief.

    Once we arrived in Grand Cayman, we boarded a de Havilland Twin Otter with 20 passengers on board. Luckily I was able to keep my camera bag with me after a lengthy explanation. The red Fragile stickers may have helped! But the tripod went into baggage which I made sure was loaded last.

    So definitely a learning lesson in travel. Next time I will be prepared, knowing what type of aircraft one will be boarding just by asking at time of ticket purchase. Recognizing the weight restriction and getting there early to converse (argue) at the ticket counter point is well taken.

    Anyone flying Canada to the United States or vise versa should recognize and fill out a #4457 form depicting proof of purchase for your gear and register it.

    Next! Flying to see you Philip in Miami for the Canon Filmmaker Tour. 47 days and counting! 🙂

  11. Phil,

    I’ve found Southwest to be the best as well. I live in Nashville so its one of their cities. I normally will bring a carry on with all my clothing and personal stuff (either a backpack or gym bag) then also one of the Pelican 1500 wheeled cases (maximum size allowed by FAA) then on top of that you get 2 checked bags as I mentioned. Do you normally use Pelican cases? I’ve found they are the ONLY way to go when flying- the airlines really abuse luggage.

    1. “the airlines really abuse luggage.” That’s an understatement (;0) I have sat in a departure lounge in LAX and watched loaders throw bags out of the hold onto the conveyor and don’t care if it misses and falls off the side and crashes 20/30ft to the ground and split open. I have seen them do that and just pick up the split bag and lob it on the luggage car!!!!

  12. If you happen to be military, just stuff gear in to green duffel bag. You can usually have up to four of them + carry on and fly without hassle or a charge 🙂 At least on Delta and United, but be prepared to pay just in case.

    American sucks all the way. They always loose your stuff.

    And ALWAYS carry your camera with you as your carry on.

    Looking forward to see you in DC!

  13. A couple of years ago I was travelling from London Luton!! (luton in London pull the other one) anyhow. I had a few peli cases with cables. I worked out that the peli case was weighing nearly 10Kgs without anything init and with cables I was paying well over the odds and it would have been cheaper to buy the cables locally.!!!

    One other thing to watch at airports is the scales are not accuarte. I travelled from Gatwick to Glasgow and back again the same day and the case changed it’s wight by 2 kilos!!! That, at the time would have costs me had I not vociferously objected.

    I think in Berlin that have a stamp on them saying there is a maximum of +/- 250 grams. I think the UK need the weights and measures people checking them.

    There is a web site that specialises in Media call mediaonboard with a .com domain name of the same. It may be worth looking at all the options.

    High Level TV

    1. This is not advice, but this is my experience. I have flown between Australia, NZ, Japan, Singapore, Indonesia, USA, Canada & Thailand, always carrying bulk gear. At times have flown with gear worth over $100k. Never had a carnet. Never had an issue.

      Did travel with a crew who decided to use a carnet once. It cost us an additional 2 hours of stuffing about at each end plus the hours devoted to making sure you have all the serial numbers & cost of bits, and also making sure that each person in the crew carrying gear travels back with the same gear they left with. ie. making sure the right serial number camera body or lens goes into the right bag with the right person.

      My personal opinion is that they are more hassle than they are worth, but I stress that is only my personal opinion. Please dont call me if you get bailed up at the airport… 🙂

      1. Richard,
        Great topic. I don’t travel out of the US often enough to have learned some important lessons that I’ll pass on here. If I had found a discussion before my travels, I would have saved a few hours at customs and potentially getting gear stuck in customs.

        I recently had a small shoot in Mexico and did not get a list of equipement registered with the Mexican consolate. I had to pay a $225 “receipt free cash tax” at the Mexican customs or they threatened to confiscate my gear. (4 cases of lights, stands, tripods, and 3 dslr cameras.) The custom agent might have just been pushing his power to get a bribe; it’s always hard to know how hard to push back. I had to scout that night and shoot the next AM, so having my gear tied up in the customs office was a scary thought.
        The second trip to Mexico this year I brought a lot of gear. Having two crew members helped spread the gear accross more travelers. This time, I registered a list of gear with the Mexican Consulate and got a VISA to shoot in Mexico. We had a great shoot but then had issues coming back into the US. The customs agent in the US was very nice but made a point to let me know they had no proof I didin’t buy the gear in Mexico to sell in the US. So, they told me they had the right to tax all my gear coming into the US! Thankfully, they gave me a flyer for the ATA Carnet instead.
        As I understand it this is how the ATA Carnet works: you pay a processing fee of about $200-$300 to register a list of your gear – a “merchandise passport”. The ATA Carnat list is then recognized in many civilized contries and you can then get through customes without having to pay taxes on your gear.
        I’m waitng for my next international trip before I register. But here is where you can scope out all the facts:

  14. When I have been in Australia, I flew with Etihad Airways which was quite cool, I had excedent about 3/4kilos but I didn’t pay anything. I used to fly with Virgin Blue as well and I have to admit for extra luggage they are one of the worst company maybe Brussel Airlines is worse… 10€ per 1 kilo excedent… Hope Philip you’re not flying with Brussel AIrlines for coming next April…

  15. as a US resident, usually going out wasn’t the problem in fees, it was always coming back from the Caribbean that they would get you .. bad ! EU hasn’t been bad, but its been like 10 years since I’ve done that trip. I’ve got 2 flying trips this year, and I’m really dreading them because of this and the insane security X ray thing. I really find it demeaning. I used to fly upwards of 10 trips a year, now I’ve cut that to 1-2 because of how hard its gotten. many times its cheaper and faster to just drive if you really have to carry gear… unless you’re going across the pond 🙂 otherwise things I used to fly I now rent on the other end because its simpler / faster / cheaper / world less hassle.

  16. Unfortunately there seems to be no norm here as far as airlines go. Particularly over the last 12-18 months, I have been bouncing through airports in the USA, Australia & SE Asia with excessive gear. Flying Singapore, Qantas, United, Delta, SouthWest, Alaskan, JAL, Virgin and more.

    There does not seem to be any rhyme or reason to it. It really does seem to be down to a sweet smile and friendly counter staff. No seriously, being polite, particularly when everyone else is being a douchebag will work wonders.

    I have flown Qantas from Australia to Japan with a crew of 3 with 150KG excess luggage and been charged $0 excess.

    Flying back with 10kg over, they tried to sting me $100 excess, and i told them (ever so sweetly) to get stuffed, and talked it back down to zero.

    Flying back from Singapore with Qantas with 25kg over, they tried to do me for $250 which I talked down to $180.

    Flying United Airlines to the USA with Snowboard & camera gear, we were probably 50kg over & an additional piece of check in (tripod) between the two of us, and they let it roll.

    Flying United Airlines Vancouver to USA then back to Australia with 2 additional bags and maybe 70-80kg over, again they didn’t blink.

    I did maybe 25 internal USA flights last year, but almost always made sure I was within cooee of the baggage limit so never had a stress. (No useful data there)

    My way of approaching it, which helps both for excess charges & safety is having a decent carry-on bag. I use one of the Crumpler camera / laptop bags, but any of the bigger LowePro, Petrol etc bags will do. It is perfect size for carryon, and does not have wheels… Not having wheels means it *should* never get weighed – as long as you don’t groan audibly when you put it down in front of the checkin counter. I was forever seeing people with wheeled carry on bags getting pulled out of the line for weight checks when I had my Crumpy backpack right next to them. I refer to it as my ‘bag of invisible lightness’.

    When travelling there is usually everything that is heavy & valuable in that carry-on bag. Not going to publicly comment on how much it might have weighed, but its enough to make sure that my check in baggage is underweight, and all of the things I cant live without are in the plane with me. This approach will not work for everyone, but it has done pretty well for me so far.

  17. I flew almost 100,000 miles last year on United Airlines with camera equipment, and never have problems.

    ^Completely agree with Alister about packing all the valuables into your carry on. I use a LowePro pack that weighs probably close to 50 pounds and fits all my essential equipment as well as hides the heavy weight.

    The one thing I can say is that you should stick with one airline. Getting status makes traveling a heck of a lot easier as Star Alliance Gold allows for three 70 pound bags, for free.

    Southwest and Delta Philip? Those are two of the worst in my opinion!

  18. If your flying with Delta in the United States I have noticed they are no longer gate checking bags on the reguler domestic sized planes. If they run out of overhead space they simply check it to your final destination. So if you have a tight connection or for some unfortunate reason are last to board the plane this may be something you want to be aware of.

  19. I fly with over 20 cases typically. Network News photographer.

    I booked a flight on US Airways and was surprised they did not have a media rate. $200 per bag! It would have cost me $4400 to travel my bags. I questioned this practice but the agent didn’t budge.

    I cancelled my flight, spent the night and flew United at a media rate of $50/bag. A $900 charge.

    Needless to say, US Airways is off my list of airlines to travel with

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