a traveler carries a digital camera and a travel bag

Tips for Flying with a Camera

Air travel can be an especially stressful undertaking for photographers. The worry of damaging or losing your expensive photography equipment likely has you on edge and wondering how to safely pack your gear. Rest assured; you can greatly minimize the potential of loss or damage to your equipment by following a few guidelines.

  • Think Carry-On

    This is the best option to avoid mishandling, loss or theft of your gear. There are many equipment bags available in a variety of styles ranging from backpack to roller bag. Check with your carrier to determine what size bags they allow for carry-on. Also, remember that airlines allow for one personal item. This includes items like purses and backpacks that can fit under the seat. These items do not count as your carry-on item. Finding a backpack to safely transport your camera equipment, then, would be beneficial.

  • Film and X-Rays

    According to TSA, the machines used to scan carry-on are safe for film under ISO 800. They do note, however, that multiple scans (more than five) may cause damage to the film. This seems to indicate that the effects of the x-ray are cumulative and that even once through has an effect (even if unnoticed) on your film. To avoid x-rays completely, pack your film rolls in a clear plastic bag that is easily accessible. When going through the security line, politely request a “hand check.” Usually, this is all that is needed to avoid scanning. However, some agents may strictly follow the under ISO 800 guidelines and insist the film be scanned. You can get around this, too, by including a roll (even an old, expired one) of fast film in the bag. Let the agent know that the bag contains a mix of ISOs, including some fast film.

  • Pack Lightly

    It’s quite tempting to pack every lens and accessory you own when traveling. In reality, more items means more chance of damage and loss. More items could also mean you’re unable to carry them on, leading to even more unfavorable odds. Choose one or two versatile zoom lenses and a couple rechargeable batteries. Take only the bare necessities.

  • Use Lots of Padding

    Many camera bags come with protective, padded sleeves for your equipment. Make use of them to avoid damage. If you don’t have padded sleeves, use your clothing. Use multiple layers of soft t-shirts (nothing abrasive) to wrap each piece.

  • Arrive Early

    The last thing you want to do is try to rush through security at the last minute with all of your gear. Make it easier on TSA and yourself by arriving early and having your equipment easily accessible. Being early and prepared will make your walk through security much smoother and more pleasant.

Last Updated: August 28, 2014