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Monday, January 1, 2007

Air Travel And Carrying On Gear

A few things to help deal with the current clear and present carry-on hassles

Yes, I hear your howls and feel your pain, and I don't much like it either, but a strictly enforced "pay-to-play" plan for carry-ons would, by the nature of free-market forces, greatly alleviate both the current glut of junk being carried on board and the subsequent security risks. It would be far preferable to consigning our precious gear to the hold of the airplane, where it's subject to misdirection, brutal handling and outright theft.

Air Travel And Carrying On GearWere they adamant about enforcing it, this solution might also allow the airlines to make enough money to banish the huge bags of duty-free liquor and cigarettes people carry on or buy on board. Realistically, duty-free shops make tons of money, and it's safe to assume that duty-free merchants have crackerjack lobbyists and lawyers on retainer to protect their cash cow. But I can dream, can't I?

What about now? Despite easing the total ban, British airports still have in place such strict weight and size restrictions on carry-ons as to render carrying on even a modest camera outfit—say two D-SLR bodies, three lenses and a flash—all but impossible. Want to carry on a laptop computer and all its peripherals along with that? Fuhgetaboutit!

What can we do now to alleviate or prepare for worsening carry-on rules like these should they reach beyond the British Isles? What's the magical solution for the current situation?

Well, brace yourselves. There's no pat solution or easy work-around. There are only small measures we can take and compromises we can make to try to work around the sometimes-Draconian rules that arise in times of heightened security. The following are a few things I'm doing to deal with the current clear and present (and possibly future) carry-on hassles.

Check Your Insurance. It's almost inevitable that more of our gear will be going in the hold in the future, so take some time to check the details of your homeowner or camera insurance. Explore the possibilities of extra insurance for checked baggage. Keep detailed lists of gear (and serial numbers) you pack in checked bags. I recently read the fine print on an airline ticket that said that $2,600 per lost bag was the limit of their liability, but not a guaranteed remuneration figure. If you have paperwork to prove what you've lost, your claim will go faster and easier.

Camouflage Checked Bags. We love the gear protection provided by aluminum and molded plastic cases. Unfortunately, these types of cases also scream "valuable stuff worth stealing." I've taken to putting my Lightware, Pelican and Storm Cases inside green, canvas duffel bags to make them look more innocuous.

An acquaintance who does a lot of dive travel and photography spray-painted all his luggage and gear bags with big, obnoxious red polka dots. His reasoning was that, if lost, they would be easier to identify and track down, and if stolen, they'd be a whole lot harder to inconspicuously slip out of an airport!

I also put large stickers inside my checked bags with all my contact information and big red letters reading "Reward If Found." I'd rather buy it back from a possible thief myself than have it go to some unscrupulous pawnshop.

If you haven't done so already, get the TSA-approved luggage locks for your checked bags. Granted, they're not tamperproof or heavy duty, but at least these locks will prevent casual pilfering.


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