Use preparation and common sense to negotiate today's heightened security concerns
By Kevin Spreekmeester
Today's environment of heightened security and stretched tensions can make travel with photo gear more challenging. Since the regulations of various countries, airlines and border crossings are diverse and dynamic, my recommendations are guidelines only. That being said, two things will put you in good standing no matter where you travel: use a combination of common sense and courtesy, and do your homework.
Common Sense And Courtesy Most security personnel would love to check us through, one after the other, without any stopping, and then go home to a quiet evening of reading Outdoor Photographer. But the bottom line is that they have a job to do, and that may sometimes cause an inconvenience for photographers. Try to approach them with a willingness to help the system move along as smoothly as possible. That might mean getting in line earlier than most other people normally would because you know your gear will be scrutinized.
Homework Baggage allowances are readily available online for almost any airline. If you don't have Internet access, a call to customer service will help. If you're still unclear of what's allowed, plan for the worst-case scenario and hope for the best. In other words, if you're not sure that two bags as carry-on are permissible, then just take one.
If the rules say each carry-on can weigh no more than 22 pounds, don't show up with 35 pounds. You'll have no leg to stand on if your oversized bag is detoured into the black hole of checked luggage. Pack your gear accordingly.
Practical Solutions I pack my camera equipment so that it's protected en route and is flexible to carry when I'm at my destination. For example, I use a Tamrac Expedition 8 backpack that, when tightened with the cinch straps, fits most overhead bins. In that pack, I'll remove all of the individual padded dividers and replace them with pouches that I use on my Think Tank modular belt system. That way, my gear is still protected, and the belt system can come out of the backpack for my daily use.
If the pack doesn't fit in the overhead bin or under the seat, quite often the flight attendant will find a place in the cabin for it. But if you're on a small plane where that's not possible, it's better to leave your bag at the baggage cart by the stairs to the plane than having to check the bag. This avoids the possibility of the bag being lost or unceremoniously tossed onto a ramp by baggage handlers.