Q) The airline restrictions on carry-ons (one piece, plus a personal item) make it difficult to fly to a photo destination, especially when traveling with a photo backpack, a long lens and a computer. What do you recommend?
A) The TSA does allow photographers who need to carry an additional bag of equipment onboard to do so; the policy is published online at www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/assistant/editorial_1248.shtm. The only time I’ve tried to use it, I got a lot of grief from a TSA supervisor on duty in Atlanta. I carry a copy of the directive with me and was allowed to continue after producing it at the security checkpoint. Even if you’re allowed to carry the three bags through the screening area, it’s up to the airlines to decide whether they’ll let you bring them all onboard. You can find yourself at the gate with an airline employee demanding that you gate-check a bag of expensive gear before boarding.
All of this adds up to an unacceptable level of risk—call it level red—for me. If I’m traveling alone with photo gear, I choose carefully what I must take onboard and check the rest in well-protected hard cases. You can be sure the TSA will open up your suitcase to look inside, and you just have to live with the uncertainty until you get where you’re going. The best solution is to travel with a companion willing to carry one of your equipment bags onboard and enjoy expanded carrying capacity along with the other benefits.
When I travel to a location like Florida where I need my long lens, the need for an additional carry-on becomes important. A camera backpack is one, a bag with my computer equipment is another, and finally a Lowepro Long Lens Bag with a 500mm and a Canon EOS-1D Mark III attached in the third bag. I don’t want to put any of these in the hole of the airplane.