Whether you’re a professional or a prosumer, flying with a camera can be a nailbiting experience.
Given the horror stories about damaged and lost luggage, checking your camera bag at the airport seems like a terrible idea. Even if you’re checking your bag on the jetway, nobody wants to see their expensive camera equipment thrown under a plane.
Below, you’ll find resources to help you navigate security checkpoints and comply with carry-on regulations, as well as our top recommendation for a travel camera bag.
Packing For Your Flight
Image © Bryan Santiago
Packing for your flight might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s always worth a second look.
In addition to making sure you’ve got the right camera bag for the job, you should also take a minute to set your gear up for success. That means charging batteries, cleaning your camera, and picking the most suitable lenses for your trip.
There are a ton of online guides to help you get through this process. You can find a great list of items you should consider for your camera bag over at Digital Photography School.
Most importantly, you need to make sure that you’ve got a travel camera bag that’s not only suited to your tastes. It also needs to be tough enough to handle the trip while complying with aircraft baggage restrictions.
Don’t throw everything into any old backpack and hope for the best! Make sure you’ve got a bag that will keep your gear safe.
TSA Essential Guidelines
While airport security is never easy, photography equipment has always been allowed under the TSA camera rules. However, a recent policy change has made it more difficult for fliers by insisting that cameras be checked as well:
TSA officers will begin to ask travelers to remove electronics larger than a cell phone from their carry-on bags and place them in a bin with nothing on top or below, similarly to how laptops have been screened for years. This simple step helps TSA officers obtain a clearer X-ray image.
According to the press release, if you’re flying with a camera, you should remove your camera from your carry on — along with the rest of your electronics — and be prepared for additional screening.
This new change could be a source of frustration for photographers carrying multiple camera bodies and lenses. You might even consider requesting additional screening up front rather than unpacking everything for the X-ray machine.
While the press release says that this doesn’t apply to TSA Precheck, several travelers have reported having their camera equipment taken for additional screening and swabbing by TSA agents.
If you’re using a modern DSLR, your camera probably runs on lithium-ion batteries. While these are considered safe for both carry on luggage and checked luggage with special restrictions, you should check FAA guidelines make sure that they don’t pose a hazard to your flight.
Your travel camera bag needs to comply with as many airline restrictions as possible to avoid getting tagged at the gate. Each airline maintains different rules and regulations for the size and weight of carry-ons, but you’re probably familiar with the basics:
Your carry on should fit in the overhead compartment or under the seat in front of you. The ability to squeeze your bag under the seat is an asset on packed flights, particularly if you’re flying economy with a late boarding group.
Wheeled luggage is almost always tagged and left on the jetway, making a camera backpack a great option for a carry-on camera bag.
Everything in your carry on needs to be secure, in the event that the contents are disturbed during flight. Most camera bags use an insert system to keep lenses safe.
Be sure that any straps or bag attachments, like tripods or bedrolls, won’t get caught or tangled while your gear is in transit.
Though the size and weight restrictions vary slightly by airline, if you’re within a few inches either way, you're probably fine.
The Alpha Globetrotter: Our Travel Camera Bag Recommendation
Image © Rob Lloyd
When it comes to airport travel a professional camera backpack can make all the difference. While many of our bags can get the job done, we recommend the Alpha Globetrotter Camera Backpack as our bag of choice.
This is our top-of-class travel camera backpack, featuring reinforced inserts and a tripod holder. Best of all, it’s sized at 18 x 12 x 8 inches (45 x 29.5 x 20 cm). This means that the Globetrotter is well within the carry on restriction for every major airline. It’s also rugged and durable enough to endure almost anything that a rough flight can throw at it.
Did we mention that the Globetrotter can also hold your 15-inch laptop? We want to ensure that your most valuable equipment stays with you for the duration of your trip!
Image © Chris Hamilton
It’s been a long time since airport travel was enjoyable. With unexpected gate changes, late arrivals and departures, and lost luggage, it’s easy for even a small trip to take a turn for the worse. Long security lines don’t help, though frequent travelers may enjoy the benefits of the TSA PreCheck program.
The last thing you want to worry about when you fly is whether or not your most valuable and sensitive gear survived the flight. If you’re ready to upgrade your travel camera bag, we’re here to help.