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Flying With a Camera

Use These Tips to Move Through Airport Security More Easily


Vacation travel can be a challenge, especially when going by air. Security is necessary, but it certainly makes things tougher on travelers.

If you're flying with a camera, your potential for hassle just increased. Not only do you have another item to try to carry through the security lines, but you also have to make sure that you have packed all of the necessary equipment securely.

This can be extremely tricky, because it seems as if airlines make changes to the rules about what size and type of bags and equipment can be carried onto a plane. Before you attempt to pack your luggage and your camera equipment for the airplane trip, be sure to check with both your airline's web site and the TSA web site to ensure that you know all of the rules.

However, it doesn't have to be a significant problem. Just take the time to follow a few simple tips listed here, and you're sure to have a good experience when flying with a camera.


  • Most people have no problem remembering to pack the DSLR camera and the lenses when they prepare for airport travel. However, if you’re going to be shooting a lot of photos while on your trip, don’t forget to pack the battery charger. While you could likely buy an extra memory card for a small price if you inadvertently leave that at home, finding a charger at your destination that’s compatible with your camera will be much more difficult – and much more expensive.


  • As you pack your DSLR camera, make sure that everything is packed tightly. The last thing you want, as you’re hurrying through an airport or jostling your bag as you carry it onto a plane, is to have the camera or interchangeable lens bouncing around and crashing into each other inside the bag. Look for a padded camera bag that contains separate compartments for the lenses, camera body, and flash units. Or, to save some money, keep the original box and padding that the camera arrived in, and repack the camera in that box when preparing for a flight.


  • Don’t pack the DSLR camera with the lens attached. If stress is applied to the lens housing because of the way the camera is positioned inside a bag, it could cause damage to the delicate threads that allow the lens and camera to connect properly. Pack the body and lens separately, using the proper caps with both units. These caps should be in your original box, if you still have it.


  • In addition, make sure your camera bag is small enough to carry onto the plane. You do not want to have to have to check the bag containing your expensive camera equipment … not to mention pay the extra fee you’ll have with some airlines to have an additional checked bag. In fact, the TSA requests that you do not send electronics equipment and loose batteries through checked baggage. If at all possible, make sure the camera bag will fit into the carry-on bag you were planning to use.


  • If you know that you must check your camera equipment, you’ll want a hard-sided case that has padding on the inside. This case should be able to be locked. If you purchase a lock for your bag, make sure it is a TSA-approved lock, which means that security personnel will have the appropriate tools to open the lock without having to cut it. TSA then can re-lock the bag after inspection. Any bag that is checked onto an airplane flight is subject to electronic screening procedures, but, if the screening personnel must open the bag for further inspection, they have that right, just as with a carry-on bag. If the checked bag is locked with a lock that isn’t TSA-approved, the security personnel have the right to cut it off the bag. Just be sure to have a TSA-approved lock, and you won’t have to worry about having the lock destroyed.


  • Checking the camera case can be an unnerving feeling, as it could be lost or stolen once it leaves your sight, so don’t make the decision whether to check or carry-on your camera equipment lightly.


  • Keep a fresh battery handy as you’re going through the security line. On occasion, you may be asked to turn on the camera by security personnel. This doesn’t happen anywhere near as often as it used to, but it’s still a good idea to have a battery available, just in case.


  • Do not carry multiple batteries together and loose. If the batteries’ terminals were to come in contact with each other during the flight, they could short-circuit and start a fire. Additionally, if the battery terminals come into contact with some sort of metal, like a coin or keys, they could short-circuit, too, causing a fire. All batteries should be securely and separately stowed during a flight.


  • In addition, make sure to pack batteries in a manner that they will not be crushed or punctured during the flight. Lithium and li-ion batteries have chemicals inside them that could be dangerous, should the battery’s outer casing become compromised.


  • You may want to carry the battery separately from the camera, just to that you don’t accidentally turn on the camera inside the bag while traveling, leaving you with a dead battery when you arrive. There’s also a tiny chance that the camera could become overheated if the power button and shutter button are depressed for a long, continuous period, so leaving the battery out of the camera will prevent this problem.


  • If possible with your DSLR camera, consider taping the power toggle switch into the “off” position. You may need to use some duct tape for strength, but this will prevent the camera from accidentally being turned on inside your bag, should you choose to leave the battery inside the camera.


  • With a point and shoot camera that just has a power button that you press, rather than a toggle switch, you could tape a small piece of cardboard or plastic over the power button, preventing it from being depressed accidentally.


  • At the time of this writing, TSA regulations did not require a standard DSLR or point and shoot still image camera to have to be separately screened. Only extremely large electronics, those larger than a DSLR, must be removed from your bag and separately x-rayed. Any type of portable electronics device, such as a digital camera, may be left in carry-on bags as the bags are electronically screened. However, it is possible that a TSA agent could request to have a camera more closely inspected after the x-ray procedure, so be prepared. In addition, these regulations could change at any time, so be sure to visit the tsa.gov Web site to see the latest regulations.


  • The x-ray procedure will not damage the memory card stored with your camera, nor will it erase any data stored on the card.


  • If you lose your camera while negotiating a TSA security checkpoint at the airport, you can directly contact the TSA group at the airport in which you lost your camera. Visit the tsa.gov Web site, and search for “lost and found” to find the correct telephone number. Keep in mind that this number is only for items lost at the TSA checkpoint; if you lost your camera elsewhere in the airport, you’ll have to contact the airport directly.


  • Finally, when traveling with a DSLR camera by air, make sure you have insurance on the equipment, preferably that will protect your investment should the camera be lost, damaged, or stolen while flying. This insurance will not be cheap, so you may not want to purchase it unless you have quite a bit of expensive equipment, but it can give you some peace of mind when flying with your DSLR camera.

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