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Flying with Camera Gear

Top Contributor

If you work in film long enough, sooner or later you’re going to find yourself at the airport with all of your equipment.  It’s part of the job, and it can be stressful.  

Here are a couple of tips/tricks I’ve gleaned over the years and after many hundreds of thousands of miles in the air.

  1. Invest in some hard cases for your gear.  I personally like Pelican brand, but there are lots of others.  They can be a bit expensive, but they are bomber and will last forever.  The 1510 is a perfect size for carry-on and fitting in overheads, and the 1650 is a great size for filling with stuff to be checked luggage.
  2. Always take with you in your carryon what you’ll need to show up and shoot.  This was a film school lesson I learned from my professor and I’ve always stuck with it.  This way, if all of your other luggage gets lost, at least you’ll have the bare minimum gear to show up and work.  Additionally, all lithium ion batteries must be in your carry on.  So what does this look like?  For me it means packing the following in my Pelican 1510 and in a backpack and carrying both of these on the plane:
    1. Camera body
    2. Batteries
    3. Camera Media 
    4. At least one lens
    5. Laptop/Charger/Card Reader
    6. Audio gear if needed
  1. Pack your things in your checked luggage with care!  Baggage handlers don’t care about your expensive tripod head or brand new EasyRig.  Even inside a big pelican case I add extra padding.  I usually take the head off of my tripod and wrap it in bubble wrap within my cases.
  2. Put your name and contact info on all of your cases
  3. Get a Media Credential / Media ID card.  Your bags will be quite heavy and you will probably have more than the allowed airline limit.  With a media card you can qualify for the ‘media rate’ which will save you a TON  of money on your flights. 

What tips and tricks do you have for flying with gear?


Leading Creator

Those are some excellent tips, Danny. I have a couple more to add to the list.

First, when I switched to Sachtler Flowtech tripods one of the unexpected benefits was how much shorter they were than my older O'connor sticks.  About 8"-10" shorter, which is small enough that I can remove the head (just as you do) and then the legs will fit diagonally in a regular suitcase.  No longer to I have to travel with a big tubular case, or take a smaller/lighter tripod and sacrifice performance on the shoot. I can shove the sticks in a suitcase and then fill the rest of the space with other gear or my clothes.

Second, I have started putting Apple AirTags in my cases in case any of my luggage ever comes up missing.  Fortunately, that has not happened since I started using the AirTags, but I now travel with a little more peace of mind.

Finally, not really a tip., but my favorite carry-on is a CineBages CB25 Revolution Backpack.  It not only holds a camera body, viewfinder, batteries, lenses, computer, iPad, etc. and is still really comfortable to wear.  I highly recommend it.

Top Contributor

AirTags are a great idea, Doug!  

Leading Creator

Great post.

I've learned to not assume the airlines will give me a deal with the media pass. Some have started to require you email them a week in advance and get approval (Jetblue).

I've also learned recently that some TSA folks don't know the rules about 150 and 98wh VM and GM batteries. You should know this information better than they do and hold your ground when they tell you you can't fly with 2x 150wh batteries:

I've recently put Apple Airtags in all of my cases. It's really nice to know where all my stuff is at all times.

I carry on batteries, lenses, and cameras. I check tripods, lights, and other grip-type items. I wrap checked items in clothing. I also use TSA locks on all my bags. My wife and I travel with Thinktank Airport International V3 as our carry on and small backpacks as personal items. Having a large tote you can pull out at anytime as a backup for things like food, etc is a good idea too.

Finally, crew members love to gate-check your stuff. The first thing I do when I get to the gate is politely tell the crew member that I am a professional filmmaker/photographer and have a lot of equipment that I cannot gate-check because of the batteries and expensive cameras. They usually let me on the plane earlier than my ticket allows. 

Leading Creator

Rather than Pelican cases I prefer to use hard shell suitcases (normally Samsonite) as there is nothing that shouts out - expensive stuff here - more than a Pelicase. Pelicases are great when the gear is always in your control, for loading in and out of a van and general use, but they are a target for thieves and over many years of flying with kit there have been several times where equipment in pelicases or flight cases has disappeared never to be seen again, but (touch wood) I have never lost a suitcase, even though more than a few times they have arrived late or temporarily gone missing. Also as Doug has observed many newer tripods (including my Miller solo's) are short enough to fit diagonally in a suitcase.

I prefer to keep a low profile when travelling with kit, especially if overseas or in parts of the world I don't know so well and suitcases help me to do this. 

Re 150Wh batteries, you are supposed to obtain the airlines permission for any lithium batteries between 100Wh and 150Wh. They are permitted, but only with permission. I've been stopped with a couple of 150's many times, but if you can show you have gained the airlines permission or show that the airline blanket permits anyone to travel with 100-150Wh batts then it's not an issue. But as this varies from airline to airline or even route to route you cannot assume that you will always be allowed through security or onboard with 100-150Wh batts. 

Alister Chapman