Carrying a large lens like the 500mm is always a challenge. They come in bulky hard cases that aren’t the best choice to check at the airport. Most photographers like to carry their camera gear with them onto the plane, so that presents a challenge; what to do with the big lens? I’ve seen homemade PVC tubes with foam used to pack the lens, and then putting it into your suitcase to check as normal luggage. On the flip side I have seen photographers just hand carry their big glass right through the airport, and put it below their seat on the plane. Many roller bags like the LowePro X200 can hold the 500mm and can be stored in the overhead compartment (this gets heavy). After many experiments, this is how I carry big glass onto the plane.
First, I pack my camera gear into my LowePro X100. This has been my trusty bag for travel all over the globe. If I am not taking big glass I often take out the padded insert and put my Flipside 400 inside loaded with gear. Nice to have wheels through the airport, and then just open it up and pull out the Flipside for a terrific photo backpack at my location. With my camera gear packed in the X100, I put my 500mm in an Osprey Torque carry bag. This is a padded shoulder bag that holds the 500mm F4 perfectly. The advantage of this system is first I can easily store the Torque/500mm under my seat if overhead space is tight. Or in a worse scenario I have to gate check my roller I can still carry the 500mm with me onto the plane…it easily fits in small regional jets. This has happened frequently, and I have not had a problem gate checking my roller, plenty of protection and a lighter bag…so the bag guys don’t have to ‘throw’ it up onto the belt. Splitting the weight up also makes it easier getting my roller into the overhead, about 9 pounds lighter without the lens.