Traveling with photography gear can be nerve racking. The last thing you want to have happen is have your camera gear get broken or stolen. So we all try to carry it on the plane….until we can’t take it on the plane! Here are a few things I can pass on that might change your thinking on air travel with camera gear.
1. Lithium batteries. The general rule of thumb here is if your lithium battery is 100 watts or less and installed in the device, you can check or carry on the gear. However, loose lithium batteries not in devices are not allowed in checked luggage. You can bring a loose lithium battery in your carry on as long as it is properly stored. Examples would be in the original package, in a plastic bag or with tape over the terminals. So you shouldn’t worry about your laptop battery or camera batteries since these are less than 100 watts. I regularly carry on the plane 2 cameras with batteries installed, two extra batteries (properly stored) and my laptop with no problem. In addition, I also carry on my flash strobe lithium batteries attached to the device with no problems as long as I don’t exceed the 160 watt maximum carry on allowance. AA alkaline can be carried in checked or carry on, just put them in the device or carry them in the original package (or buy them at your destination). TSA and airlines are much less worried about alkaline batteries. Their biggest concern is a short caused by metal connecting contacts that aren’t covered or stored properly. I also carry battery documentation from the strobe manufacturer and put it in my luggage to answer questions at the gate or TSA.
But I had a new experience a few days ago with batteries on planes. My jet was switched from a large jet to a very small commuter jet and it was obvious my roller wasn’t going to fit. I was informed by the gate agent that I needed to gate check my roller, and any lithium batteries needed to be removed. Uhhh, I have three camera batteries and a studio strobe battery in my roller. I did as told, and frantically tore open my roller and started taking out all the lithium batteries I had loaded in cameras and flashes. Lucky for me I always have gaffer tape strips on my lens hoods for field mishaps (great trick…just put a couple small pieces on your lens hood, you never know when you will need them). I quickly taped up the batteries and stuffed them into my smaller briefcase that also had my laptop. I looked it up when I got home, and it is clearly stated this is the routine with gate checking and lithium batteries.
2. Camera gear. If possible I always carry my camera and lenses on the plane. But I don’t worry too much if I need to gate check. I have gate checked my cameras frequently with no problems. Two things are important. First, have a durable roller bag that can take abuse. I use Really Right Stuff and LowePro rollers, they are great and very padded. Next, don’t travel with lenses attached to bodies unless you know for sure it won’t be gate checked. I normally travel with my bodies capped and lens capped in my roller. They are less prone to damage in their small padded slots than if you have your D850 attached to your 70-200mm floating around in your bag. I also will occasionally put a lens in my suitcase, wrapped in clothes or similar. Probably not the best idea, but I have never had anything damaged or stolen.
The last thought is try to consolidate your gear so if you are on that tiny commuter jet, you can still put your bag in the small overhead space or under the seat in front of you. Last summer is Alaska I literally hand held my 600mm lens and had two bodies around my neck as I boarded a tiny prop plane. The 600mm doesn’t look so big without the hood (in my check bag), and can fit under any seat. I figured if all my other camera gear was lost, at least I had all I needed to photograph wildlife for a week.