Flying With a Camera on Airplanes

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 carry through the security lines, but you also have to make sure you packed all of the necessary equipment securely.

This can be extremely tricky because it seems as if airlines constantly change 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 your flight, be sure to check with both the airline's website and the TSA website to ensure you know all of the rules regarding a camera carry-on item.

To simplify the process, follow the simple tips listed here, and you're sure to have a good experience when taking a camera on a trip.

Pack It Tight

Europe, Germany, Munich, View Of Rolling Rucksack Luggage With Travel Tripod
 Kypros/Getty Images

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

Go Plain

An open cardboard box
Larry Washburn/Getty Images

Carrying a camera in its original box through an airport may be an invitation to anyone looking to quickly grab and steal your camera. So, you may want to re-wrap the original box in plain brown wrapping paper or otherwise change the look of the exterior of the original box, thereby not alerting thieves that an expensive camera is inside.

Take off the Lens

Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G Lens with Auto Focus
Courtesy of Amazon.com

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.

Smaller Is Better

Passport and camera bag at airport lounge.
Passport and camera bag at airport lounge. Image Courtesy of Getty Images/Southern Stock

Make sure your camera bag is small enough to carry onto the plane. Otherwise, you may have to check the bag containing your expensive camera equipment … and pay the extra fee some airlines charge for an additional checked bag. In fact, the TSA requests you don't send electronics equipment and loose batteries through checked baggage. If at all possible, make sure your camera bag will fit into the carry-on bag you were planning to use.

Keep It All Together

Airport security check. Young man holding passport and waiting for x-ray control his luggage.
Chalabala/Getty Images

At the time of this writing, a standard DSLR or point and shoot still image camera doesn't have to be separately screened by TSA. Only extremely large electronics, those larger than a DSLR, must be removed from your bag and separately X-rayed. Any type of portable ​electronic device, such as a digital camera, may be left in carry-on bags as they are electronically screened. However, it's possible a TSA agent could request to inspect the camera more closely 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 website to see the latest regulations.

Have Extras

A rechargeable camera battery.
A rechargeable camera battery. MousePotato/Getty Images

Keep a fresh battery handy as you’re going through the security line. Security personnel might ask you to turn your camera on during their screening. This doesn’t happen often, but it’s still a good idea to have a fresh battery available just in case.

Preserve the Batteries

camera batteries placed on a charger
 pixinoo/Getty Images

Don't carry multiple batteries together and loose. If their’ terminals 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 and cause a fire. All batteries should be securely and separately stowed during a flight.

Make sure to pack batteries so they will not be crushed or punctured during the flight. Lithium and Li-ion batteries have chemicals inside them that can be dangerous should their outer casings become compromised.

Turn It Off

Canon DSLR Camera
Canon DSLR Camera. Brian Ach / Stringer / Getty Images

Consider taping your DSLRs' power toggle switch into the “off” position, if possible. You may need to use some duct tape for strength, but this prevents the camera from accidentally being turned on inside your bag, should you choose to leave the battery inside it.

Don't Fear the X-Ray

Airport security check. Containers with luggage on conveyor belt after x-ray control.
Chalabala/Getty Images

The X-ray procedure at an airport won't damage the memory card stored with your camera, nor will it erase any stored data.

Keep an Eye On It

If your luggage is lost, you will need to visit your airline's lost luggage area.
Tim Boyle / Getty Images News / Getty Images

If you lose your camera while negotiating a security checkpoint, you can directly contact the TSA at the airport where you lost your camera. The TSA website has a list of lost and found contacts for each airport in the U.S. Keep in mind these numbers are only for items lost at the TSA checkpoint. If you lost your camera somewhere else in the airport, you must contact the airport directly.

Get in the habit of always storing your camera in the same place as your bag, so you can quickly check to see if it's in the proper place before exiting security or boarding the plane.

Extra Padding

Hard Case Plastic Protect Water Resistant Equipment, isolated on white
 chuchart duangdaw/Getty Images

If you must check your camera equipment, you’ll want a hard-sided case with padding on the inside. It should be lockable. If you purchase a lock for your bag, make sure it's a TSA-approved lock, which means security personnel will have the appropriate tools to open it without having to cut it. Agents can then re-lock the bag after inspection. 

Insure It

Businessman Explaining Insurance Policy To Customer In Office
 Chalirmpoj Pimpisarn / EyeEm/Getty Images

When flying with a DSLR camera, make sure you have insurance on the equipment, preferably a policy that will protect your investment should it be lost, damaged, or stolen. This insurance isn't be cheap, so you may not want to purchase it unless you have expensive equipment, but it can give you some peace of mind when traveling with your DSLR camera.