Tips for Flying With a Camera on Airplanes

How to move through airport security as easily as possible

Here are a few tips for flying with your camera, both through security and on the plane, that help keep your equipment safe and your flight smooth.

Get Informed

Before you do anything else, check the websites of both the airline and the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) to ensure you know the rules. Whether you're carrying it onto the plane or packing it in your checked-in baggage, regulations regarding electronic equipment might affect how you pack it.

Protect It

Pack your camera tightly. Look for a padded camera bag with separate compartments for lenses, camera body, flash units, and other accessories. Or, to save some money, repack the equipment in its original box and padding.

Rolling rucksack luggage with travel tripod
Kypros / Getty Images

The original box is great if you stash it inside a backpack or other carry-on. If you must carry the camera in a box separately, consider placing it in a simple paper bag to evade the attention of would-be thieves.

Take Off the Lens

Don’t pack a DSLR camera with the lens attached. If its packaging puts force on the lens housing, the delicate threads that connect the two could break. Pack the body and lens separately using the proper caps on both units. These caps should be in your original box if you still have it.

Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 50mm Lens

Smaller Is Better

Verify that your camera bag is small enough to fit into the overhead compartment or under the seat on the airplane. Otherwise, you might have to pay an additional fee to check a bag. TSA allows photography equipment in carry-on and checked baggage, but check with your airline; they might have other policies.

Keep It All Together

TSA may require you to scan your camera separately. Any portable ​electronic device, such as a digital camera, may go in a carry-on bag, given that it's screened. However, a TSA agent could request to inspect the camera more closely after the X-ray procedure. In addition, these regulations could change at any time, so visit to see the latest.

Traveler holding passport and waiting for x-ray control luggage.
Chalabala / Getty Images

Have Extras

Keep a fresh battery handy while you're going through the security line. Security personnel might ask you to turn on your camera during screening. This follow-up doesn't happen often, but it's always a possibility.

Preserve the Batteries

Don't carry loose batteries together. If their terminals come in contact during flight, they could short-circuit and start a fire. The same goes for contact with some metal, like a coin or keys. All batteries should be securely and separately stowed during a flight.

A battery in an SLR camera
Yaroslav Mikheev / Getty Images

Pack batteries so they will not be crushed or punctured. Chemicals in lithium and Li-ion batteries can be dangerous should their outer casings become compromised.

Turn It Off

Consider taping your DSLR's power toggle switch into the Off position. (You might need to use duct tape for strength.) This step prevents the camera from accidentally turning on inside your bag if you leave the battery attached.

Don't Fear the X-Ray

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

Containers with luggage at airport security check
Chalabala / Getty Images

Keep an Eye On It

To prevent theft, don't lose sight of your photographic equipment as it moves through security. However, if you do somehow lose your camera while negotiating a checkpoint, contact the TSA at that airport. The TSA website maintains a list of lost and found contacts for every airport in the U.S.

If you lost your camera somewhere else in the airport, contact the airport directly.

Get in the habit of storing your camera in the same place as your bag, so you always know where to check before exiting security or boarding the plane.

Use Extra Padding

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

Hard case plastic equipment containers

chuchart duangdaw / Getty Images

Insure It

Consider insurance against theft and damage, especially if your equipment would be expensive to replace. You'll enjoy your trip more if you're not worried. Before purchasing a policy, though, check your homeowner's insurance; some policies cover such belongings.

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