Flying With a Camera on Airplanes

Use these tips to move through airport security more easily

Before you attempt to pack your luggage and your camera equipment for your flight, 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.

Most rules simplify to a handful of best-practice tips.

Pack It Tight

Rolling rucksack luggage with travel tripod
Kypros / Getty Images

Pack your camera tightly. 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 you prepare for a flight.

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 prevent would-be thieves from targeting you.

Take Off the Lens

Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 50mm Lens
Amazon

Don’t pack the DSLR camera with the lens attached. If force applies to the lens housing because of the way the camera is positioned inside a bag, the delicate threads that connect the two could break. 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.
Southern Stock / Getty Images

Verify 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. TSA requests you don't send electronics equipment and loose batteries through checked baggage.

Keep It All Together

Young man holding passport and waiting for x-ray control his luggage.
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TSA may require you to scan your camera separately. Any 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. In addition, these regulations could change at any time, so visit the tsa.gov website to see the latest regulations.

Have Extras

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

Preserve the Batteries

A battery in an SLR camera
Yaroslav Mikheev / Getty Images

Don't carry several batteries together and loose. If their terminals come in contact during the flight, they could short-circuit and start a fire. Additionally, if the battery terminals come into contact with some 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.

Pack batteries so they will not be crushed or punctured during the flight. Lithium and Li-ion batteries use chemicals that can be dangerous should their outer casings become compromised.

Turn It Off

A Canon DSLR Camera with strap on a white table
Brian Ach/Stringer / Getty Images

Consider taping your DSLR's power toggle switch into the “off” position. You may need to use some duct tape for strength, but this step 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

Containers with luggage at airport security check
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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

Two airport employees checking a group of luggage
Tim Boyle/Getty Images News / Getty Images

If you lose your camera while negotiating a security checkpoint, contact the TSA at the airport where you lost your camera. The TSA website maintains a list of lost and found contacts for each airport in the U.S.

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

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

Extra Padding

Hard case plastic equipment containers
 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 then re-lock the bag after inspection. 

Insure It

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

Before you fly with a DSLR camera, insure the equipment. 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.