How to Properly Protect Your Camera at the Airport

Avoid problems with your camera at airport security


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Traveling on an airplane with your camera requires some planning and some consideration of the situations in which you may find yourself. Some tasks should be done several days ahead of time, while others need to occur as you’re at the airport, traveling through security checkpoints.

Use these tips to make your air trip with your camera one where you won’t encounter any unexpected turbulence.

Travel Tips for Photographers

  • Double-check your insurance. If you’re traveling by air with expensive, advanced digital camera equipment, be sure your insurance policies will cover your equipment well before your trip. Some homeowners’ policies will cover your photography gear when traveling by airplane, while others will require a rider policy.
  • Record your equipment’s data. Again, several days before your trip, make sure you have a good record of all of your equipment, including serial numbers and model numbers. Consider shooting a photo or video of all of your equipment, too, for a secondary proof of ownership.
  • Pack well in a carry-on bag. The day before your trip, make sure you’ve packed a carry-on bag with all of your camera equipment, and make sure all of the equipment is secured and protected. Don’t place camera equipment in a checked bag, if you can at all avoid it.
  • Only pack what's needed. When traveling by air you're limited in how many belongings you can carry with you. You certainly don't want to bring extra items that you really don't need. For example, you may choose to leave your bulky tripod at home to save some space in your carry-on luggage. Don't forget to pack necessary items though, such as the camera's battery charger.
  • Prepare for inspections. Once you’re moving through security areas at the airport, you may be asked to turn on the camera or to allow your equipment to be inspected. If you have a lot of equipment, be sure to allow for extra time for an inspection. Be sure to have a fresh battery available as well.
  • Using the x-ray machine. With a digital camera, it is safe to allow it and any memory cards to be exposed to x-rays. (Unprocessed film sometimes cannot go through the x-ray machine, though, depending on the type of film and power level of the machine.) However, if you’re uncomfortable using x-rays with your camera, you always can ask security to inspect your camera equipment by hand.
  • Avoid loose batteries. When traveling in airports, you are not allowed to have loose rechargeable batteries in your baggage (either carry-on or checked baggage) because of the possibility of the batteries coming in contact with each other, potentially sparking a fire. You must either carry rechargeable batteries inside the camera or inside their original packaging materials.
  • Stay up to date. Finally, it’s not a bad idea to check with the Web site a few days before your trip for the latest information and any potential restrictions on traveling with cameras. After all, regulations seem to constantly change. Check with the airline on the exact size of carry-on luggage that you're allowed to have too. You don't want to overfill your carry-on bag and then be forced to leave some of your camera equipment in the car because the bag wouldn't fit within the size limits.

Most of all, be polite and cooperative with the security personnel. Certainly, traveling by air can be stressful, and staying calm while standing in a long security line can be difficult. Just remember the security personnel are trying to keep you safe, so be prepared to have your camera inspected, even if it seems like a bit of a hassle.