Whether you’re just starting out or you’re a seasoned professional, it takes time and practice to become a skilled photographer.
But even the most talented photographer won’t be able to take great pictures if they can’t bring their camera on a commercial flight.
This article will explore whether you can bring your camera and its accessories onto a commercial flight and the TSA’s restrictions and rules for these devices.
Now to answer your question.
As a general rule, the TSA states that you can bring your camera in either carry-on or checked luggage, without restrictions on the number of cameras you can bring on board.
Since the TSA doesn’t mention the type of camera you can bring, it means that all of them are allowed.
These are the types of cameras you can bring with you onto an airplane:
- Digital cameras, such as GoPro
- Bridge cameras
- Mirrorless cameras
- Film cameras
- Medium format cameras
- Instant/Polaroid cameras
- Vintage cameras
- Disposable cameras
However, as you keep reading, you will see that you need to follow some guidelines if you want to travel by airplane with your camera gear without any issues.
First, we will discuss the best way to prepare your camera for air travel.
How to Pack a Camera for Air Travel.
- Fully open the aperture on your lenses.
This is a step that everybody needs to remember.
When you store your lenses for long periods, it is recommended to set them to the smallest aperture in order to protect the spring in your lenses.
However, when you travel, you must do the opposite: fully open the aperture so that the inside blades are no longer visible. We do this because the inside blades are the Achilles’ heel of the camera gear.
If you drop your camera, most of the time, the blades will crack first or fall inside your lens. Fixing the lens is possible, but you must send it to a professional, which will cost you.
When the aperture is fully open, the blades are retracted and tucked up behind a piece of metal. In this position, they deal way better with external shocks.
Try to make it a habit to fully open the aperture whenever you travel with lenses.
2. Use a camera bag.
Remember that the camera bag you own right now might not be suitable for air travel, and you might need a different one.
A padded, waterproof camera bag or a backpack with anti-shock properties would be preferable.
Also, the camera bag or backpack should have separate compartments for the camera, lenses, and accessories.
If you don’t know what bag or backpack to buy, choose one with removable bins so you can reconfigure them however you like.
3. Smaller is better.
Make sure to remove the lenses and the battery from your camera body and use the body cap to protect the camera sensor. You should also remove all accessories, like the external flash, from the camera body.
Usually, only the camera will be placed on the scanning tray. Sometimes TSA agents will remove the body cap to see the inside of your camera.
4. Think before you pack.
If you have a lot of equipment, it’s better to downsize and bring only what you plan to use on this trip.
It’s preferable to have options when taking photos, but encumbering yourself with tripods, filters, lenses, and laptops is not wise.
You might also pay more to the airline for the extra weight.
5. Batteries are allowed only in the carry-on.
The TSA doesn’t allow lithium batteries inside checked bags because they pose a risk to the safety of the flight.
Don’t try to stash them inside your checked baggage and hope for the best.
TSA agents are trained to spot them; they will not ignore them when they scan your checked luggage. Usually, they will open your bag and take them.
6. Checked luggage
If you place your camera inside your checked luggage, you should buy travel insurance that covers the total cost of your camera equipment.
Checked bags are manually loaded into and out of aircraft holds; most of the time, they are not handled with care.
No matter how well you pack your camera, your luggage can meet a clumsy baggage handler that will “defeat” your packing skills.
Not to mention that, in rare instances, expensive items “mysteriously” disappear from checked bags.
If you regularly travel with your camera inside a checked bag, you need insurance that covers your items if they get lost, stolen, damaged, or destroyed during your air travel.
7. Humidity is your main enemy.
Depending on the places you want to travel to, you can encounter different humidity levels.
Humidity can fog up your lenses or mess up your camera sensor.
In extreme circumstances, fungus may appear. Humidity has an accumulation effect on electronic devices.
Your camera will perform fine for a couple of years in a medium-humidity area, then suddenly it will stop working.
When you travel by airplane, you cross areas of different humidity within a couple of hours.
Luckily, there is an easy fix. Place a couple of silica gel packets inside your camera bag.
Keep in mind that the silica packs slowly lose the ability to absorb moisture over time, so I recommend changing them at least once a year.
Why do you need to take out the camera at airport security?
In 2017, the TSA issued a press release stating, “Due to an increased threat to aviation security…TSA officers will begin to ask travelers to remove electronics larger than a cell phone from their carry-on bags and place them in a bin.”-source.
Once you arrive at the airport screening area, remove the camera body and place it on the tray. If you have large telescoping lenses, place them in a separate bin.
Usually, airport security is not interested in the small to medium size lenses, and you can keep them in your carry-on.
Taking undeveloped film through the X-Ray scanner
Airport scanners will ruin undeveloped film, no matter how long the exposure time is.
In the past, only high-speed film was damaged by the x-ray scanner, but nowadays, all types of undeveloped film, regardless of speed rating, will be affected.
This is not the film manufacturer’s fault.
The issue is that the TSA’s current scanners are way more potent than those used a couple of years ago.
If you travel with photographic film, you should request a physical inspection (hand check) by the TSA agents.
You can use a “guard” bag that’s specially designed to protect the film from the TSA scanner.
If you use one, remember to tell the TSA agents that you carry a photographic film protector bag.
Sometimes TSA agents want to see the inside of the bag. Sometimes they don’t.
Usually, having a photographic film protector bag will speed things up at the checkpoint. The only drawback is that the guard bag contains lead lining, making it heavy.
Will the X-ray machine do damage to your camera gear?
I am happy to tell you that besides the photographic film, the x-ray scanner will not damage or affect camera gear in any way.
Memory cards or SSDs will not be affected by the scanning process, no matter how many times they get scanned.
Every year, the number of electronic devices like laptops and smartphones that gets through the scanning process is increasing, and not a single bit of data has been lost.
Checked luggage vs. carry-on. What to choose and why.
You know by now that the carry-on is the best place to store your camera equipment.
Nobody will better take care of your camera than you.
Not to mention that, if you place camera gear in your checked bag, you will be forced to pack the batteries and the undeveloped film in your carry-on.
If you have a lot of camera gear, you should take the most expensive items and the ones that are prone to damage in your carry-on and leave the accessories, like tripods, inside the checked bags.
Suppose you can’t bring the camera as a personal item or inside your carry-on. In that case, you will need a sturdy case, preferably made from aluminum or hard plastic, where you can store it separately from other belongings.
Can you bring a camera tripod or monopod on a plane?
The TSA states that, as a general rule, camera tripods and monopods are allowed inside both carry-on and checked bags.
However, the TSA also states that club-like objects are not permitted inside carry-ons and should be placed only in checked baggage.
If you are in this situation, use common sense.
Is your tripod or monopod sturdy enough to be used as a weapon?
If so, you should place it in your checked bag.
I notice that TSA agents let people board planes with bulky tripods or monopods if those persons carry other photographic equipment with them.
Can you bring a camera cleaning kit on a plane?
You can bring a camera cleaning kit inside your carry-on or checked luggage.
Remember that if your cleaning kit contains any liquid, pack it separately in a single quart-size bag as you pass through airport security.
The liquid can’t exceed 3.4 oz (100ml) when packed in your carry-on.
As you can see, you are allowed to bring your camera onto an airplane.
You only need to be aware that the TSA scanners will affect the photographic film, regardless of whether it comes as a regular film or a cartridge (Instax).
Another thing to remember is that you should avoid packing the camera, film, or lenses inside your checked baggage.