Your going on an overseas shoot and trying to decide whether to check in your camera or take it as carry-on on the flight. What should you do, which is best?
24.8 million checked bags went missing in 2018, so it’s not a small problem.
Europe is the worst with 7.29 bags per 1,000 passengers annually, then it’s 2.85 in North America and only 1.77 in Asia.
So if you’re in Europe and travelling with say 3 bags – camera, tripod, lights. Then statistically your going to lose a bag around around once every 45 flights (22.5 return journeys). The statistics actually fit well with my own experience of a checked in bag going missing about once every 2 years. Most of the time they do turn up eventually, but if you need the gear for a shoot this can often be too late, especially if the location is remote or a long way from an airport.
Some years back I had a huge flightcase with a complete edit system in it disappear on a flight. It didn’t show up again until a couple of years later, found by the airline quite literally on the wrong side of the planet. How you lose something that size for years is beyond me. But stuff does go missing. This case eventually found it’s way back because my name and address was inside it. And that’s an important point. Make sure your contact details are on your luggage and IN your luggage. On the outside I only put my mobile phone number as there are criminal gangs that will look for addresses on luggage knowing that there’s a higher than normal chance that your home or business property may be unattended while you are out of the country.
Another thing to think about is how tags get attached to your luggage. If the bag is a hold-all type bag with two straps, often the check-in agent will put the baggage tag around both carry handles. If a baggage handler then picks the bag up by a single handle this can cause the tag to come off. Also baggage tags also have little additional bar code on the very end of the tag. These are supposed to be stuck onto the luggage so that if the tag comes off the luggage it can still be scanned and tracked. But often the check-in agents don’t bother sticking them on to your luggage.
If you have ever worked airside at an airport, as you move around you’ll often see small piles of luggage stacked in corners from where it’s fallen off luggage belts or worse still are the bags on the outside of bends on the airport service roads, often in the rain or snow, that have fallen from luggage bins or luggage trucks. Many airports employ people just to drive around to pickup up this stuff , throw it into a truck and then dump in a central area for sorting. Most will eventually find their owners but many won’t which is why they are now many specialist auction houses that sell off lost luggage on behalf of the airlines and airports.
Also what happens if you get caught up in an IT failure or baggage handlers industrial action? You valuable kit could end up in limbo for weeks.
So, I recommend where you can you take your camera as carry-on. Also do remember any lithium batteries MUST be taken as carry on. Tripod, lights etc, that can go in the hold. If they go missing it is a complete pain, but you can probably still shoot if you have the camera a lens and couple of batteries.
I’ve been using Camrade bags for years. They are tough, protect my gear well without being heavy and clunky like pelicases and other hard shell cases. In addition they don’t scream “expensive equipment here”. They just look like large holdalls. One of the best features is the use of dividers, pads and inserts that are attached with velcro that allow you to reconfigure the bags for different applications.
One thing I often do is carry my camera in a standard carry-on bag when I’m flying. Meanwhile my tripod goes in the camera bag in the hold. When I get to my destination the tripod comes out of the camera bag, I re-arrange the dividers and the camera then lives in the camera bag until I need to fly again. This is so easy to do with the Camrade bags. Although the bags look like soft bags they are extremely ridged. The sides, top and bottom have hard inserts in them that can withstand very large loads, they are strong enough for you to sit on them without collapsing. The bags have strong carry straps and come with a high quality, removable camera strap. There are mesh pockets on the outside as well as on the inside of the lid for those little accessories and bits and pieces that would otherwise get lost. Another bonus is a 90% white card for white balance and use as an exposure reference.
Here’s a video of the medium size Camrade CB-HD bag, designed to take the PXW-FS7 or other similar digital cinema cameras. It’s a bit taller than some of their other bags so perfect for cameras rigged up with base plates and matte boxes.
OK, OK, they have a job to do, to keep us travellers safe, but come on. When you spend an age packing camera kit so that it won’t get damaged in transit while it is hurled about by airline baggage handlers only to arrive at your destination, to find your careful packing was a waste of time as a TSA inspector has unwrapped your valuable cameras from their bubble wrap and padded bags and just tossed them back in the case, then piled all the now loose accessories on top of the cameras in a big heap. It just pisses me off.
No major damage on this occasion, just some scratches and dings to the camera body, but there should be some accountability. I recently had a flight case inspected by German security officials in Berlin. Inside the case was a detailed letter explaining what was done during the search. It told me that items had been removed and then replaced, it was signed by the inspector with his ID number and then countersigned by his manager. Everything was correctly packed and I have no issue with that inspection. But the TSA inspectors remain anonymous, so who do you complain about? It should be mandatory that each inspector should have to leave a card with his/her ID on it so that those that can’t be bothered to replace items as they found them can be held accountable for any resulting damage. I don’t have an issue with my luggage being searched, provided reasonable care is taken in the process. I try to pack the kit so that it’s easy to open and see what it is, I even give instructions on how to open and re-pack some items so they are not damaged. My luggage is often TSA inspected. Sometimes you’d never know except for the little white anonymous notification card, but this time my case looked like it had been gone though by a starving gorilla looking for a banana.
Camera setup, reviews, tutorials and information for pro camcorder users from Alister Chapman.