Traveling with heavy gear

Traveling with heavy gear or why carry on can be tricky

Traveling with heavy (and expensive) gear can be very challenging as airlines are showing less and less goodwill when it comes to carry on luggage (which I understand). I would have no issue to pay an extra charge to take my lenses with me but even this is not accepted.

My gear

I am using an older version of the „Think Tank Airport Accelerator“ backpack that holds both my Nikon 500mm f/4 and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens with two Nikon D750 bodies attached. It’s a fantastic bag and I have it for some years already. Doesn’t look like new anymore but still does its job quite nicely. I am using a soft cap to protect the glass of the large lens. My 50mm f/1.8 always travels with me as well. Most of the times I am bringing my MacBook Pro 15″ along as well as a few smaller items like battery packs and memory cards. Long story short all in all we are looking at approx. 13kg (around 28lbs) camera gear. The tripod and gimball head go into the checked baggage. I am not even sure if one is allowed to bring a tripod into the cabin due to security reasons.

Airline Carry On limits
A list of airlines with their carry on limit can be found here. The majority of the airlines are having a limit between 7 and 10kg (15 to 22lbs). Delta seems to have no weight limit (except for some target destinations). British Airway’s baggage allowance is with 23kg (50lbs) very camera gear friendly followed by AirFrance and KLM (cleary not an option as these two airlines transport animals for animal testing (not 100% sure if KLM does, but they partner with AirFrance, therefore a big nogo – https://www.crueltyfreeinternational.org/airlines).  Easyjet newly introduced a purchase option for carry on limits up to 15kg and 23kg.

Flying with an airline with low carry on allowance
I try to fly British Ariways whenever I can as I never run into any issues with carry on baggage allowance. However sometimes I fly other airlines like Swiss and this can be rather tricky. When flying out, I always need someone coming with me to the airport as in worst case I need to leave part of the gear at home. Many times airlines however don’t weight the carry on bag (this is like gambling, but remember, you always need to catch also a return flight). I once run into the issue, that on the way to destination they let me board and on the way back they refused and wanted to check in my stuff. It took me quite a bit to convince the desk agent to let me pass. This is always quite a very uncomfortable situation because by the books I violate their rules.

Flying with small airlines
Many remote areas are only accessible with small airlines. This is a real challenge when traveling with heavy gear. The best solution here is in fact try not to fly but using another way of transport like traveling by boat or coach bus or whatever is available. If only traveling by small aircraft is possible the  one needs to be a little creative. I once flew with my 500mm and 70-200mm hanged around my neck looking like a Christmas tree but it worked.

Think it through
It’s always a good idea to think it though before you book a flight. Always think of how much gear you need to take with you and how to reduce weight. The worst case scenario would be to check in your stuff – I in fact rather would not board a flight than checking in my 500mm. The risk of a damage is just to big. I think insurance wouldn’t cover this as they would argue a backpack is not the right way of transporting the lens.

Let me know your thoughts

I hope this article was helpful for you. I will keep going through my archive and keep sharing my thoughts. If there is anything you are looking for, please let me know and I try to find examples to discuss.

Comments: 1

  1. Rob says:

    This may not always work, but most airlines allow a “personal item” such as a small handbag in addition to your carry on. I’ve had a camera hanging around my neck as a personal item when they weighed my carry on and then simply put it back in after.

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