Flying in The New Era
In the wake of the suicide airline hijackings of September 11, 2001, and their horrendous consequences, airline travel in the United States will never be the same. Justifiable security concerns will mean that all travelers will be affected. But, traveling photographers will have special new concerns. Some will be ones that we are already familiar with while others will be new.
During the past two years baggage X-ray machines have begun to appear at some airports, which will definitely fog and destroy both exposed and unexposed film of any speed. It is safe to presume that the use of these machines will now be expanded.
Do not put film in checked baggage. Either carry all film onboard with you or send it to your destination by courier beforehand. There are difficulties with carrying film onboard. One is that it will be X-rayed. You will likely have no choice in this. Most U.S. airports have, until now, allowed hand-searches of film. Likely, no longer.
The good news is that passenger security X-ray machines at virtually any airport in America are safe for multiple passes of film that is under ISO 1000. This has now been tested and proved to most peopleís satisfaction (including mine). If you need to bring film faster than ISO 800 on location my suggestion is to forward it by courier to your initial destination (such as a motel). This applies as well if you feel that you donít want to risk carrying any film (even 100 ISO) onboard.
My suggestion is to call the hotel or motel at your initial destination and confirm their proper street address and phone number. Getting the name of the assistant manager is also useful. Confirm with them that you intend on shipping a package of film to them and that theyíll hold it for you.
Ship the film to the motel / hotel, either care of the assistant manager or to your own name. In the latter case make sure that you indicate that your signature is not required. Next, send the package at least a few days before you are scheduled to arrive. This is so that it will definitely be there before you depart. You can track the waybill number online, and then when the package arrives call the motel and make sure that you know who has it and where it is being stored (usually in the managerís office). It will likely cost no more than $30-$50 to ship 50 rolls of film anywhere in the country by 2-day economy courier.
Once your shoot has been completed you have two choices. If you will be in a medium to large city, identify a good lab beforehand and have your film processed before you return home. This should take about a half day for a large quality of film. Or, bring FedEx shipping supplies with you and ship your exposed film home before you fly.
Landscape, nature and wildlife photographers typically travel with large equipment bags filled with cameras, lenses and other gear. At the time of this writing there is no definitive information on any new carry-on restrictions. Itís likely though that there will now be a tighter regime in the U.S., much as has long been found in Europe and Asia, where carry-on is restricted to a single bag of moderate size.
This being the case the best approach is to check your camera bag. This need not be as scary as it sounds. I do it frequently as do many pros that travel all the time on assignments.
As an outdoor photographer you likely carry your gear in a backpack or other soft-sided bag. While a hard case filled with foam is an alternative that can be checked as baggage, these arenít at all usable at field locations. The solution that I use is to keep my equipment in my usually backpack style case but to then place that bag inside an impact resistant and waterproof case such as those made by Pelican and Doskocil. This combination can then safely be checked as baggage.
Such cases come with either foam inserts or padded cardboard dividers. (By special order you can also get Pelican cases with neither foam nor inserts). Rip out either the foam or the dividers and simply place your normal camera bag inside the empty shell of the case. Be sure to buy a case whose inside dimensions are large enough to handle your fully loaded bag. If itís a snug fit thereís no need to be concerned for the safety of your gear. If thereís any free space between the camera bag and any of the sides of the Pelican case simply pad it with a rain jacket, shoes, sweaters or clothing items that you will be bringing in any event.
The security of the cases' contents is an obvious concern. These bags all have fixtures that allow you to attach a lock or two to the outside of the case. This makes the caseís contents secure from theft, but not the case itself. From the time you hand it off to the airline baggage check-in until it comes down the baggage chute at your destination airport, the case is susceptible to theft. Though the risk is real, it isnít very likely. Donít let this deter you from traveling.
Professional photographers, film and television crews and others fly like this all the time. Just make sure that your bags are well and securely tagged, but donít put any stickers on the case, such as a film or camera brand name. If you have such stickers it simply announces — ìcamera gear inside, steal meî. Without any special identifying marks your case is then just another equipment case similar to hundreds of others that business travelers check though on airplanes all the time. Of course make sure that you have adequate and appropriate insurance on your equipment. You should have this regardless of whether you travel or not. It may even be covered as part of your homeownerís blanket policy. Check.
I advise people traveling to my workshops by plane that the best way to travel with their tripod is to remove the head (to make it shorter) and then pack the tripod in your clothes bag. A duffel bag makes this easy, as they are longer than a normal suitcase. The ball head can be wrapped in a sweater and safely placed inside the bag as well.
If you follow this advise youíll likely have no carry-on luggage. Buy a newspaper. Stand in the security lines and relax. But, if you land at your destination and your bags are delayed or lost your problems are compounded by the fact that you might have a tight travel schedule and no equipment. For this reason my recommendation is that you take a small camera bag onboard. In it have your main camera body and one or two lenses as well as a small quantity of film. This way, if you arrive at your destination and your main equipment case is delayed, you can continue to your first location and not be completely without the ability to do any shooting.
Air travel in the United States, if not the entire world, will never be the same after the horrendous events of September 11. This does not mean though that we should be prevented or deterred from continuing to travel and to conduct any of our usual activities, including location photography. If we do, then the terrorists will have won, and this they must not ever be allowed to do.