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Airline Travel for Photographers
© 2006 KenRockwell.com

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I've been taking pictures since I was five years old. My mom's been a pilot for long before I was born. Getting in a plane and going flying has always been more natural to me than going for a walk. I've been doing it longer! Photography is important to me, and so is the freedom of flying.

The US news media on 10 August 2006 tells us that there are more new silly restrictions on what people may carry on public transport, i.e., commercial planes.

People have written me with concerns from other countries where there are whackier restrictions on cameras, computers and batteries. I don't know of any yet in the US and Europe. I think it's only the UK and India that has issues with cameras on planes.

In fact, it's perfectly OK in the USA to bring guns, rifles, shotguns and pistols on airliners. All you do is unload them, lock them in their cases and declare them as checked baggage. Got ammo? No problem: just check them in (in ammo cases of course) and declare it.

Ignore the media and check with your airline for questions and updates.

If this concerns you, I suggest traveling other ways, or shipping your gear separately or using a premium luggage service. God bless Google: I sometimes see ads to the right for luggage forwarding services. Try those guys, or search for Baggage Forward or Luggage Forwarding.

Of course for these services to be effective you need ultra-tough custom flight cases. Now do you know why they call them "flight" cases? To handle being thrown around like the rest of your luggage! Pelican cases are probably the best bet unless you want to pay more for the case than the gear it holds. Get the right stiffness of foam and I suspect you could drop one from 100 feet just fine.


If you can't work around taking an airline, consider have your gear shipped separately. Try a bonded courier or carrier. These services already exist for people who don't want to screw with their own luggage. The service comes to your door, grabs your stuff, and brings it to your hotel room door in St. Tropez.

How do you think we cover the Super Bowl or the Olympics on TV? We have to haul a ton of gear to some stadium. We have TV zoom lenses with zoom ratios in excess of 100 : 1 that cost $250,000 each and are way too big to carry on. We have entire rooms full of production gear on top of that. We don't carry it on the plane with us. It goes separately on commercial carriers.

In Hollywood, film is often FedEx'd back from exotic location for processing and dailies are sent out electronically. There are very few places on earth to get 35mm movie film processed, much less telecined, so the film has to be run back to Hollywood to see what we got.

You could FedEx your gear to yourself.

I would not check anything of value.

The most valuable thing is the images you make, not your gear. See Backing-Up in the Field for how not to lose your images while away. Mail yourself CDs as you make the images. This way even if you don't make it back, your images will.


Work your trips around airlines.

There are a lot more ways to fly and to travel than to fly on public transportation. Airlines aren't any different from bus lines today.

It's a free world so you don't have to take an airline if you don't want to. In America we own big cars, and some of us own our own planes.

There are no security lines for private planes. Have friends with their own plane take you where you need to go if you don't have one. Get your own pilot's license and plane. My mom's been flying for over 50 years, and so can you.

I hear that private charter services are hard to book today since they have just gotten so busy for obvious reasons.

If you still want to pay others, hire or charter your own plane to take you or your photo group where you need to go.


This gets political, so I'll leave this to others to discuss. If I seem to get political I apologize. That means I haven't written clearly enough. I'm sharing my love of photography, and aviation is also close to my heart. Don't let me tick anyone off if anything seems slanted not to your liking. I probably agree with you and haven't put that well enough into words. Politics is tough and I'm not a politician.

Instead of wondering how to photograph without your camera and without your laptop, the real question is how are you as an American going to restore your freedom? America needs to defend Americans, America's natural resources located in other countries and the liberty of Americans everywhere, but it should be able to do that without impinging on the freedom of its citizens while doing it. We need to destroy our enemies and not penalize ourselves in the process. If an Axis of Evil scares us, we need to squash them before our own liberties are infringed. As I said, this is beyond my personal ability. That's why I pay my taxes so that valiant others can take care of the squashing. The faster these guys can take care of it, the better. We know who the bad guys are - go get 'em devil dogs and everyone else out there fighting for freedom!! It might be easier not to let the bad guys fly on our airplanes in the first place, but whatever. I leave this to others.

The real solution is to fix the underlying problem and not to be weasels who succumb to encroachment on our freedom. As Ben Franklin said: "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." Americans are leaders, not followers.


Camera makers sell you more cameras by using media like magazines to keep you afraid that if you don't have sharp enough lenses or enough megapixels that you'll make crappy pictures. That's baloney, as I've written at Why Your Camera Doesn't Matter and proven in my 50mm Lens Sharpness Comparisons.

News media gets more viewers, which means more advertising revenue, by keeping you scared. As we say in TV news, "If it bleeds, it leads."

Murders are not news. People have been killing each other for as long as there have been people. A new photo exhibit is news - but you'll never hear about it on network TV. You'll see made-up stories that keep people with income and who buy the products advertised scared, like child abductions. Have you looked up the stats? There are fewer child abductions and molestations per capita today than there were in the 1950's. This isn't news, it isn't relevant, but it does a great job of keeping people scared.

Remember in 2002 when the stupider Americans were terrified of any white powder just because they saw it on TV? What morons. Remember people taught to duck and cover in the 1950s because they were scared of an "ism?" That ism was far more real, potent, organized and funded than any ism threatening us today.

There are always threats. Smart people prioritize threats based on the actual likelihood of it happening to them, and go accordingly. Personally I'm terrified of being hit by an asteroid: people have been hit. An asteroid is 99% iron and travels at thousands of miles per hour. They crash straight through houses unimpeded and can nail you while you're sleeping on your couch! I'm also terrified of volcanoes. Living here on the Pacific Rim we see cinder cones all over the place when out photographing at places like Mammoth Mountain. These have erupted just yesterday in geologic time. TV loves to amplify insignificant threats. It keeps some people scared and keeps them watching. I know my fears are silly. How likely are your fears to come get you?

10,000 people a year die in the USA simply because their SUV rolled over while swerving to avoid something. Research it yourself and see. If these people had been driving even a dinky compact car they'd still be alive. More people get killed in SUV rollovers every couple of months than got killed in a certain incident in NYC in 2001. I was born in NY and have friends who personally witnessed what happened and lost family members. Everyone from NY did.

Unlike those involved in the NYC incident, SUV rollover deaths are entirely preventable. Keep your SUV for off-road photo excursions and drive your cars while on pavement. You'll never hear about that on TV because the people who pay for all those car ads make a lot more money selling SUVs than real cars. People should prioritize danger based on facts, not fears. We have the numbers for all these things.

Governments like to keep people scared, too. The media loves this, since they also love anything that scares people. People believe what they see on TV and it runs full circle. Other people prefer to think for themselves. This becomes political again, so I won't get into it. The last thing we need is for me to discuss politics. I defer that to my brother with a PhD in it.

I've worked in radio and TV for decades, which is why I think it's so funny that people believe what they see on TV. Ever read credits? The news has writers and "reality" shows have directors. Those of us in media are just as stupid as everyone else (maybe stupider - college degrees aren't mandatory), but media has an extra agenda to get as many viewers as possible to make money. We make our livings from sensationalizing everything. When I worked at a tiny local FM station it was amazing how our phones would ring off the hook whenever something weird happened, as if the kid at the control board knew more about what had just happened than the caller did.

If we change our behavior because of what we fear might happen, the terrorists just won. That's their goal: creating terror and fear as a way to get others to act differently. They have no air force, no army, no navy, no satellites, no Tomahawk cruise missiles, and certainly no Marines. They have no power, except what fear they can churn up with their pranks. They aren't even after me: they're only after a very small portion of the population. I would just be collateral. Remember the VW ad? They couldn't even blow up a car.

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" Franklin D. Roosevelt.

People in groups will agree to things that they, as individuals, know are stupid. This is how big corporations make stupid decisions: they have meetings where everyone agrees with the senior member. Everyone knows it's stupid, but each of them for some reason thinks they're the only one who thinks that, and keeps it quiet. If you know something's stupid, speak up. I always did!

Most people confuse listening to talk radio in the privacy of their cars with actually doing something about a problem. You have to speak up in public and take decisive action, not just talk about it. You need the courage to stand out and do something. Any retard can listen to the radio. That's not helping. If you think something's stupid, make yourself heard. I always do.


Everyone asks me what to do, so I wrote this. I wish I had better suggestions. The problem is political, not logistical, so I won't get into that.

For most people I'd suggest traveling other ways, or shipping your gear separately or using a premium luggage service.


If you find this as helpful as a book you might have had to buy or a workshop you may have had to take, feel free to help me write more with a donation.

Thanks for reading!


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