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Alamy

As a photographer (with equipment), what/who are the best airlines to travel with?

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Hi everyone,

 

We're putting a blog post together to collate tips for travelling by air as a photographer. Within the article, we'd like to include recommendations from our photographers about who is best to fly with and why. Also, if you have any tips that you're happy to share on travelling with your camera gear then we'd love to hear them.

 

We can't promise we'll use them all but it would be great to hear your experiences and we'll include the best ones in the post next week along with loads of other tips, tricks and info.

 

Cheers

 

Alamy

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In the last three years I've flown with British Airways, Qantas, Malaysian, Emirates, Vietnam Airlines, Finnair and JAL without even a hint of problem with the following in hand luggage: D800, 14-24 f2.8, 24-70 f2.8, 70-200 f4, a couple of primes, a laptop, flash, cables, power supply for laptop and accessories - and sometimes a small mirrorless. Heavy stuff, but there'd be a gap in the system if any of that was left behind. 

 

However, earlier this year I flew with Jetstar Australia long haul (Australia to Japan) and my hand luggage was weighed, for the first time ever. Fortunately my wife was with me and she was able to take the camera plus 24-70, and we were let on board. However, if I'd been travelling alone, there would have been a problem. They seem a risky airline for photographers. 

 

However, perhaps those who have switched over to the smaller mirrorless systems may be at an advantage here. 

 

Edit: add Air Asia X, Air Asia Malaysia and Air Asia Thailand to the list of photographer-friendly airlines. They were surprisingly good!

Edited by DHill

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My air travel these days is on domestic flights between Norwich and Aberdeen in the UK. The direct flights are by BMI and Eastern Airways. I have no problem with either, and choice of carrier usually depends on who has a special offer at the time I need to fly. All my photography equipment is carried as hand luggage, which includes two bodies and lenses among other gear. When packing I always check hand luggage dimensions and weight in order to conform with the carriers requirements. If the weight goes over the limit I always put the excess item(s) in my hold luggage.

The only annoying thing that used to happen was that I had to empty my hand luggage for inspection when passing through security! On my last flight, with Eastern Airways, during August, all passed through without even opening my bag! Great joy!

 

Jim. :)   

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Have flown with Emirates on numerous occasions without any problems and never a problem taking equipment on board as hand luggage or with taking shots of the cabin crew going about their various tasks...

 

smiling-air-hostess-working-in-the-galle

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Alamy,

 

you may want to narrow down your question a bit.

Taking whatever gear on board as hand luggage is never a problem if you take it on board as your only bag. Providing you keep it within official size/weight limits.

The problem starts when you have a normal size hand luggage plus your camera bag. Even when it's within IATA rules for personal item. Airlines are allowed to set their own size and weight limits for both, it is however disputed if they can restrict cabin luggage to only one item.

 

Strict one item only airlines are to be avoided.

Dutch KLM owned Transavia: In Seville station manager threatened to call police on me (which would make me miss my flight) when I took a picture of the employee that refused to let me take my camera bag on board. Huge quarrel and I had to back down. Avoid at all cost.

 

On a positive note: since rules for long objects were alleviated somewhat, I have been able to take my small tripod and 2 monopods in my cabin bag. Also my allen key has gone unnoticed for 2 years. Includng to myself as I recently found it at the bottom of the bag ;-)

 

wim

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I avoid Air Canada whenever possible. Air Canada imposes international carry on restrictions even within North America. Air Canada frequently weigh carry ons, and size them. They also demand that the total weight allowance be equally divided between two carry ons, even if everything weighs and sizes properly in one carry on. They charge for the second carry on. 

 
Forget the equipment, just flying naked on Air Canada is a problem. Air Canada ground people seem to have no authority to make decisions. For instance, Air Canada flew me Toronto to Los Angeles on a RETURN ticket but refused boarding on the return portion because the computer lost track of the return portion of the ticket. They admitted, and the Air Canada help desk admitted, their error. However because they could not find a solution in their rule book, getting home was my problem. the computer says you do not have a ticket even if you do, therefore no standby, no bumping compensation, clear the desk. I paid $6000 for new one way tickets on Air Canada the next day for a party of three flying Los Angeles/Vancouver/Toronto. I later applied to be reimbursed. Air Canada admitted I might have a point, but they had to investigate. It took 6 months, and considerable social media activity on my part, for them to refund the $6,000. No apology, no interest on the money.
 
The above episode was 2 years ago, but it seems that the Air Canada computer was still up to its old glitchy tricks on August 28 of this year. Selling tickets they later refuse to honor.
 
 
I sometimes fly United, and in spite of what they do to guitars, I have never had a problem.
 
I fly Westjet for long haul in Canada. They have occasional problems, but any Westjet person can make intelligent decisions on the spot. Never had a carry on weighed or sized with Westjet. For short haul out of Toronto, I fly Porter Airlines out of the Island airport. Cheap roomy seats, small efficient airport, and employees who smile.
  • Upvote 1

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1+ for United

 

wim

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Yet another reason to use an IPhone...

southwest-airlines-flying-over-providenc

Providence, Rhode Island

 

southwest-airplanes-landing-at-ontario-c

Ontario, California

 

view-out-an-airplane-window-on-southwest

Southwest Airlines

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From this part of the world I always use EVA, Thai Air or Singapore airlines. All absolutely brilliant and never any issues with my kit carried as hand luggage. Having said that, a Leica M digital and 5 rangefinder lenses hardly constitutes weight or bulk. The one issue that occasionally crops up is using film, which I am inclined to do, and getting a hand search to avoid X-Ray contamination. The Asian venues are very cooperative but flying into European destinations is problematical. I'm currently here in the UK and opted to buy and process the film over here at a greater cost than at home purely as a precaution.

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South African Airways definitely weighs the carryon (but not my computer bag which weighed almost as much). SAS to Longyearbyen in the Svalbard Archipelago places severe restrictions on hand luggage and I wore a photo vest I have that has BIG pockets. Some in our group got away with two bags but there was a lot of nastiness from SAS personnel. I have a wonderful camera bag from Tutto that sits on four wheels and is a blessing in long airport corridors as I can even put my computer bag on top of it and use it as a dolly. Unfortunately it has a heavy metal frame and weighs a lot even before I put my backpack into it so I can only use it where bags are not weighed. I have tiny shoulders so when I have to carry my backpack and a computer bag I really struggle. I think most of the US airlines don't weigh bags. I ran into an unexpected problem passing through Heathrow on Sunday. I carry contact lens solution in a separate ziplock bag as I think it qualifies as medicine. Until I passed through Heathrow no one ever bothered me about having two bags of liquids. The guard in London insisted I had to get everything in one bag. I was rescued by an acquaintance who was able to carry one for me. When I am traveling to wild places I don't have a way to buy contact lens stuff or new pump bottles of insect repellant. I would hate to have to choose between them. Is there a way to safely carry liquids in checked baggage? Perhaps in a sealed container? There is also some information online about the hydrogen peroxide in some contact lens cleaners possibly being prohibited. I don't know if it is possible to even get the other kind of cleaner anymore. Way off the subject, I suppose. Sorry. I would advise against any flight that has you leaving at 11:30 PM. I just had a bad experience coming out of Nairobi where we were delayed boarding and then denied permission to fly because the runway closes at midnight. So it took a LONG time to get home with an overnight in a hotel in Nairobi and another one in London. It was a fabulous trip, though. Go to Kenya!!!! They need the tourist business and it is an amazing place. Off the subject again. I'd better stop now.

 

Paulette

Edited by NYCat
  • Upvote 1

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One issue recently with Finnair, travelling on International flights, cabin luggage 10kgs limit, domestic flights cabin luggage 8 kgs limit.

This defies logic to me, don't they consider passengers arriving at Helsinki may want to transfer without throwing 2kgs away?

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When I fly to Mexico, Central America or South America, I usually choose United Airlines. From United's hub in Houston, Texas, you can catch a flight to just about anywhere in Latin America. IAH (George Bush Intercontinental) is also more manageable than a lot of other large US airports. I've never had any luggage or carry-on issues with United, but then I don't travel with a lot of camera gear. My small tripod always goes inside my checked bag, not in my carry-on where it could be considered a potential weapon.

 

A word of warning, no matter what airlines you are flying, avoid the Los Angeles International Airport if at all possible. LAX is a maze-like, outdated dungeon with surly baggage inspectors and overpriced restaurants. Easily the most user-unfriendly airport I've ever been in. Caveat emptor!

Edited by John Mitchell

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While I don't travel as much anymore, AEROFLOT was my favorite airline.  Never had a problem with

a carry-on or heavy bags.  Once coming out of central Asia to Moscow we even flew in the aft cargo hold.

I also do miss "AEROFLOT Chicken" and Stoli..... Ah the Good Old Days

Edited by Chuck Nacke

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No problems with British Airways on my recent long haul transatlantic flights. I had more problems with my good leather shoes (metal in the sole) than with camera gear. Two years ago I had extra hotel expenses due to a missed connecting flight which would have been recompensed if the airlines had been the same. They were not, so I incurred the expense of an overnight stay. In that respect I've found Newark New York the worst airport I've ever had the misfortune to land at. 

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PS  I've always had a very good experience with PSA

Have their frequent flyer card attached to my Halliburton

case since 1985

Edited by Chuck Nacke

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But seriously,  In the good old days you would contact the airline and let them

know that you were a traveling photographer and they would have a gate agent

meet you to see that there were no problems.  SAS did that with me for years, after

I got arrested in Stockholm over not letting them X-ray 200 rolls of Kodachrome.

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I have flown with the following airlines over the past 10 years - TAP, Jet, British Airways, Thai Airlines, Emirates, Virgin Atlantic, Royal Air Maroc, Easyjet, Monarch Airlines and Ryanair . Always take  my camera bag with one body and 4 lenses as hand luggage. Never had it weighed, occasionally (At Heathrow) had it searched at security on the way in to departures. If I take a tripod it goes in  my suitcase in the hold. 

Never had a problem yet.

 

Kumar

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Three of us returning from China on Finnair last week, the cabin baggage was 8kg.  They weighed the bags and the first was about 16kg, but we showed them that there was a laptop bag inside so that was OK.  Second bag was OK.   Third bag was my Lowepro with a lot of camera gear - maybe 12kg plus.  This was on my back and the only one they didn't ask to weigh.  Probably could have juggled between all the bags as long as they were not counting the laptop bag as there were three of them and three ipads. 

 

Serious point is that weighing is getting more frequent.

 

Disappointed that I also had a cheap leatherman style tool confiscated on check in for an internal flight in China, but my fault for leaving it my camera bag.

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Disappointed that I also had a cheap leatherman style tool confiscated on check in for an internal flight in China, but my fault for leaving it my camera bag.

No, not your fault. The airlines' fault for treating every one like a terrorist to such an extent that they would no longer recognise a real one if he bit them.

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I’ve travelled several times over the last few years between Stansted and the Canary Islands by Ryanair. I’ve had no problems at all by sticking to the cabin baggage volume requirements and making sure any hold baggage is not overweight. I make sure that I have less than the 10 kg cabin baggage allowance and I’ve never had it weighed. I always wear an old Levi denim jacket with loads of pockets into which I can fit various extras which could put me over the weight, such as portable hard drives, gps, glasses and shades, phone etc.

Ryanair seem less strict than they were a few years ago about cabin baggage and are now allowing an extra shopping bag as well which can take a few extras such as books or magazines, food and other small items. as well as stuff purchased in the airport. This used to have to go in the cabin baggage. However, because they are allowing this extra bag, there is less room on the plane for cabin baggage and it is quite common that they request passengers when in the boarding queue to allow their cabin baggage to be placed in the hold (free of charge). For this reason, it is wise for those of us carrying gear that should not go in the hold to either pay the bit extra for priority boarding, which guarantess that you can take your cabin baggage on board (and your choice of seat), or make sure you get into the boarding queue early (can be stressful).  

On my last few departures from Tenerife (and I presume all Spanish airports now), Spanish airport security require all electronic items to be removed from cabin bags and placed in trays. This now includes cameras as well as laptops. It is worth being aware of this as, the first time it happened to me, I left my cameras in my bag and I was sent back through security with my now almost empty bag while my two cameras were being held in one hand by a helpful Spanish policeman on the other side who was moving trays on with the other hand. The cameras survived but it was a nervy experience.

Edited by MDM

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Numerous flights (US domestic) using Southwest Airlines have never been an issue. SWA currently allows 2 free checked bags plus a proper sized carry-on that fits in the overhead bins and also a smaller personal "handbag/purse/laptop" bag that will fit under the seat in front of us.   Have carried camera bodies, lens, laptops, chargers, etc. in our carry-ons and personal bags that raised no questions with SWA or TSA security screening.  

 

A tripod in one of our checked bags for an American Airlines flight from Vancouver back to Texas did draw the attention of US Customs once with the remark "nice tripod" after they selected us for a second level check before boarding.  Otherwise no problem with American Airlines on that trip.

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In 2011 I flew Icelandair and they had an 11 pound carry-on limit. Since I was headed to 4 countries to shoot stock I very very carefully packed some of my equipment in my check-in baggage and told them as I was checking it that there was camera equipment in the bag (I had called earlier and was told that the 11 lb limit was firm). Well, the gate agent said they didn't want to be responsible and let me carry on three cameras and various lenses in a couple of camera bags and my carry-on Lowepro backpack. Had 3 other flights after that and they let me carry on everything. I don't recommend this as I think I was very lucky and wish that more airlines were more accommodating. 

 

Now that I have a mirrorless, I usually can manage with my camera backpack, taking that and my D700 with the 24-70 and a couple primes, but leaving the rest of the larger lenses behind, relying on the zoom lens for my Oly, but it's not an ideal solution, though it's easier on my back as well as making plane travel simpler. If I was planning a wildlife shoot I'd certainly have to rethink that solution, but it works for more general travel images. I look forward to learning which airlines are best and which to avoid from the article. 

Edited by Marianne

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1+ for United

 

wim

Not in my experience.  On a flight from Beijing to Toronto on United, my checked luggage was "lost" in Chicago.  When I got it back a day later, the suitcase zipper was broken open, and my $1500 tripod was stolen, along with a Nikon D800E battery charger (who would steal that?).

I replaced it all and sent in the original receipts and the new bills.  Some fellow in India decided he would only give me $900.  Many letters and calls were fruitless.  I will never fly United again.

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I once flew on a local airline in Honduras with a number of fellow journalists and photographers. It was only a short flight, less than an hour. However, several members of our group did not see their checked bags again for several months. Unfortunately, I've forgotten the name of the airline. Moral of the story: take the bus in Honduras.

 

P.S. One photographer had packed his battery charger in his checked bag and was unable to take pictures for the rest of the trip. Moral #2: always put battery chargers in your carryon.

Edited by John Mitchell
  • Upvote 1

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I once flew on a local airline in Honduras with a number of fellow journalists and photographers. It was only a short flight, less than an hour. However, several members of our group did not see their checked bags again for several months. Unfortunately, I've forgotten the name of the airline. Moral of the story: take the bus in Honduras.

 

P.S. One photographer had packed his battery charger in his checked bag and was unable to take pictures for the rest of the trip. Moral #2: always put battery chargers in your carryon.

Moral #3. Always carry all critical items in your hand luggage. A simple USB cable can ruin your trip. 

 

I never have problems with Lufthansa, BA or AF. They, for the moment, understand that cameras are "sensitive" items to check in. 

 

How many hundred of laptops were "missing" when BA did not allowed to carry any electronic item as a hand luggage some years ago?

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