Skip to content
airport baggage carousel

Flying with camera gear

Flying with camera gear can be stressful. Airline regulations and weight restrictions vary in different countries, and the last thing you want on a photography trip is to put your expensive camera gear in checked luggage.

Here are our tips for successfully navigating airports with your camera gear.

  1. Always pack critical camera gear in your carry-on luggage. Camera gear is expensive and fragile; no one wants it tossed around in checked luggage. More importantly, checked baggage is lost or delayed frequently. When you reach your destination, it can be easy to replace missing underwear, but finding a replacement camera charger, battery, tripod head, or cable might be impossible. Treat your camera gear like your medications and passport, and keep it with you.
  2. Have a backup strategy for your image cards. Once you’ve completed your trip, you’ll have memory cards, hard drives, and laptop computers loaded with impossible-to-replace photos. Your storage devices should all be in your carry-on luggage, and you should have a backup copy of your images carried separately. For example, if your laptop bag has all your image storage devices, and someone swipes it on your way home, you’re out of luck. We recommend carrying your memory cards on your person, plus at least one copy of those images in your computer or camera bag.
  3. Lithium batteries go in your carry-on. Airline regulations require you to put your lithium batteries in carry-on luggage, not checked luggage. You should also have one battery for each device if security personnel ask you to power it on.
  4. Your carry-on luggage might get weighed. Many international airlines will weigh your carry-on luggage. It can be pretty easy for camera bags to be overweight, and they may ask you to check it, though some airlines are inconsistent about enforcing these rules. Here are some ways to get around it:
    • Rearrange your camera items to distribute weight. Maybe you can temporarily shift items from one carry-on bag to another. Or you could carry a lens or two in your coat pocket.
    • Pay the extra fees. Sometimes, the solution is as easy as paying an overweight fee. Consider it as a minor cost that is part of your trip.
    • Tell them that your bag contains lots of expensive and fragile camera gear, along with all your lithium batteries, and you cannot check it. Be polite, keep a smile on your face, and be sure to say please and thank you. Often, the airline staff will help you.
  5. Know and obey size rules. Read up about carry-on size limits for your airline and do your best to stick to their rules. While you may get by with an overweight camera bag, they will likely make you check an oversized bag, particularly on smaller planes for connecting flights.
  6. Remove sharp objects or tools. That handy Leatherman multi-tool you carry in your camera bag at home might get confiscated if you have it in your carry-on luggage.

Sign up for our newsletter.

Photography tips and resources, plus our latest trip announcements. Subcribers receive a free copy of our wildlife photography eBook.