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Domestic Air Travel With Gear


Matt Bryant
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I have a job coming up that involves some domestic air travel and I am trying to figure out how I should go about packing my gear.  Ideally I would like to just have my bag set up and bring that along as one of my carry-on bags, then if worst comes to worse and a checked bag gets lost then I will still have what I need for work. 

Batterywise I have two NP NiCd's and two NP Lithium bricks.

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I try to never check my gear on an aircraft. I FEDEX all my gear now. I  get production to either provide with with fedex slips or account  number. I usually ship it standard overnight or two day if time permits  and insure it each case for my insurance deductible just in case there  is an issue with the company and its insurance. For most of my reality  shows I ship three cases and a pvc pipe with boompoles in it. If your  going to fly with the gear zip tie cases you check shut and tape extras  to outside of case. I always use bright colored ties so i can see  instantly if it has been searched. But the FEDEX method is much easier i  just call hotel ahead of time to tell them it is coming and make sure  it is the hotel we are actually staying at as more than  once production  gave me wrong address for hotel. When i arrive it is there and waiting  for me. When we wrap I just call for a pick up and leave cases at hotel  or since fedex is near airport just drop it off before flight. No stress  no lugging cases around. Just my two cent.

Also Carrying on is a pain as well TSA has made me pull my bag apart more than once.

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The lithium batteries will have to be carry on due to airline regulations but make sure the lithium content per unit is 100 Wh or less. Makers of larger lithium batteries are now making batteries that break in two so the lithium content per unit is as per air line regulations. I haven't bothered to try and carry on my bag since 9/11. Just after that I got so much hassle that I have shipped almost everything as checked baggage. Nowadays I just carry my Cantar on board in a bag with my computer. Everything else is in a custom built case that is checked. There is no point in locking bags as aviation authorities will open them up anyway and break the locks if they are locked. U.S. Customs always leaves a note in the bag if they've opened it. I haven't had anything stolen yet but I carry lots of insurance just in case. Over the years I have had 4 occasions where bags were lost.  I generally log about 50,000 miles a year in the air. Fortunately all lost bags were on trips home. Most trouble with lost bags occurs when people don't book direct flights and connections are too tight. Or at least tight enough for the people to make the flight but not their bags.

Good luck with your travels,

Margus Jukkum

I have a job coming up that involves some domestic air travel and I am trying to figure out how I should go about packing my gear.  Ideally I would like to just have my bag set up and bring that along as one of my carry-on bags, then if worst comes to worse and a checked bag gets lost then I will still have what I need for work. 

Batterywise I have two NP NiCd's and two NP Lithium bricks.

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There's a trick some photographer friends of mine use to keep their checked gear safe, locked, and much less likely to be lost or stolen.

If you have a firearm in your checked baggage and declare it at the counter, a TSA agent will come over, have you open your bag to verify the gun is there, and then let you lock it with your own personal lock, to which only you have the key.  Then the agent will personally escort your bag to the plane and they'll make sure it gets special attention and is treated with extra care.  Airlines get nervous at the idea of guns being lost in airports.

Here's the fun part.  As far as TSA is concerned, an athletic starter pistol is the same thing as a firearm.  In reality it's basically an extra loud capgun.  As far as I know they are perfectly legal in all 50 states and you can buy one from a sporting goods store for probably $30.

I've never done this myself but a couple friends have, and its a trick you'll see around the net on photography websites.

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There's a trick some photographer friends of mine use to keep their checked gear safe, locked, and much less likely to be lost or stolen.

If you have a firearm in your checked baggage and declare it at the counter, a TSA agent will come over, have you open your bag to verify the gun is there, and then let you lock it with your own personal lock, to which only you have the key.  Then the agent will personally escort your bag to the plane and they'll make sure it gets special attention and is treated with extra care.  Airlines get nervous at the idea of guns being lost in airports.

Here's the fun part.  As far as TSA is concerned, an athletic starter pistol is the same thing as a firearm.  In reality it's basically an extra loud capgun.  As far as I know they are perfectly legal in all 50 states and you can buy one from a sporting goods store for probably $30.

I've never done this myself but a couple friends have, and its a trick you'll see around the net on photography websites.

This is a trick definitely worth looking into.

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I flew last December, I packed my lithium NP1's in their original card board boxes and carried my rig and Ipower 9volts in the plastic cases on board.  As long as battery contacts are taped or protected you should have no issue.  Flying home, i did however have to tear my rig apart so they could swab everything.  Small airport with less experienced TSA agents. 

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Returning from Japan recently, all the batteries got inspected, which I've never experienced before, a guy with a multimeter fiddled about with them for a bit, and declared that one of my L-Ion NP1's had to travel in my hand luggage and one could stay in the Pelican going in the hold, they didn't notice the 8 iPowers I was carrying. Two of the camera batteries (large IDX V-Lok) were confiscated and not allowed to travel and two were passed as fit for travel. Confusing? Yes!

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Returning from Japan recently, all the batteries got inspected, which I've never experienced before, a guy with a multimeter fiddled about with them for a bit, and declared that one of my L-Ion NP1's had to travel in my hand luggage and one could stay in the Pelican going in the hold, they didn't notice the 8 iPowers I was carrying. Two of the camera batteries (large IDX V-Lok) were confiscated and not allowed to travel and two were passed as fit for travel. Confusing? Yes!

Just Google "Lithium batteries air transport" and you'll get a host of sites from airlines to transportation agencies outlining regulations for transport of lithium batteries. Most at risk are the V-Lock camera batteries. For a couple of years now manufacturers of these batteries have been labeling their products as to their lithium content and their Watt hours. 100 Wh seems to be the cutoff point per unit that is deemed safe for travel. Most newer V-Lock batteries have a latch that unhooks so that each battery can be separated into 2 components. When we travel each component is put into a separate zip lock bag and put into our carry on bags. As for my iPower 9 volt batteries, I usually travel with 12 and leave them in my wireless units that are in my checked luggage. They are deemed safely terminated and have negligible lithium content as far as the airline is concerned. Needless to say all this is a big hassle. Nowadays it seems all members of the crew end up carrying at least some of the batteries with their carry on.

Margus Jukkum

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I recently (2 weeks ago) flew with gear and can report what worked for me.

First off I think it helps to keep things stripped down.  Have enough back up items to cover your ass but don't be excessive.  For example I packed my breakaway cable in case I had a problem with my hops, instead of bringing a second set of hops..

I highly recommend carrying-on essential equipment.  Every airline will misplace luggage now and then, and in my experience overweight/size items seem to have more problems than regular luggage.  I carried on everything I would need for a few days of shooting except the boom pole (have not tried carrying-on a boom pole, assuming TSA won't allow it, could be wrong).  I accomplished this by carrying-on my over the shoulder rig completely built (becomes your personal bag) and by putting the rest of what I determined essential in a Pelican 1510 case (designed to be the max size that still fits in the overhead bins, and it does.. ). 

This combo seems to get through security fairly easily and is a breeze to lug around.  Usually TSA will open up the pelican for a look and to swab for explosive residue and put it through the analyzer.  Occasionally they've asked me to remove a few items so that the X-Ray will produce a clearer image.    I have not been questioned about anything beyond that, though the expression on the face of the person monitoring the x-ray screen is priceless and is not to be missed! 

Some notes on the process:

- I remove all antennas and avoid talk about radio or wireless gear (as per a suggestion from an older thread on this forum that advised to just refer to everything as a microphone..), though I have not been asked specifics about any of the gear.

- Make sure to put all your tweakers and multi-tools in your check luggage, they will not pass.

- When boarding the plane various airline staff will try to persuade you into checking the pelican 1510 case just before you board because they don't believe it will fit in the overhead.. don't listen to them, it fits like a glove.  Even on small planes.

- If you don't have a boompole case you can usually find room inside the tripod case for a pole or two.

- I don't think lithium batteries become an issue unless you have very high capacity units.  Like dionic 160s.  I'm still using NiMH NP's but I don't think they ever looked at them close enough to determine anything about them.  The only comment regarding batteries I ever heard was that its a good idea to remove them from the bag/case before sending it through the x-ray because the x-ray can't penetrate them sometimes.. potentially concealing whatever is under it.  That said I don't start dismantling anything until they ask and usually they don't.

Airports I've been through recently with the above method:  Chicago - O'hare,  Seattle -SEATAC, Portland - PDX, Austin TX

Good luck!

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I am about to fly, checking in 24 iPowers and 60 AA Lithiums in my luggage.  I'll let you know how that goes, in terms of setting off any TSA flags.

The rest is going via PackAir organized shipping, but the lithiums are not supposed to go with the shipment.  They are okay with lithium batteries packed with gear they operate (like the 744/788 or cameras), but don't want them going loose.

Robert

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  • 1 year later...

Just thought I report my most recent flight experience. It was between NY and New Orleans. Flew an Embre air 190. FULL flight

I use a Porta brace A0-4 that carries my DEVA, 3 Lectro receivers, BDS with 3 lithium bricks, shotgun mic, TSC, Comtex TX, and 2 RX. I put all that in an old portabrace production kit. VdB pole in architecture tube carry on.

I had recently tried a pelican 1510 for all this (minus the ARV) and things fit, but opted for the fabric of the production kit so I can smush it.

TSA did their usual thing with the kit. The Deva read as a laptop. I just explained that it is not, but there is a hard drive in the recorder. The boom pole was an issue. I've been asked to demonstrate how it works before, but this TSA agent knew it was a film tool and said his boss has making them be checked in lately. He came back and said it was ok to carry on. But if it had been heavier or been a light stand, it'd have to be checked. Other than that it was fine. Done 18000 air miles and never had an issue with the pole before. All worked out, just gave myself extra time for the search

post-4021-0-61738600-1332363190.jpg

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I just got back from a shoot in Houston flying South West. The crew checked 8 cases and we carried on 2 bags each. I took almost 150 pounds of gear in 2 pelican 1620's. We arrived early for a direct flight, not really worried about something not getting there. I follow the IDX instructions for air travel and that is for me , can check an NP1 on the equipment but the spares must be carried on board and protected.(I carry each in a shure mic bag.) TSA opened one case which had my bag rigged without antenna's and I usually place mic cables on the bottom. Returning, I placed the cables on top and neither were opened. I don't know if that made any difference. Just depends who what when and where.

Happy flying ....

Mike

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After the last trip, I just packed everything into 2 pelican cases and had production fed-ex them on their account. Your gear will get there on time and your cases won't be opened either. I find it more of a risk to put it on a plane and have it delayed or lost. Its also a lo less stressful. Its nice to just check a bag and get on the plane, and i think production would feel better about not having delays as well.

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in my experience, it just depends on the agent and the airline. For example I've been stopped by TSA agents and questioned about Nihydride NP1s. His supervisor came to me and confirmed it was battery and said, 'let me tell my agent so he knows next time.' This most recent trip was interesting in that the agent knew the difference between a telescoping boom pole and light stand

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Here's what we/I do with carryon bags when i'm traveling with a camera operator: The camera operator puts his/her bag on the scanner conveyor belt ahead of my audio bag (well, a Storm Case case). The camera is removed from the bag and resting on top of it. The great majority of times we do this, the camera clues in the TSA folks that video equipment is in those bags/cases and they let us through without long searches.

This has worked in large and small airports. Doesn't always work, and most stuff is checked as media baggage. But it's still a big time/hassle saver.

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I'm currently on a shoot in Syracuse, NY and to get here from Denver, CO we flew out on a 737-700 to Newark And then took a Bombardier Dash 8 to Syracuse. So knowing that we were going to take two planes and having the second one being a small turbo prop I carried on my Petrol PS603 with my 552, 4 Electro systems, lavs and a bunch of batteries to keep me able to shoot for at least the first day in case the rest of my gear in a Pelican 1520 didn't make it through. I normally pack all my gear into a Pelican 1650 for these kinds of shoots and it gets loaded into the belly of the plane, but this is the first time in a long time that I carried my main pack onto the plane. It worked out, but getting the PS603 into that overhead bin of the Dash 8 was a tight fit. Almost too tight.

I had one of my Lithium NP-1's in the rig and the other packed in the bag with tape over the electrodes. Of course the TSA agents in Denver had a fun time looking it over. I did the same thing as Jim Feeley just described above. Camera first then audio. They had just seen the HDX-900 go through their machine and so they weren't surprised and they didn't tear apart my bag. I'm a little nervous about the out bound flight. Syracuse airport is small and the security area looked odd and (honestly) not very secure. So I'm telling the camera guy that we should get there 20 minutes earlier to deal with the tear down that I'm sure is going to happen. Hopefully not, but small airports just don't see stuff like this like larger airports do.

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I had an odd experience a few weeks ago. I had a gig where I needed to pack a musician's mic stand as well as a boompole. I packed it and other gear into an SKB golf club road case. It was the only road case I had that would accommodate the mic stand. I made it through 2 airports before they approached me at the American Airlines at DFW. They told me there would be a $150 charge for packing something other than golf clubs in a golf club case. (I don't know how it matters at all) Just be aware that airlines have creative rules that can both slow you down and cost you money.

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when you guys ate checking in your boompoles are you paying a regular baggage check fee

It depends on the airlines. I just flew with Southwest and was allowed to check in 2 bags for free with any bag thereafter costing $75. I just bought a fishing pole case from Bass Pro Shops ($24) and carried the MICROPHONE POLE (calling it a boom pole might not be a good idea when TSA asks you what's in your hands) with me along with my gear. I made sure that all cables and batteries were in my checked luggage. I also didn't leave any batteries inside my wireless units as this would surely draw some attention.

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