Is it safe to put lens into check-in luggage for air flight?

Discussion in 'Travel' started by dennis_tam, Oct 16, 2007.

  1. Hi,

    This week I will travel to Asia with several Canon lenses. My Canon EF-300 /4
    and EF 70-200 /4 are kind of heavy if I keep them in my back pack for hand-
    carry. I wonder if it's safe to put both of them into my suitcase as the
    check-in luggage at airport? For the past couple years, the check-in luggage
    is normally asked to keep un-locked for security screening reason. I am afraid
    of seeing them being stolen or damaged...

    Did anybody here ever put heavy lens into luggage for check-in at airport? If
    so, anything happened?


  2. SCL


    I wouldn't consider that...your checked luggage could get lost. Dump something else out of your carry-on backpack and carry your lenses with you, IMHO.
  3. it


    Pro photographers check high-end stuff all the time, but usually in Pelican or similar heavy duty cases. And securely locked.
    I put stuff in my regular luggage from time to time, but it isn't a great policy. The only place I've had stuff stolen is at the old Bangkok airport, but I've been through there hundreds of times, so it wasn't a huge surprise.
  4. I'd never do it.
  5. Insurance on checked baggage is very limited, say$1000. Keep it with you.

    Even if someone decides to inspect it, do you want some non photog handling it?
  6. I think I'd rather check my left arm, first. Even if you remove all possible malice from the situation, the rough handling is an issue. And if the TSA or a similar counterpart wants to open your bag, which they can and do, without you present, what if the lenses takes a fall out? It's just too risky. Add the risk of actual bad-guy behavior back in, and that seals the deal for me: carry on, all the way.
  7. ted_marcus|1

    ted_marcus|1 Ted R. Marcus

    It's perfectly safe to pack any item in checked luggage, as long as you can do without it temporarily (while the bag is delayed or misplaced at the airport or during a connection) or permanently (when the bag is lost, when the contents are damaged during rough handling or TSA inspection, or when the contents are stolen by airport, airline, or TSA employees).

    If you're wealthy, your best bet for items you can't carry on is to either FedEx them to and from your destination. If you're not wealthy, consider whether you absolutely need the items. You might enjoy easier or more carefree travel if you leave heavy items at home and make the most creative use of a minimal kit that you can comfortably carry.

    That's the unfortunate reality of a "security" apparatus that is so focused on risk of very rare acts of terrorism that it completely ignores (or even encourages) the very common risks of theft, loss, or damage to passengers' property. All in all, the best solution is to choose a destination that doesn't require flying. Have you exhausted all the photographic possibilities in your home town?
  8. I never have and never will.

    My carry-on backpack is 21x14x10, and I can fit two pro bodies, about 10 lenses, and a laptop into it.

    As someone above said, only check things that you can do without for a long while.
  9. Not safe at all.
  10. Just ask yourself "What would I rather get there/home without or broken, all my filters, my tripod, the manuals, or my prized lenses?"

    The odds are all will arrive just fine, but odds are only figured up after a tally of what actually happened, and it can happen to you. Just once is too much
  11. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    And securely locked.
    Not in the US, it's not legal to do that.
    FWIW, I saw a Nat Geo photographer checking about five large metal cases, so people do it. I only put tripods into the luggage, but I would put a lens in on the return trip, since I have everything insured anyway.
  12. Sometimes you have no choice but to check equipment. I try to carry enough equipment on board to complete the job, or as much as possible, and check what I cannot reasonably carry. Video gear is big and heavy, as are lights and stands. Plus, you need backups for many key pieces of equipment.

    Some things go on board regardless - ball head, laptop, 1 or 2 cameras and lenses and primary battery chargers (e.g. camera and laptop). Some things are always checked - tripod legs (not worth the argument), secondary battery chargers (e.g., AA and 9v) and CD/DVD blanks and backups. Video heads are too big to carry on board, as much as I would like. I carry a lot less for personal travel - the tripod legs go in luggage and everything else goes on my back or shoulder.

    I use a sturdy case for checked gear to withstand punishment by the handlers (if not pilferage). Pelican cases are excellent for cameras, Anvil or SKB cases for electronics. AFIK, only the USA forbids using effective locks on checked baggage. If I can't lock them, the locks go in the case for when I arrive. Above all, I make sure my insurance is up to date.
  13. Never!! For the weight,have the hand luggage weighed without the lens,and put them in afterwards,nobody checks.If you are on your own, stick them in a locker while you're checking in.An insurance policy, evan well rolled up, still makes a lousy lens.
  14. I have sometimes checked in lenses in locked Pelican type bags. Not my most expensive lenses, only when I have to, and only in a locked case. And locked with a proper lock not those flimsy TSA approved ones (Luckily enough, I do not live in USA).
  15. I 'm no pro and can't afford an additional insurance. Since my last budget flight demanded light carry on (10kg) I stuffed the less expensive lenses into check in and left one Leica at home to make a imaginable loss bearable. Putting lenses into your spare socks to hold (rear)caps in place is always a good idea, when you are usingh a ordinary suitcase.

    Anyhow, prepare for a worst case scenario. Find out where to get / rent another lens if your insured checked in gets lost.

    BTW: How will you carry gear that seems too heavy to be hauled conveniently through the airport everyday as a tourist? - Leave something at home! - I don't spot lots of subjects when I feel like a overloaded pack animal.

    Standing in your shoes I'd rather pop a painkiller to get the filled backpack through the airport, than risking the loss of glass.
  16. Jochen,

    Airports have luggage carts. International airports have luggage carts near the terminals. It's almost as good a having a mule ;-)

    When out and about, I take what I need and leave the rest behind.
  17. I would take the lenses as carry on and check clothing and other things you might otherwise take on board. If your checked bag gets lost or stolen, you can quickly and easily replace clothing regardless of where you are. But if your lenses are lost/stolen/damaged it's not going to be as quick, easy or cheap to replace. If things get too heavy, use a rolling suitcase of carry-on size instead of the backpack. Stuff your (empty) backpack into your checked luggage, and pull it out once you get there to carry things around in whlie shooting. I do check my tripod (inside a large suitcase along with clothing) because it's too big to easily carry on but I figure it's much harder to damage than a lens.
  18. Don't do it. Had a video camera stolen out of a suitcase I suspect during the transfers between JFK and LaGuarda in NYC even though the suitcase had a TSA approved lock on it. I knew better, but I thought it would be ok with the TSA lock on it. I guess just about everyone in the airports have a TSA key now and the lock only signals someone there is something valuable inside.

    Insurance company gave me a hard time- prove you had the camera with you, and produce the theft report! They say it's one chance in 5 that anything valuable won't make the transfer in NYC, not that NYC folks are any worse than anywhere else, but the bags pass through so many hands it's almost impossible to trace any thefts.

    In take everything I think I need in a back pack now. I do put spare batteries, chargers, cards/tapes, calculators and even the cell phone and the like in the suitcase, along with the monopod, but that's about it.

  19. ido it. i try to pad it well, wrapped up in heavy clothes if you are traveling with such. i try and keep mt real expensive or favorite lenses with me. i carry lots if camera gear so sometimes i need to check some stuff.

    i routinely fly to SE asia for several months and then domestically while i am there. i did it 3 days ago flying from Newark to SLC. no problems....but i seem to have good karma!

  20. I am never concerned whether such an item is properly packed because I will never check any
    valuable items. I take at least 30 international flights a year and I have had items stolen from
    my luggage so many times (with a variety of airlines) that I simply stopped putting anything
    of value, anything electronic, or any item that is brand-new into checked luggage. I certainly
    would NEVER put a lens into checked luggage - I put it in a bag pack as carry-on luggage.
    With the exception of walking to the gate after check-in, I rarely have the backpack on my
    back for longer than a few minutes - certainly not long enough to make it a real burden. At
    any rate, the slight inconvenience beats having to replace an expensive item...
  21. I get so many questions about air travel and camera gear, I have posted a "guide to carry-on regulations on my website." There you will see a large sampling of what major airline regulations are. I have included a live link that will take you directly to the appropriate page for each of the majors airline web sites.

    As I struggled to pull this information together, I discovered it is no wonder there is so much confusion. In the US, carry-on size is the ruling factor. Weight limits, if published at all, are generally around 40 pounds.

    Outside of the US, carry-on weight is often the limiting factor (ranging from 15.5 pounds (7kg) and up.) I am told that in reality, weight only becomes an issue if your carry-on "looks heavy." So keep it small, tightly packed and don't grunt when you lift it! :)

    Good luck

  22. david_henderson


    I travel a lot and I very often check camera gear- either well protected in my bags or in a Pelicase which purpose fits my Lowepro shoulder bag. All my kit is insured.

    I do it this way not because I'm too idle to carry my stuff at the airport- though 30lb or so of camera and film isn't something you forget about easily. I do it because whether the constraint is size or weight its the only practical way to carry two MF systems as I mostly do is to check one of them and carry the other with my film. I haven't yet had any incidence of damage or theft despite the Pelicase travelling unlocked courtesy of UK or US security checkers who apparently can't be bothered to put the lock back on after they've inspected it.
  23. I think it would be ok to do that .
  24. Have been debating this myself for quite a while, I have decided that only stuff I can do without and is not essential to my trip goes in the hold of the plane the rest stays with me.
  25. Bruce, Thank you for your efforts in bringing this important issue together at photobackpacker - great site BTW
  26. Your lenses will end up someone else's hands. Only check stuff that is relatively easy to replace and won't make you cry.

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