Friday, 1 January 2010

POV: Flying For Photographers


The recent increase in security procedures and passenger/luggage screening is/will driving/drive photographers (and others) bonkers, as it’s most probably going to get tougher to get camera gear on board a commercial plane, whether flying from the US, flying to the US or flying between countries that have nothing to do with the US. Many of these new restrictions are nonsensical, and will be relaxed...but some will stay with us, like the rather quaint requirement that we remove our shoes.

Let's remember that airlines are essentially lemmings, and their managements realize there's a possible opportunity to make more money in checked-in (or excess) fees from these new rules. They're also painfully aware that passengers have had enough, and that traffic may well drop if the restrictions are too onerous. So the airlines (such as Virgin) will temporarily waive fees on excess check-in luggage if it arises from having too much or too heavy hand luggage...and then suddenly will stop the altruism, and will start to charge its hapless passengers.

As I wrote in an earlier post, we need to be prepared and plan accordingly. "Expect and plan the worse, and hope for the best" is a useful cliche in this situation. I will soon fly to London and onwards to Delhi to start my Tribes of Rajasthan & Gujarat Photo~Expedition™, and I expect the hassles to be stringent and time-consuming. As it stands, we cannot lock checked luggage unless we use the so-called TSA-approved locks (or lose the locks), which means that once our luggage disappears in the airport's entrails, our expensive gear is exposed to whoever takes a fancy to hard drives, lenses, etc.

Since we can only bring carry-ons limited in size and weight, we now have few options. The days of rolling backpacks with tons of photo gear are probably over..at least internationally and in the short to medium run. Small camera bags crammed with gear will be the only way to go, provided the bags do not exceed airlines' weight restrictions. I'm already at this stage using my minimalist set-up, of which I wrote of here. However, I still need to have ancillary electronic gear (chargers, cables, perhaps an extra lens) packed in my checked-in luggage...and my fingers will remain crossed until I get to Delhi hoping that nothing is missing. Gear insurance is great, but won't help you until you return to make a claim, and being in Rajasthan without a 70-200 lens sucks.

It's conceivable that the new small bag rule (9 x 14 x 22 inches and 13lb/6kg in weight) will only apply on my return flight from London to New York, which would make things somewhat easier. But I have heard and read of instances where passengers on non-US bound flights were told they had to abide by that rule as well...so I'm not too optimistic.

I also read in the newspapers that full-body scanners are being installed at more airports, but some politicians and advocates are voicing serious concerns at these devices because of privacy issues. Please...I'd be willing to stand naked in front of a TSA agent for as long as she wants, provided I'm allowed to carry all my gear on-board. Eye-candy I'm not, but if that's what it takes, I'm all for it.

Seriously though, I understand many passengers find the idea of being scanned and their privacy invaded in such a fashion to be totally abhorrent, but there's always the pat-down option instead of the scan...so I'm not too fussed about the fuss. I want to fly safe and have my gear near me...that's not too much to ask for, is it?