Joe and Mary Ann McDonald's

Wildlife Photography

October 2005

Tip of the Month

Carry-On Luggage for the Small Commuter Flights

Don't assume your equipment is safe just because you are carrying it onto a plane. As you may know, carry-on space may be limited -- you all have heard the command to keep carry-ons under the seat in front of you, and, of course, in the overhead bins. However, with small commuter flights, overhead space may be very limited, sized for nothing larger than a laptop computer case. A normal camera bag, or a rolling case like the ones Mary and I use, won't fit in that compartment, and if we weren't sitting together, the rolling case (which fits airline specs) wouldn't fit under just one seat.

Mary and I both carry rolling cases, which fit fine on larger airlines. However, some of our flights occasionally require flying into small airports where the big jets don't go. When we're traveling together, that's not a big problem because, as I said, we can put one case crosswise under the seat in front of us, but it would be an issue if we had to share that space with someone else. They might object to not having the leg room. Nevertheless, we still have a case that won't fit on the plane, and this one must be checked.

Returning from Yellowstone, I had the opportunity to watch from my plane window how carry-on luggage is handled when it is checked at the door. IT WAS NOT PRETTY!

In Bozeman, I saw bags handed down to a baggage handler who was to put the bags on a cart which would then be rolled to the main luggage storage area. I missed how the first few bags were handled, but for 75% of the bags I'd say only 10% were treated with care, and that's just because the cart was convenient enough so that a bag was placed onto the cart and not tossed. The other carry-on cases were tossed -- less than a foot in almost all cases, but still tossed. I cringed to think how my digital projector would act after being thrown, or how my optics would work after one or several other bags were thrown on top of the case.

I did not see how the bags were handled as they were placed onto the plane, but I can imagine that they were treated in the same fashion. However, I did see how they were handled at our next stop, Denver. I could only see the bags as they rolled down the conveyor belt, so I couldn't see how they were placed there. However, in Denver, all the bags were tossed. Again, usually by a foot or so, but some had a greater throw, and bags were tossed on top of bags, stacking the cart in a fashion that, I'm sure, causes some to simply fall off and land on the runway. Once, a bag -- luckily a light weight gymnbag -- got to the end of the conveyor before the guy could grab it, but as it fell to the ground he snatched it by the handles. Had it been a heavy camera bag, or had he been a bit slower, I'm sure the bag would have hit the ground.

So, don't assume that when the gate attendant takes your bag and says that it will be checked at the gate, and that you'll receive it as soon as you deplane, that that implies it will be treated with respect. I've often thought I'd place bright FRAGILE stickers on my cases, but having watched the guys unload, I know they wouldn't have time to read it. So, what can you do?

Mary and I check in AN EMPTY CASE when we have to give one up at the gate. Before we surrender our case we take out our two telephotos that we carry inside, and we hand-carry these onto the plane. A 500mm or 600mm lens, without a case, will fit in virtually any overhead bin, and we often will pad this with a sweater or shirt we have along. I'd suspect only the most callous, or stupid, flight attendant would balk at your doing this, as they can see the value and fragility of the equipment you're carrying onboard. If we have to surrender both cases (this has happened once), we carry in our other case several NYLON STUFF SACKS, sturdy nylon bags you'll find at outdoor and backpacking stores, which we'll use to stack our camera bodies into and any lenses that we've had inside the case. These stuff sacks end up are a much smaller size than a hard-walled case, and again, a row of 4 or 5 cameras inside a sturdy nylon bag will fit in the overhead space, regardless of how little it is.

If you must surrender your camera cases at the gate, remember, they may not be handled carefully.

Hand-carry any long lens. Use Nylon Stuff Sacks to carry loose items, like camera bodies and smaller lenses. They will always fit under your seat or in the overhead. If you have problems with doing so, ask for the full name of the flight attendant, write it down and the flight number, and assure that person that if the equipment is broken the airlines will be hearing from you.

In a previous Question of the Month, I addressed this issue, suggesting that the airlines simply charge $25 per carry-on, which would eliminate all the stuffed animals, pillows, gymn bags, etc. that people carry one simply for convenience. While you might balk at paying $25 or $50 for two bags, let me assure you that the cost would be worth it -- for if your gear is damaged, and you make an insurance claim, your insurance company may drop you after the claim. On our Yellowstone trip, one of our participants told us of her experience -- a break-in, and although the company paid, they dropped her cold -- which included all of her home owners insurance as well. So, don't expect your insurance to bail you out ... that may be a one shot deal.

Why won't the airlines adopt a charge policy? In today's world of bankrupt airlines the extra revenue seems like a good thing. However, folks in the industry suggested to me that if ALL the airlines didn't do it, those that did institute a policy would lose money and passengers to those that did not, so everyone is afraid to do charge for carry-on. This could be solved by still charging, which would give PRIORITY to those who paid -- they'd get first crack at the overhead bins, and this could be easily done by simply boarding those passengers along with the Club members and First Class passengers. This is a whole different issue than the commuter checked-hand luggage issue, but this too needs to be addressed. I always hoped NANPA would play a role in helping here, but to date that's been a fruitless wish on my part.


Our Past Photo Tips of the Month:


ProShow Gold
Digital Slide Program


 DIGITAL- Digital Birding

 DIGITAL -Shoot for the Future

 DIGITAL-Shoot for the Future, Part II

 Capture 1's Most Useful Features

maximizing depth of field digitally

  Backing Up Your Digital Files - you'll need more than you think

 DIGITAL Photographing scenes with extreme exposure values

 NPN- Nature Photography Network - a digital forum for nature photography

 Digital Pro Image Management Software

 Watch Your Backgrounds
The potential of composites or shooting in RAW format

 A Great Website for Information - the Singapore Nature Photography Society

 Save Your Equipment from Crashing!

 The L-Bracket, the ultimate camera bumper

At the Pulse of Life
by Fritz Polking

 Carry Your Gear!

 Shooting in Inclement Weather

 Ask Questions
Before You Go

 Seize the Moment!

Geared Focusing Rail for Macro Work 

 Protecting your long lens from SAND, the pleasures of beach photography

 How do we protect our gear from dust, and carry our gear when on safari

 The Ultimate Flash Bracket
Padding Your Wimberley
Tripod Head

  Specular highlights and the flashing frog
 Using TTL flash with Hummingbirds  Testing your Flash's Aim
Maximum Depth of Field and Hyperfocal Distance - they're not the same thing!  If you see it, it's too late -- a lesson in anticipation  How do you shoot the Moon?
  Low level tripod work  A great depth of field guide  Wimberley 400 and 600mm IS plate

 Sigma's 120-300mm F2.8 APO HSM zoom lens

 Using The Wimberley Gimbal head with a camera body

 Sigma's 120-300 f2.8 APO
zoom telephoto lens

 Custom Function 4-1 for Nikon and Canon shooters

 Sighting in a very, very long lens
 The Nature Photography Network - a super website for images and information
  Take a Workshop First   Luck, what is it?  Don't take in baby wild animals

  Airline Carry-On Luggage -Let your concerns be heard!

 Disconnect -- travel precautions

Photograph America Newsletter
 Wildlife Portraiture

 Obey the Rules
The Ti Chi Stalk
Photographing Critically Endangered Sites Bushnell Night Vision Optics  Adobe Photoshop 7 for $300

 The Sibley Bird Guides

 Removing Cactus Spines

 Drying out boots with newspaper

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