Lately on my travels, I've found that my discreet ThinkTank Airport International trolley bag hasn't managed to make it as carry on, when I've been flying around. Simply because some of the airlines are now starting to weigh the carry on.
This has happened to me twice in the past month: flying to Tasmania from Brisbane, and flying to Capadocia in Turkey from Edinburgh. On both occasions the weight restriction was around 8kg, which turns out to be pretty much the weight of the ThinkTank airport international bag when it's empty. I know this, because we tried to lighten the contents of the bag while going to Tasmania, and I ended up with the bag completely empty and it still weighed around 7KG.
So I've had to do something I've always feared doing: check in my camera bag, and hope it arrives at the other side all in one piece. On both occasions so far, that's exactly what's happened - the bag has arrived intact and all my possessions inside the bag were still there too.
So is there a solution to flying with camera equipment? I don't think so. You could argue that:
a) get a bag that weighs almost zero and use that to transport your gear. It still means you'd have to be careful not to go over the 7kg limit (which I think is achievable), but the risk is that for any reason they decide to check in your gear, the bag may not be sturdy enough to protect it.
b) The robustness of the ThinkTank camera bag saved my gear. I'm sure this is true. It's a very study bag. But it comes at a risk of being checked in because it's so heavy.
c) Take all your camera gear out of the bag and put it into pockets on your jacket. I've done this before and it does work, but it's a hassle and stress worrying that you're going to lose something in transit.
d) Dump all the heavy gear: No more SLR's, no more medium format equipment. Go Micro-Four-Thirds for example. If you are a digital shooter, I think the options for lightening your load are becoming more practical as camera systems become more compact. I've been thinking for a while that SLR's are outmoded now, and results from more compact systems are just as good, or close enough to beg the question why we're carrying all this large gear around.
I did have one panic though. I checked in my camera bag with all my photographic film inside it. I managed to get them to retrieve it. But I'm rather curious if this 'urban myth' about check in baggage x-ray machines being much stronger than the carry on, is true? Consider that Fujufilm ship their products around the world: they must go via the hold of large planes, and I doubt they would be exempt from xray. So I'd really like to hear from anyone who knows the answer for sure about this one.
In the meantime, I'm much happier now just checking in my camera bag. My gear is insured, and I will take the film on the plane with me.
* Since I wrote this, I've decided that the ThinkTank Airport International is now a lost cause. It is simply too heavy to use as a carry on bag, if it gets weighed. Most airlines are limiting weight to around 9kg, and the bag alone is around 7kg. If I load it up to the capacity, the bag comes in at around 15kg. So it's a lost cause now.
Instead, I am just going to board the plane with my belt-bag. It holds three lenses, all my filters and a camera body. I will pack my film in a 'duty-free' plastica carrier - this is how I used to do it previously.