Sunday, July 1, 2012

Getting through airline security

I've realized that with all my discussion of what I was shooting in the southwest, I completely forgot the one thing that had me concerned in the time leading up to my trip- how to get my gear out there safely!

I started off with a hard side Hardigg case I got from my boss for pretty much nothing, but would I would need to make new inserts for (It looks like it once held a formula car transmission- clean, but the liner will not work for me).

The more I thought about it, the more I had issues. Originally, I was looking to ship my gear to myself at the hotel, because there is no way I was going to let airline baggage handlers anywhere near it. In talking to the shipping guy at work, the normal carriers' insurance rates are pretty high (something on the range of $5 USD/$100 value), and they have a cap which would not even come close to the total value of what I was bringing. They would only cover up to the retail value of my rentals- the D800 and the (beautiful) 14-24mm f2.8 lens I brought with me. Along with that, the case has no way for me to lock it, and is pretty damned big at 32.5' wide, 16" high, by 18" deep. Basically, two trains of though were killed in one shot.

The next idea was to bring it as carry on luggage. One of the main reasons I was originally trying to avoid this was the idea of getting searched by our wonderful Transportation Safety Officers. But the more I thought about it, the more this seemed to be the way to go.

So I bit the bullet, and ordered a Pelican 1514 case (1510 case with foam dividers) and a matching lid organizer. I have another Pelican case I picked up for my speedlights and pocket wizard triggers, so I know the suckers are strong. I ended up having to drill a couple holes on the inside of the lid to mount the organizer, but I'll leave that for another time. As it turns out, I could fit almost everything I was bringing with me in it, with the exception of my tripod which I checked in my suitcase.

D800 and 14-24 f2.8 missing from photo
In the main case, I loaded both camera bodies (D300, D800), 85mm f1.4, 14-24 f2.8, memory cards, batteries, vertical viewfinder, battery grip for the D300, 50mm f1.8, 24mm f1.8, 80-200 f2.8, 100 f2.0 macro, and a couple expodiscs. The lid held a storm jacket (in case of inclement weather), Lee Filters Base Kit with mounting rings, Lee ND grad kits, tripod plates, compass, remote shutter trigger, and a couple other odds and ends.

My next concern was TSA. I should mention now that my experience was a good one, but you should still allow plenty of time just in case your trip doesn't go as smoothly as mine. I had heard about a few things that can hold up passage through security checkpoints, so I was reasonably well prepared, save for one minor hiccup.

I knew not to have anything that could be considered a weapon on my person, so I checked my pocket knife in my luggage. I also knew that I would need to remove my shoes at the checkpoint, so before I got there, I untied my shoes and tucked the laces into them so I wouldn't be tripping on them. Once I got through to the scanning area (I also forgot to remove my sunglasses at the stand where they check ID to boarding passes- no big deal), I grabbed a gray bin, put my shoes and jacket into it, took my laptop and iPad out of my shoulder bag, and stacked them on top of each other. This was the hiccup. A Transportation safety officer saw me do this, and came over grabbing two more bins and put my electronics in their own bins... my bad. While he was there, I told him what was in my carry on, since I was still expecting for them to search it. I passed through the metal detector, collected my gear, and continued on without any further delay. Awesome! The bugger was that I was then left with another 2.5 hrs to chill out at the airport. Plenty of time to go grab a beer.

On the way back out of Albuquerque, the experience was similar... didn't even tell the TSO about the contents of the case, and not a word was said. Again, these results may not be typical. As a matter of fact, before the trip, I was talking to a friend who works at TSA about the trip, and he's the one who told me to let them know what was in the case, and what to say when they wanted to open it- basically that it was expensive, delicate equipment, and that if they had any questions, please ask; and to let them know that I would be more than happy to re pack it. Primarily, DO NOT be argumentative of defensive. That would only make matters worse.

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