Air Travel with Camera Gear Update

I just read Air Travel Just Got Worse for Photographers and it confirmed my recent experience at LAX airport last week: the TSA agent, upon seeing my camera bag in x-ray reversed the conveyor belt and asked me to remove both my Canon 5D with Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L lens attached as well as the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS L lens I had in the bag.

I took them both out and put them in a plastic tray which at that point I had to get from the rear of the line making the situation incredibly awkward for me and others.

This looks like a new TSA policy but there was no notice or announcement of it as I unpacked my computer and took my shoes off and this meant that there were people behind me who got all bent that I was holding up the works and they tried to shove their stuff in the x-ray machine ahead of mine. I was happy to let them do this and the TSA agent behind the x-ray didn’t know how to handle it and so, there was a bit of an issue.

Those of you who travel with computers and other expensive grear know that you never let your stuff go through x-ray and sit on the other side unless you’re ready to walk through the metal detector. Letting others get ahead of you means that you run the risk of someone walking off with your stuff. TSA forced me to do this last week and I was not happy.

I should say, I’m very good about compliance: I just do what they ask of me willingly and with a smile on my face but when they don’t make it clear what they want they’re creating their own bottlenecks and hassles and as a passenger I resent paying the social and logistical price for their stupidity.

There has never been any signage about this in my experience in numerous airports and one has to listen to an ever-changing TSA agent barking out (rather rudely I might add) a list of what to do and what not to do which is not the best way to handle this. Not everyone coming through the line speaks English as a first language or at all so barking out instructions is certainly not the best way to handle this.

TSA: Make it clear what you want so people can be prepared and move quickly. If you don’t, you’re creating your own problems.

Note: here is TSA’s notice on this and you will note that they have not updated this notice to include SLR cameras and lenses: Passenger Security Checkpoints.

7 thoughts on “Air Travel with Camera Gear Update

  1. Jon

    Hi Richard,

    Agree with all your points. I had no idea of this either. My experiences of the TSA have been awful.

    Barking / shouting seem to be standard practice and the worst experience was flying out of Boston where my MacBookPro laptop was literally bounced on a metal table.

    Needless to say I was IRATE and complained to the “manager” who was more interested in accusing me of bad mouthing his younger colleague. He was rude, arrogant and compounded my view of these people having fascist-like dictatorships in their little area to make up for such an uninteresting and sad life outside of work.

    Me, angry? I was livid!!!

  2. Daniel

    Hello Richard!
    I’m going to buy new lenses next week but I’m having some doubts…
    Wich one is better, the 24-70mm f/2.8 L or the 24-105mm f/4 L?
    Thanks for your opinion!

  3. Richard Post author

    Jon: I’ve been traveling with a lot of electronics for twenty years through the first gulf war and through 9/11 and of course recently. What I’ve learned, at least for me, is that getting mad does nothing good including for you. No matter what happened, including if one of them drops your new camera on the floor and smashes it, getting mad won’t undo it. My approach is to flow the best I can through their idiocy and focus on getting through, not on how poorly run it is. With a focus on getting through compliance is the best way as it makes their job easier and keeps the focus off of you.

    Anyway, I fully understand why someone would get mad, been there, done that, but it didn’t do me a lot of good in the end.

    Daniel: without question, the 24-70 is the way to go. Faster, sharper, and a fantastic lens. Get yourself a B+W UV filter and a B+W circular polarizer and you’re set.

    The 24-105 is a great lens but IS or no IS, f/4 is not f/2.8. End of story.

  4. Seth

    On my recent out bound trip to Scotland I had a similar experience in Boston ay Logan Airport. However the TSA did not ask me to remove any of my gear from my bags. I too had a Canon 5D and Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L lens and Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS L lens in my bag. However the TSA let the bag go though the XRAY and then pulled me and the bag aside and asked politely for me to undo the bag fasterners so that they could use the wand on the contents inside. They asked politely for my assistance to move items but never to remove them from the bag..

  5. Richard Post author

    Seth, sure, I’ve had this happen, numerous times, post x-ray. The difference this time was that this was pre-xray and I had to run the gear through. Ugh.

    I’m always happy to open my bag on a table and let them paw through it, swab it, swab me, whatever. This, however, was quite different.

    Who knows, maybe it was that particular TSA post. Next time I’m in LA I’ll use the other one in the UAL terminal.

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