I have a flight from Europe to US (with connection in Zurich) next week and need to take a lot of photo gear with me: three cameras (DSLR, SLR and a medium format), a number of lenses for them, a light meter, some film and a laptop with charger. I plan packing it all into my small carry-on roller bag. My checked luggage will have all my other stuff like clothing etc.

The airline (Swiss) allows only one cabin baggage and it's weight limit is 8 kilos. My cameras and lenses alone weight a little more than 7 kilograms, add to that the weight of the roller bag itself and it is roughly the max allowed weight. But then I still have to put my laptop, film and other stuff like jacket, passport etc. somewhere. For that purpose I'm thinking to also take a small backpack with me.

How likely am I to encounter issues if I say that both my backpack with a laptop and an 8 kilogram roller bag are cabin baggage? What if my backpack contains not only a laptop, but is also full of photo gear? Are there any specific rules or practices that allow for more/heavier photo or video equipment taken as carry-on? As I won't dare checking my $$$ worth of cameras and lenses with other luggage, what are my options if I'm refused to take both bags into the cabin and allowed only one? What is more likely to slip, two bags or one, but heavier than 8 kilos?

Basically, how do photographers fly with lots of heavy photo gear, especially those with big medium format (6x7, 6x9) or even large format cameras?

  • Great, really interesting question, but I recommend reading the help center and editing your question, as you've asked subjective, multiple questions, both of which are likely to draw the ire of members on the site. A small edit could probably get some solid answers though! Welcome!
    – Mark Mayo
    Apr 21 '17 at 7:10
  • The expensive option: upgrade to business class (getting you 2 x 8 kg) or book an extra seat for your equipment (which Swiss allow for musical instruments, so might allow for other similarly valuable gear). Also, here's a related question on protecting camera gear in checked baggage.
    – Pont
    Apr 21 '17 at 8:50
  • @Pont Swiss explicitly states that on US flights business/first class passengers are allowed only one carry-on and have to check the second one. I never thought about booking extra seat, I'll keep it in mind for future flights, thanks!
    – lightproof
    Apr 21 '17 at 8:56
  • @lightproof it's still one 8kg bag and a personal item (40 x 30 x 10 cm). The extra seat option is probably cheaper, we discussed it travel.stackexchange.com/questions/65393/… here.
    – chx
    Apr 21 '17 at 9:42

If your roller bag is pretty close to the weight and dimensions for cabin baggage it should be allowed on. Most airlines are a bit generous especially with the weight allowance.

Swiss air also allows a "thin laptop bag" as well as a carryon, so that shouldn't be a problem. Put your laptop and charger in that, and probably some other stuff. Jackets also don't count as cabin baggage, and are allowed in addition to both of the above. (i.e. one jacket). Your passport can go in a pocket.

Finally is there some part of your gear that you could check? I understand the reluctance to check the cameras or lenses, but is a light meter replaceable in Switzerland? A flash? How about film? I assume it would all be insured, so if it did go missing the main thing would be the inconvenience of replacement

  • 1
    Thanks for your feedback! The roller bag was sold as a cabin baggage sized. I won't be staying in Switzerland as I only have a connection there. Pretty much none of my gear is easily replaceable and the light meter alone costs $400. The set I will be traveling with is already pretty Spartan. Medium format gear is heavy. The film I will be mostly buying in the US, but I will bring a lot of it on the return trip and it can go only in carry-on. And no, nothing is insured. First, because I'm visiting my relatives, and second, because no one insures photo gear where I live.
    – lightproof
    Apr 21 '17 at 0:19
  • Are you concerned about X-rays regarding the film? I think that's pretty much no longer a problem. We have a Photography site which might be able to tell you more. Apr 21 '17 at 0:25
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    Hand luggage x-ray machines are pretty safe, but those that scan checked luggage are much stronger and there's no telling how many times my particular bag will be scanned (the effect of x-rays is cumulative). I'm well aware about photography site, thanks :) I just thought that the question is more suited here due to it having to do more with the specifics of airline travel.
    – lightproof
    Apr 21 '17 at 0:33
  • A lot of airlines also won't object too strenuously to you carrying some of your gear on your person (as long, obviously, as it's not egregiously bulky). On both Delta and Aer Lingus, I've gotten away with carrying on a standard-sized roller case, backpack-style camera bag, tripod (in a shoulder sling bag), and a mid-sized lens in its carrying case into cattle class, on full flights. The bag drop people, the gate agents, and the FAs all didn't bat so much as an eyelash. Jan 8 '18 at 1:17

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