As a photographer, travelling comes with part of the job - especially if you are a good photographer, as your skills are likely to be needed further afield.
This means that you are likely to do a lot of travelling - not a problem in itself, some would even describe it as one of the better perks of the job - but a downside is that you often have to travel with a lot of photographic equipment. It has often been said that photo equipment is more expensive than drugs, and with today's drugs prices, that gives an impression of the amount of money you are lugging about.
Any airport luggage handler you will ever meet will tell you that the luggage isn't as much handled as abused on its way to and from the airplane - and the landings themselves are hardly the softest in the world by themselves. In addition, there are many shady luggage handlers out there. In short; The most important thing to remember when travelling with expensive equipment is insurance - you do not want to be caught out.
However, no amount of insurance is going to do you any good if you arrive at the location without any photographic equipment, therefore having to rent / buy new equipment, or - if worst come to worst - look like a complete nunce and have to decline the assignment at the last minute because you don't have any cameras to do the pictures with.
The main rule, therefore, is to never part with your cameras - they are hand luggage only. The problems that comes then, is that most airlines only allow x kilos worth of hand luggage, leaving a well-equipped photographer flailing - a full photo kit easily weighs more than all but the most generous hand luggage allowances.
There are several tricks of the trade to avoid having to part with your cameras - some work on some airlines, others work on others, but combined they should leave you with your cameras in close proximity:
- Most air-lines allow professionals to bring their tools aboard the airplane - especially photographers - but will stall at the prospect of having to cope with a bag that is over-size or over-weight. The easiest thing to do is to unpack all your equipment, assemble it, and hang it over your neck. Fold the bag, stroll aboard the airplane, and re-pack.
- If they keep giving you stick, make sure you picked up some bags from the tax-free shop. Put the cameras in the bottom of the bags, and put tax-free products on top. No airline will ever refuse you access to the airplane with tax-free bags, because 1) there is no way that is going in the cargo hold, and 2) if they did refuse access, they would get some serious flack from the air port, as a lot of revenue is generated from the tax-free shops on international flights.
- If both of these fail, make sure you bring a form with you. On the form goes the date, the name of the airline, the flight number, and the value of the photographic equipment, preferably an itemised list. Write the value in big bright red felt tip marker, and have a space on the form where the steward can sign. The form should say "I, the steward of E2 airlines, guarantee that the equipment on this list will be loaded into the plane with the greatest of care, and will be given to the photographer as the very first thing when arriving at the destination". Usually, stewards are in no position to give this kind of guarantee, and the amount of money on the form alone is enough to make them stutter and make an exception to the rule.