Disclaimer: This post is an attempt to guide you through the modern day sports photographers’ nightmare that is un-checking your photography bag at the airport. This post assumes that your photography bag weighs at least 10kg or more with the gear in it. If you don’t have that much gear, this might not be a post for you and if you think this is a guideline on how to smuggle things through airport security, you’re at a wrong website. Please move swiftly to: http://www.hipsterterroristhandbook.com.
I’m writing this post on an Air France flight, having just successfully dodged another accusation over way-too-heavy carry on baggage. Actually, I’m lying. They didn’t even ask me if I had a carry on nor did they weigh it. I’d like to say that I used the “I am not the sports photographer you are looking for” Jedi mind trick, thus avoiding the ever dreaded “Sir, will you put your bag here so I can weigh it?” question. But in reality I have mastered the ways of the way-too-heavy carryon.
As a travelling sports photographer, you have to get on airplanes. I hate them for many reasons, but mainly because I don’t really understand why something that heavy can stay in the air for such a long time. Voodoo and possible hallucinations aside, there are other pressing matters at hand as my gear which is worth a lot more than my life is in danger of being checked in.
In case you have been living in a cave since 2001, this 911 thing happened which royally screwed us sports photographers. Gone are the days of checking in your gear plus two support midgets. 1 carryon per person, no more than 10kg, with maximum dimension of 55cm x 40cm x 20 cm. If you check your gear at the airline counter and they either a) lose it b) steal it or c) break it, the airline is not responsible. That’s right folks, you’re the idiot for allowing them to convince you that your gear will be safe in their hands. If you have been even more stupid and didn’t insure your stuff, say goodbye to your gear and hello to some hefty replacement bills.
So, what to do? Here are couple of things you can try at home and at the airport.
1. Easyjet it
If you live in Europe, you know what Easyjet is. It’s too orange, but it’s cheap. It’s certainly better than the ass gouging whore that is Ryanair, but I’ll get back to those donkey lovers later. Easyjet is special for sports photographers because they have no weight limit for your carryon. But make sure you only have 1 carryon and make sure it fits their dimension. When in doubt, just go with the Think Tank Airpot International. Honestly, it is the best.
2. Vest it
Ryanair. When I started my career as a professional sports photographer, I had to deal with them every weekend. Since the only cheap option between Paris and Glasgow was Ryanair or hitchhiking, I had to fly with those Satanists. The problem is that their luggage policy is stricter than America’s gun policy. Hold on, that’s not that strict. Anyway, it’s as stringent as they come. Case in point: My wife and I had to take our clothes off and discard them at the gate (not the check in counter) as our luggage was too heavy. No ifs or buts with these sadists. Their way or the Strait of Gibraltar. I decided to play by their rules, but with a photographers’ vest from Vested Interest. Since I’m “wearing” it it’s not considered as one of my carryons. You look more Unabomber than Navy Seals, but if it’s terrorist look they want, terrorist look they get. If you don’t have a vest, you can wear the cameras on you. Alternatively, wear a coat with lots of pockets. Remember: What you wear doesn’t count as a carryon.
3. Fake it
When you approach the checkin counter, make sure the checkin lady cannot see your potential carryon luggage. If asked to show her the carryon, lift it with one hand so that it looks lighter. Can’t? Do some Rocky stuff at home and do forearm curls with your gear bag. If it’s a backpack style, act as if it weighs about 2 kg. Be extremely cordial whilst going through the checkin procedure, but not so much that you arouse suspicion. Even if she’s hot, don’t prolong the conversation. Get in and get out. Make sure you only have 2 bags on display: One for check in, one for carryon. You don’t want them to think that you’re going to be a handful by displaying more than 2 bags. Although the airlines have guidelines for carryons, it depends on the discretion of the checker / checkerette. Your gears’ fate will depend on how you act. Act like you deserve it, you’ll likely be treated like a deservee. I’m making words up, I know.
4. Hulk it
If all else fails, if after all the smiles and diplomacy she insists that you checkin your gear, you just go logically crazy. Shouting obscenities isn’t going to get you anywhere, but shouting logic does. “Are you going to pay if my gear gets damaged during transit?” “It’s for my work and I need these gears to do my work.” “They let me take it as a carryon last time. What’s so different now?” And so forth. Last ditch attempt, go for the “Please let me talk to your manager”. If you look like Brad Pitt, you probably just have to bat your eyelashes, but if it doesn’t work for me, it probably won’t work for you either. ;)
Next time you have to get on a plane to shoot a sporting event, make sure you are armed with the correct info, correct attitude, and a wicked sense of trickery. You’ll be enjoying your 15 Euro sandwich, comforted in the thought of your gear is in the overhead compartment.
PS Just so we are continuously aware of the ever changing airline policies, do let me know if you have any other tips or info. More and more airlines are going the sub 10kg route and we as sports photographers need to arm ourself with brain buster logic to combat the evils of the air.
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