Expensive Cameras in Checked Luggage

This is a blog post about the problems of being forced to check expensive camera equipment on airplanes:

Well, having lived in Kashmir for 12+ years I am well accustomed to this type of security. We haven’t been able to have hand carries since 1990. We also cannot have batteries in any of our equipment checked or otherwise. At least we have been able to carry our laptops on and recently been able to actually use them (with the batteries). But, if things keep moving in this direction, and I’m sure it will, we need to start thinking now about checking our cameras and computers and how to do it safely.
This is a very unpleasant idea. Two years ago I ordered a Canon 20D and had it “hand carried” over to meet me in England by a friend. My friend put it in their checked bag. The bag never showed up. She did not have insurance and all I got $100 from British Airways for the camera and $500 from American Express (buyers protection) that was it. So now it looks as if we are going to have to check our cameras and our computers involuntarily. OK here are a few thoughts.

Pretty basic stuff, and we all know about the risks of putting expensive stuff in your checked luggage.

The interesting part is one of the blog comments, about halfway down. Another photographer wonders if the TSA rules for firearms could be extended to camera equipment:

Why not just have the TSA adopt the same check in rules for photographic and video equipment as they do for firearms?

All firearms must be in checked baggage, no carry on.

All firearms must be transported in a locked, hard sided case using a non-TSA approved lock. This is to prevent anyone from opening the case after its been screened.

After bringing the equipment to the airline counter and declaring and showing the contents to the airline representative, you take it over to the TSA screening area where it it checked by a screener, relocked in front of you, your key or keys returned to you (if it’s not a combination lock) and put directly on the conveyor belt for loading onto the plane.

No markings, stickers or labels identifying what’s inside are put on the outside of the case or, if packed inside something else, the bag.

Might this solve the problem? I’ve never lost a firearm when flying.

Then someone has the brilliant suggestion of putting a firearm in your camera-equipment case:

A “weapons” is defined as a rifle, shotgun, pistol, airgun, and STARTER PISTOL. Yes, starter pistols – those little guns that fire blanks at track and swim meets – are considered weapons…and do NOT have to be registered in any state in the United States.

I have a starter pistol for all my cases. All I have to do upon check-in is tell the airline ticket agent that I have a weapon to declare…I’m given a little card to sign, the card is put in the case, the case is given to a TSA official who takes my key and locks the case, and gives my key back to me.

That’s the procedure. The case is extra-tracked…TSA does not want to lose a weapons case. This reduces the chance of the case being lost to virtually zero.

It’s a great way to travel with camera gear…I’ve been doing this since Dec 2001 and have had no problems whatsoever.

I have to admit that I am impressed with this solution.

Posted on September 22, 2006 at 12:17 PM120 Comments


Paul K September 22, 2006 1:00 PM

Are the camera stores going to start selling starter pistols?

Will Amazon start suggesting things like “68% of buyers who purchased this [expensive camera here] also purchased [starter pistol here]”?

anony mouse September 22, 2006 1:06 PM

“The case is extra-tracked…TSA does not want to lose a weapons case.”

How does the tracking system flag the baggage as requiring extra care and/or that it has been pre-screened?

Also, you’re assuming that the TSA folks who are doing the ‘extra tracking’ aren’t potential thieves. If this social engineering hack were to become common knowledge then I wouldn’t be surprised if weapons cases would start to be ‘lost’ in transit simply because the extra tracking would flag them as potentially valuable.

Bruce Schneier September 22, 2006 1:15 PM

“Also, you’re assuming that the TSA folks who are doing the ‘extra tracking’ aren’t potential thieves. If this social engineering hack were to become common knowledge then I wouldn’t be surprised if weapons cases would start to be ‘lost’ in transit simply because the extra tracking would flag them as potentially valuable.”

Most checked-luggage thefts are opportunistic: someone sees something valuable and takes it. A good lock on a luggage case is a pretty effective defense in this case.

Steve L. September 22, 2006 1:18 PM

@ Paul K
“Will Amazon start suggesting things like “68% of buyers who purchased this [expensive camera here] also purchased [starter pistol here]”?”
That has to be one of the funniest things I’ve read in a while – mostly because I can actually see it happen.

BWJones September 22, 2006 1:31 PM

Of course this has not helped with theft issues as firearm theft from airport baggage has been a problem at more than one US airport. I wrote about possible solutions to the problem here:

where I cover some of the potential companies that might be interested in providing a service for luggage that can be safely and securely delivered with insurance as currently there appears to be no responsible party when your luggage is stolen or damaged.

JustBrilliant September 22, 2006 1:34 PM

“The case is extra-tracked…TSA does not want to lose a weapons case. This reduces the chance of the case being lost to virtually zero.”

I am impressed, what a great suggestion. According to this description, this should work for anything you want to check that you don’t want to risk being stolen (laptop, or any valuable). It would appear that all you need is a hard side case (I would expect any hard side suitcase would work) and your own lock.

Although, I suppose that if too many people start using this method to secure their checked baggage, the TSA would change the rules to make it more “inconvenient”.

The problem is again one of externalities. The airline has no “skin in the game” when it comes to protecting your checked baggage. If the airlines were actually held responsible for lost or damaged baggage, I think more people would be comfortable checking their bags.

Woody September 22, 2006 1:55 PM

I’ve flown with a firearm, and it was a rather nerve-wracking experience, opening up a rifle-case in an airport just kinda “feels” wrong.

However, in my search for a case to fly the rifle home with me (it was an inheritance), I was appalled at the “FAA approved-for-commercial-flight gun cases”. Most had single-tumbler locks that could be opened by a pen-knife faster than they could be opened by the keys that came with it.

Also, but I thought that all checked luggage had to use a TSA-approved lock (which they have a master for)?

Frequent Flyer September 22, 2006 1:57 PM

I am a bit bothered by this. Surely, if dishonest baggage handlers can steal from airline luggage with such ease then a fanatical baggage handler could plant a bomb in somebody’s luggage. Here’s an interesting article which suggests that the recent air travel rules have made things even easier for thieves:


I am serious about this; if you consider the privileged access baggage handlers have, it seems surprising that an aircraft hasn’t been bombed this way before.

Loyal Citizen September 22, 2006 2:06 PM

“Also, but I thought that all checked luggage had to use a TSA-approved lock (which they have a master for)?”

Even more fun is the fact that I’ve had TSA-approved locks cut off my luggage multiple times— evidently they can’t be bothered to use the master key.

Anonymous September 22, 2006 2:16 PM

@Loyal Citizen

I’ve seen pelican cases (excellent foam-padded hardcases for firearms, cameras, computers, test-equiment, etc.) come off the conveyers with all the locks hanging open…

So, for firearm cases do they use the luggage x-ray machine to see the firearm and the signed tag (signed by you and the airline agent after verifying the weapon’s unloaded), and put them in a separate pile, that they don’t then try to open?

Suomynona September 22, 2006 2:27 PM

One common theme is the dishonesty of baggage handlers….. (is this just a perception?)

If the baggage handler has the opportunity to steal valuable equipment and the inclination to do so, they are a huge security risk and should be treated as such.

If a Baggage Handler is willing to steal, are they willing to ‘look the other way’ for financial gain – what will it take? “How about placing ‘this’ on the conveyer for me???? What about opening the two bright orange and green suitcases, mixing the ‘liquids’ then adding the circuit from a third suitcase and placing them onto a flight?

Security should not allow a baggage handler to interfere with a passenger’s luggage – period.

Vincent September 22, 2006 2:28 PM

For those concerned about thieves targeting “extra tracked luggage”:

I wouldn’t worry. Guns are very high-value items. Most are worth hundreds of dollars — many thousands. Also, even cheap ones have a potentially high-value on the black market. (More so then cameras — I doubt many criminals are banned from buying expensive cameras, or need to). So if the TSA has been able to safely ship guns around for years with this system — they should be able to handle cameras just fine.

nasir September 22, 2006 3:49 PM

One simple solution would be to have an option of “checkin-baggage-insurance”, I am sure a number of agencies would be happy to offer one (unless they already do so).
Some airlines could offer it free or subsidized as a competitive advantage. Of course you can also matk your baggage as fragile. The idea is to turn the potential thieves into protectors (assuming some insurance premium reaches handlers as commision).

Potential tampering with bags is dangerous preposition, baggage handling should be carefully monitored.

nasir September 22, 2006 3:50 PM

One simple solution would be to have an option of “checkin-baggage-insurance”. I am sure a number of agencies would be happy to offer one (unless they already do so).
Some airlines could offer it free or subsidized as a competitive advantage. Of course you can also mark your baggage as fragile. The idea is to turn the potential thieves into protectors (assuming some insurance premium reaches handlers as commision).

Potential tampering with bags is dangerous preposition, baggage handling should be carefully monitored.

Ms. Sweet Okole September 22, 2006 5:45 PM

@Frequent Flyer
“I am serious about this; if you consider the privileged access baggage handlers have, it seems surprising that an aircraft hasn’t been bombed this way before.”

Perhaps the lesson to be learned is that the threat of aircraft bombing is more than a little bit exaggerated in the first place.

BWJones September 22, 2006 5:48 PM


This is just the point. Baggage theft by airline workers is a chronic problem and guns are not safe under the TSA system. Google gun thefts in Chicago’s airport to find several recent articles.

I absolutely would not trust the airlines to securely transport my firearm. Rather, I would use a service where the firearm could be tracked and insured…… like Fed Ex.

SFgal September 22, 2006 5:58 PM

Re: baggage handlers as security risks. I remember reading about this sting 6 years ago (almost a year to the day before 9/11!).

“Undercover agents, working to bring down a widespread drug-smuggling operation at Miami International Airport, thought that the arrests last month of more than 40 baggage handlers and food service workers on drug charges might impel other suspects at the airport to be more cautious.

Instead, after dodging one bullet, the remaining suspects just assumed they were bulletproof, said federal investigators, who arrested 15 more people yesterday morning and charged them with conspiracy to import cocaine.

The first sting, on August 25, led to the arrests of 58 people, including 30 American Airlines workers, 13 employees with the food contractor LSG/Sky Chefs, a Department of Agriculture inspector, an employee with the Immigration and Naturalization Service and an off-duty employee of the Broward County Sheriff’s Department.

They were charged with smuggling what they believed to be small shipments of heroin, hundreds of pounds of cocaine, a loaded pistol and three hand grenades, federal officials said.

The workers arrested in August stashed their illegal cargo in the small packets of coffee served by flight attendants, in wheel compartments, wall panels, luggage bays and, on one plane, inside the wing, federal investigators said.

The smuggling operation came to light two years ago when an American Airlines pilot was accidentally served a mixture of coffee and heroin from a smuggled parcel and complained that his coffee tasted funny.

The smugglers used their identification cards to bypass security at the airport, even on days when they were not scheduled to work, and were never challenged by airport security. ”

SF Chronical, 9/10/06

Patrick Smith’s “Ask the Pilot” column over on Salon.com has discussed tarmack security before, and not in terms that leads me to believe that things have changed. It’s the security theater vs. real security dichotomy.

And you’ve got to love how the operation came to light. Forgive me if this is too much like a movie-plot threat, but I don’t think you need a fanatical baggage handler. You just need to offer the right financial incentive to a corrupt employee with the right access.

Realist September 22, 2006 6:34 PM

@Bruce Schneier
“Most checked-luggage thefts are opportunistic: someone sees something valuable and takes it. A good lock on a luggage case is a pretty effective defense in this case.”

You wish. A good lock is usually the indication of something of value within. And a good lock doesn’t stop someone from slashing open the softer side walls of most luggage. A small bolt cutter will do in the hinges on a metal case quite nicely, as well.

Glen September 22, 2006 8:43 PM


You wish. A good lock is usually the indication of something of value within.

Which is why I never transport my firearms in anything that looks like a rifle case, pistol case, etc. Instead, I buy ugly hard-case luggage (Goodwill or any thrift store), and lock that. If it looks bad, the better I like it.

If the thrift-store luggage doesn’t come with a key, that’s easily solved by making my own. Those locks just aren’t difficult to deal with, even if you just bend and file a cheap screwdriver (also from Goodwill).

The irony of such puny locks protecting such valuable and deadly goods should be obvious: yet more security theater.

Tobias Weisserth September 23, 2006 8:28 AM

Flying is becoming a problem for people carrying expensive photographic equipment. This is even true for short-distance flights within Europe. I’m not willing to check in my camera, iPod or Laptop, I simply won’t do it. If airlines are being forced to make me, I’m simply not flying anymore – certainly not within Europe. Taking the train, the bus or even using a rental car is always an option in Europe. Losing time and money by doing so is becoming less threatening the tighter security at airports gets. There are alternatives to flying.

What’s the point of buying expensive photographic and entertainment equipment if you’re not able to bring it with you conveniently when you go on holiday? Politicians and airlines should think about that.

Brad Ackerman September 23, 2006 10:31 AM

Last year, the MTA police busted a theft ring at BWI that was targeting military passengers, who carry plenty of easily fencable goods (knives, DVDs, video games). I wouldn’t be at all surprised if FedEx and UPS are far more secure than checked baggage.

Erik V. Olson September 23, 2006 11:57 PM

How do we rapidly get more trains in North America?

Stop the airline and trucking lobbies from destroying anything resembling high speed rail.

In other words, we don’t.

Andrew Lampert September 24, 2006 2:36 AM

@Tobias Weisserth

There are alternatives to flying.

This may be true in many places, but it’s rather difficult to travel from places like Australia if you rule out air travel.


Davi Ottenheimer September 24, 2006 4:37 AM

Nice. Perhaps the regulations will eventually lead to expensive cameras that look like starter pistols or other guns? Less to pack, with the same results, although point and shoot would take on new meaning as some might run or return fire when you pull out your “camera”.

Davi Ottenheimer September 24, 2006 4:41 AM

But seriously it seems like expensive camera equipment just needs the ability to fire blanks to be classified as a weapon by the TSA. That should be a simple mod so that you would not need to also pack a starter pistol.

Bruce Weir September 24, 2006 7:47 AM

“Rather, I would use a service where the firearm could be tracked and insured…… like Fed Ex.”

For several years I’ve used Fedex, DHL, and UPS to avoid checking baggage. This approach has a couple of problems. First, if you have a quantity of gear to ship (which I typically do), it is exorbitantly expensive to ship by any service other than Ground. That requires a lead time of at least 5-7 days from coast to coast. Second, you need a secure shipping destination that is continually staffed during business hours. You CANNOT rely on a shipper’s “signature” service to ensure that a package will be released only to the addressee. On several occasions I’ve had Fedex, DHL, and UPS drivers simply dump valuable shipments in front of an unoccupied address, either forging a signature or ignoring the requirement altogether. DHL once dumped a “signature service” shipment (that I had sent home to myself) on the sidewalk, in the rain, without even bothering to ring the doorbell. I was home at the time and discovered the package only because the dog was barking. This practice persists even after complaints and refunds. Apparently, insurance payouts are not the driver’s problem.

Lost my Shotgun September 24, 2006 8:39 AM

Will someone please return my Browning 325 Gold Sporting Clays shotgun? The last place I saw it was at the counter of United Airlines in a black hardcase covered by a cardboard box while checking in to fly a competitive shoot.
P.S. The stock has been adjusted to fit me so more than likely if you use it you will be shooting over the top of your targets.

cybernezumi September 24, 2006 10:45 AM

In Japan the shipping companies have special services for bags — its common to ship your bags to the airport to save the trouble of taking them on the train. The rates aren’t too bad either. Each airport has counters to pick-up and drop-off your bags. You also can commonly ship between hotels if you’re traveling from place to place. Guess in the US we’ll need to ship between airports instead…

John September 24, 2006 10:59 AM

Perhaps the real solution here would be to make the airlines/TSA fully liable for the replacement value of anything they ‘lose.’ The rather dated rules that allow them to pay almost nothing for valuable items they force you to entrust to them need to go.

That said, if we get to the point of checking everything I think shipping ahead of time will become more commonplace. We’re thinking about it for business trips already just to avoid any problems.

LCB September 24, 2006 1:35 PM

I haven’t flown in a while, but I have flown a number of times with firearms and how they were treated didn’t give me the warm fuzzies.

Also, the last time I heard, the special tags given for luggage containing firearms, supposedly to insure special were such a temptation for theft that somebody (FAA?) mandated that the tags no longer appear on the outside of the luggage.

What the airlines need to do if we are by law/regulation going to have to start packing valuable items, then they are going to have to start insuring that the item arrives and compensate us if it doesn’t, and not some trivial maximum of $1200 or whatever it is.

Until then, ship via separate carrier that will guarantee and insure your items – at least if they lose your camera or computer you will be paid.

Derek September 24, 2006 1:43 PM

The simple solution is to purchase travelers/baggage insurance. While this starter-pistol-thing is a unique idea, it is by no means a gurantee, and insurance (for the most part) is.

Go get travelers insurance before you leave. Make sure it covers baggage, as sometimes it’s not included (or has a limited ammount of coverage).

Another idea is to go get insurance for your camera/computer gear in general. Any good insurance will cover this kind of loss, and (unlike travelers insurance) it covers all sorts of other situations, too.

KSS September 24, 2006 1:53 PM

You really can’t expect the airlines (or anyone) to insure the contents of a bag they haven’t been able to verify the contents and value of. I also don’t think you can expect them to carry all the cost to verify bag contents with each traveller when taking a bag.

But, it would be nice for them to offer an additional level of checked bag service that is insured for complete replacement and which you would pay for. Once it is insured, they are properly motivated to get it there in one piece and unpillaged.

Contrarian September 24, 2006 2:07 PM

I disagree with the statement that “Once it is insured, they are properly motivated to get it there in one piece and unpillaged.”

Insurance is run as a for-profit. As long as the sum of insurance collected is greater than the claims paid out, the airline has no additional motivation to look out for the bag.

Look at, for example, insurance on UPS or FedEx parcels, which changes absolutely nothing about the package’s handling, and costs considerably more (in the long run) than the percentage of packages lost.

On the contrary, it could be argued that the airlines might see high baggage loss numbers as means to encourage more passengers to buy the extra insurance. Because of the many parties handling the luggage, the airline can talk up their insurance as “excellent service”, or “caring about customers” even as the loss numbers (and fees for insurance) rise.

MD September 24, 2006 2:43 PM

I don’t think allowing “luggage insurance” would help. The airlines would take no extra precautions and simply jack up the rates to cover the statistical theft rate, and pocket the money; oh, and there would be a financial incentive to encourage theft from uninsured bags. You’d end up with the same crappy service as now, but it would cost you more overall.

The problem is precisely as a previous poster mentioned – there is no financial incentive for airlines to improve luggage security (or the airports – and a lot of the employees may be airport, not airline, people). Make it hurt and airlines will fix it.

I checked my pretty innocuous suitcase, with a European cell phone inside. (No point carrying it in the USA). Obviously, the Xray saw it, and the TSA wanted a closer look. They even left a paper saying so. But did they cut the lock, as I asumed they would if they need in? No, they yanked on it until the zipper tag broke – the weakest link, thus ruining the suitcase. It’s the typical attitude the arrogant and invulnerable have, that they can do whatever damage they enjoy, because there will be no consequences. They do need to be reminded they are public servants.

I’ll agree with other posters – I doubt airlines take siginificant precautions with firearms; just that people probably deliberately pack them inconspicuously, and the odds of a theft are low anyway. If more people use this dodge, the items will simply be prohibited from luggage, like flammables are. The TSA can make whatever rules that make life convenient for itself – and aren’t even required to disclose them (I.e. their contention in a lawsuit that they do not have to make public the law requiring ID for those boarding planes).

Methodius September 24, 2006 2:46 PM

I agree that insurance is strictly for-profit, but if lost packages are commonplace enough, then airlines will lose money on the whole thing. This in turn forces them to clean up their luggage-handling act, if only a little.

In fact, the airline’s ideal in this situation would be everyone paying insurance on luggage, and nobody losing luggage, which means money coming in, but not going back out.

I don’t think that lofty goal will happen, but I think insurance would help improve luggage handling a bit.

Fun Bob September 24, 2006 2:48 PM

Checking in a weapon with the TSA doesn’t guarantee you any more security or tracking than not checking it in. There have been many problems with TSA not understanding the rules for flying with a legal, checked weapon. There are reported instances of TSA agents:

1) Confiscating legal ammunition that has been packed in accordance with TSA regulations and refusing to give receipts
2) Placing identifying markers indicating the bag has a firearm inside, in violation of federal law

Even when there are no abuses or mistakes made in the process, theft is still possible. There has been a rash of gun thefts from TSA checked luggage at O’Hare as recently as last month (post #3 for full story text):


KSS September 24, 2006 3:56 PM

Points well taken from Contrarian and MD that providing a path for insured bags may drive other pathologic behavior (such as purposeful mishandling of uninsured (or minimally insured) bags to drive insured bags business). But you can’t just “make it hurt” for the airlines without some sort of bag value verification; otherwise, the system is too vulnerable to fraud. Too many lost bags just happen to be filled with expensive suits or new digital cameras. Plus, with out some risk cost sharing by the passenger the airlines could quite rightly decide they can’t afford to carry some bag because the replacement value isn’t worth the risk.

passnby September 24, 2006 4:20 PM

I used to travel with a handgun in checked baggage. Since I was checking some ammunition, too, the airline folks would put a nice bright “hazardous contents” notice on the outside of the suitcase.

I got a couple odd looks from fellow travelers when grabbing my suitcase from the baggage carousel. I don’t know if it made my suitcase less attractive to thieves.

fwiw, the check-in clerks would make an entry in their computer system. Whether this was for tracking/accountability, or for building my “profile”, I don’t know. 😉

Anonymous September 24, 2006 4:37 PM

I don’t buy the part about firearm cases being ‘extra tracked’. My mom carried her pistol in check-in luggage for the first time a few months ago and they lost her luggage. She had to spend almost five extra hours in the airport while they tracked her bag down and retrieved it.

And you non-gun types should be aware that there are indeed U.S. cities (and many uneducated, paranoid cops) that regard starter pistols as firearms. If you’re caught with it on your person, you could be arrested for unlicensed concealed carry. Be careful and always study the laws before you do anything with a weapon.

averros September 24, 2006 5:24 PM


It’s the typical attitude the arrogant and
invulnerable have, that they can do whatever
damage they enjoy, because there will be no
consequences. They do need to be reminded
they are public servants.

Nah. It is fellow citizens who need to be
reminded that they are mere serfs owned by
the allmighty State and his “servants”.

BenEnglish September 24, 2006 6:04 PM

Having flown with firearms many times, I find this oddly disturbing. Yes, it’s clever, but it’s also taking a free ride on a system designed to provide extra care for dangerous goods. Throwing in a dangerous item just to get a little extra protection for your expensive toys is like claiming you’re hurting more than you are just to to cut in line at the emergency room. It’s selfish, dishonest and just not nice. And yes, I can identify. I was once a photographer and I’d never check my cherished F5 and lenses – so I can understand the motivation. I just don’t agree with it.

Having said that, I don’t think this will be a broadly-applicable strategy. There are legal problems. You have to stay legal at your destination. For international flights, that’s unlikely. It’s not difficult, for example, to fly from the U.S. to France or Brazil or Australia or various places in Eastern Europe with a firearm IF you have your paperwork in order. Getting approval to arrive with a gun always requires a good reason; there’s no way in hell that “I just want to bring a gun so the airlines will take better care of my luggage” will be accepted by, well, any authorities in any country I’ve ever visited.

Within the U.S., you can have major problems. Flying into CA or NY or MA with the wrong kind of gun (or, in some less-free parts of the U.S., any gun) is a great way to tour the insides of a detention facility. If I regularly flew between two sensible jurisdictions, this might be a workable strategy but if there was any uncertainty about my itinerary, I wouldn’t chance it.

That being said, I’ll soon retire from my day job and begin flying internationally with firearms on a fairly regular basis. When I do, I’ll feel better about checking my cameras along with them.


Asher September 24, 2006 7:43 PM

I guess I’m not up to par with flying with my camera equipment. Can someone please help me out here. I am travelling to NZ soon from Michigan and need to take my powerbook, still camera, my vid camera and an external hard drive. Why can’t I just carry it on?

Vance September 24, 2006 8:39 PM

Am I missing something here? I’ve always been able to carry my camera equipment onto the plane. Kind of heavy, of course, but no airline has ever forced me to check it.

Anonymous September 24, 2006 8:49 PM

This is a cute story, but that’s about all.

I fly with guns quite a bit (handguns, rifles, and shotguns). The TSA tags firearms cases with a special tags often referred to as a “steal me” tag. This is in additional to the numerous times i’ve been subjected to a special search (sucking up an extra 45 minutes) where every item I had was opened and field stripped. Then there is the fun that ensues when TSA shows up at the check-in counter and inspects your weapon in front of a terminal full of cowering passengers and the occasional airline counter-service worker that (no kidding) goes running halfway accross the terminal and cowers behind a co-worker.

If you’re going to use this approach you’d better be ready for the hassles.

IncPenners September 24, 2006 11:32 PM

It only takes one exception to ruin a rule:

Weapons Stolen From Checked Bags At O’Hare

(CBS) CHICAGO Chicago police are warned to be careful with their guns at O’Hare Airport.

Several guns have been stolen out of checked luggage, including some belonging to officers.

As CBS 2’s Katie McCall reports, the problem seems to be confined to United Airlines.


anna September 25, 2006 12:43 AM

Having to move with a plane to another continent, and the actual cary in luggage equipment make me consider even this for getting basically everything that I will physically have with me, with a safer trip. Computer, hard drive, cameras, phones, iPods, other gadgets.

Roger September 25, 2006 12:50 AM

This is kind of bizarre. We get all these helpful suggestions about how to deal with being forced to put your expensive camera in checked baggage. Just one problem: there is absolutely no need to do so.

There is no restriction on taking cameras as carry-on luggage in any airline I know of. In fact the TSA actually recommends taking cameras as carry-on luggage, see:

True, after the 10th August bomb plot, there were severe restrictions on carry-on luggage for flights departing the UK. However those restrictions were substantially relaxed after only 4 days; you have once again been able to take a camera as carry-on luggage, even in the UK, for more than a month. You always could in the US, and still can.

Patrick September 25, 2006 1:40 AM

Actually, there is no exta special tracking of your checked firearm, they do this so that once it is in the baggage system that no one can tell and would not give your bag any extra interest. There is internal airline tracking if a baggage handler were to even care to take the time to check that the bag even has a firearm in it. So your master plan is very flawed, you have just as much chance of having your “gun” lost in the checked baggage as any other checked item. Also, FAA regulations require that your firearm be in a hardsided locked container of it’s own, or inside a hardsided gun case inside of another locked bag(which is how you would need to pack your luggage).

I think that you are just lining yourself up for more hassles in the long run, the delay in checking your bag, as many times the help doesn’t know how to properly checked your weapon and you wait around for a supervisor to do it, or explain it to them. Also, on more than one occasion I have been subjected to extra screening at the security checkpoint, flagged because of checking a weapon, so much for constitutional rights.

ThreeGigs September 25, 2006 2:53 AM

Let’s solve this whole problem with one simple change:

Lock the overhead bins on flights that don’t allow “carryons”.

I mean, the point of not allowing carryons is stopping potential terrorists fom accessing weapons while in flight, right? So, allowing passengers to bring their [valuable] carryon luggage aboard, but locking that luggage away in the overheads accomplishes the same thing.

You can bet that the first major airline that installs locks on their overhead bins, and allows passengers to store their valuables in a locked overhead bin, will have a path trampled to their ticket counters.

Ben` September 25, 2006 3:24 AM

Would not the easiest solution be to make sure that the baggage handlers have to go through the same security and X-ray checks that we as paying passengers are obliged to deal with?

Bob Stratton September 25, 2006 7:49 AM

Don’t be so sure about the “no outward evidence” of a firearm in checked baggage, either. The rules may state that carriers and the TSA aren’t allowed to visibly tag such luggage, but anyone who “flies the friendly skies” with checked firearms with any regularity will tell you that your printed luggage tag contains an obvious character string that’s a sure tip-off to what’s inside.

houston gray September 25, 2006 11:28 AM

I fly with guns all the time and here is what I know. When you check in they add some special stuff into the computer that your baggage has a weapon in it. If that is somehow included in a code on the baggage tag I have not been able to figure out but I did hear the agent asking her supervisor what the code was for “weapon”. Her supervisor also told her they had to notify the pilot whenever a firearm was checked in. I had never heard this before.

There are a couple of problems with including your cameras in a hard sided case with your “gun”. First of all it is going to make for a larger hard case than if it were either just a camera or just a gun which is going to take up extra room in your luggage. I don’t know about you but I don’t ever have extra room in my luggage and would rather carry on an expensive item anyway. The second problem is that all the airlines have to do is change their policy to state that ONLY firearms can be in the locked case.

On a related note, firearms did get stolen quite often until they stopped putting obvious markings on those bags. Since that time I don’t think there has been a problem. I have never lost a firearm to an airline theif and I have flown about 30 times with one. Then again, most of the airports that I fly through have you hand your bag to a TSA agent out in front who runs it through the bomb sniffing machine (or searches it by hand) right in front of you. I think it makes a big difference since they don’t have any time to grab your gun and would have to be working with partners in order to steal anything. Someone else could be going through bags in the back but it is much less likely being that it has already gone through the big machine out front. But, from the stories I have read I will now be more careful when flying United or when flying in and out of O’hare. I personally not only have the locked hardcase for the pistol but also lock that pocket of the luggage that the gun is in. (I use a large rolling laptop bag that has enough pockets for a spare change of clothes, soem books, my gun, etc.) That way, the lock has to be broken in order for them to even get to the case that holds the gun which would make their activity that much more suspicious. I am thinking another precaution might be to attach your gun hardcase to your luggage somehow so they will have to actually break the lock on your hardcase instead of just pulling the whole thing out and pocketing it.


FLTraveler September 25, 2006 1:03 PM

I’m with some of the others here — FedEx/UPS it. Since I’ve started doing that with my luggage, travelling via air is almost not a hassle. I will say that the recent knee-jerk security reaction was bad enough that I stopped flying commercial airlines for awhile, not because I was scared of anything, but because it was such a pain in the ass. The extra $$ for chartering a flight became very-much worth it.

As far as security/terrorists/bombs, I’m surprised they allow anything onboard with a sizable battery. I’ve played around with quite a few batteries in my days and am always impressed and scared when I see one explode. I’d say about 80% of the failures I’ve seen were just that — failures. The remaining 20% were user-error, causing the battery to be overcharged, shorted, or let to run dry in a cell or two, where the hydrogen gas built up.

As far as carrying expensive items onboard, I’ve never had anyone tell me I couldn’t bring something onboard. Regarding the whole Dell/Sony battery deal, a very well-placed professional-looking label or two takes care of that issue. It’s no longer a Dell! It’s now a Fujitec!

One last thing…
NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF RANCID CLOTHING. I’ve brought many things into the USA in bags of dirty gym clothes in rattier looking cases. The first time I tried this trick was with some radio equipment and it worked like a charm. In the UK, the agent opened the bag, got a whiff and asked if the bag had dirty laundry. “Yes.” He zipped the bag right back up and shooed me on my way. In fact, this has become my fav. way to check pricier things with me if I don’t have the time to Fedex them to myself.

TheDevilsDue September 25, 2006 5:46 PM


I am a former airline employee and I can tell you that checked firearms are not “tracked” by the airlines or TSA — they are treated the same as every other piece of luggage. And yes, they must be in a seperate, hard-sided, locked container. As an employee it’s also almost always obvious that the piece of luggage you are handling is a rifle or hand-gun because they must be transported a specififc way.

Packing a firearm with your equipment may discourage a would-be thief (there are plenty among the ranks of airline employees, especially in cities like PHL, LAX, LGA, and other large airports) because more attention would be paid to a missing hand-gun or rifle than a regular article. A MAJORITY of thieves are repeat offenders, and the last thing they want to do is draw attention to themslves. Other than that, it’s not going to do much.

Most thefts occur in staging areas for luggage, usually referred to as “make-up areas” or in the bins of the aircrafts during loading/unloading. It is not hard for a single employee or small group of employees to root through luggage, as it is often left unattended for long time periods (i.e. during a layover). I have even seen people re-tag luggage (usually golf clubs) under their friends names, send it to baggage claim, and have it picked up by said friend. Locked, inconspicuous luggage that is checked-in with plenty of time has the best chances of arriving at it’s destination un-molested.

I’d be more than happy to answer anyone’s questions about security, theft, etc…

FLTraveler September 25, 2006 9:47 PM

Aaron: Just wrap it in plastic…it’s worked every time I’ve done this (which has been MANY times).

Hunting Dog September 26, 2006 12:21 AM

“I absolutely would not trust the airlines to securely transport my firearm. Rather, I would use a service where the firearm could be tracked and insured…… like Fed Ex.”

You can’t ship firearms via Fed Ex like regular packages. Since LHO bought a Mauser to shoot JFK, firearms have to be shipped between FFLs, and they usually charge $50 on each end, making for expensive shipping. Then add in the fact that you have to go to the FFL (usually a gun shop) during business hours on both ends, and you’ll figure out pretty quick why competive shooters and hunters check their firearms when they fly someplace.

BWJones September 26, 2006 12:34 AM

Actually, “Hunting Dog”,

You can ship firearms to yourself provided you are within the US. There may be possibilities for other countries, but I have not shipped to a foreign destination and cannot comment on that.

The only time you legally need to use an FFL is when you are transferring ownership of the firearm. Provided you are not transferring ownership, you may ship to yourself.

Start an Argument Demand Evidence September 26, 2006 3:32 AM

We impose inconveniences, financial burdens, and restrictions on the civil liberties of the citizens of this country rather than target the source of the problem. Moslem males between the ages of 18 and 45 from Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and other predominantly Moslem countries in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. Why? To avoid discriminating, profiling or some other political taboo we act as if non-citizens have the right to travel in this country. They do not, this is our playground, and they are here at our grace and sufferance. As a group, a percentage of them have proven themselves unworthy of the privilege. In lieu of imposing even the meagerest of restrictions on those of us that have the right to be here, we should impose harsh restrictions on the visitation to and travel in this country from citizens of countries that are sources of terrorism, assuming we even allow them in the country. Among the restrictions we should impose on visitors from designated terrorist countries are:

• The requirement that they post very substantial surety bonds, and be sponsored by a U.S. citizen who vouches for there character and actions.
• There continuous electronic monitoring via something like a prisoner ankle bracelet.
• There payment fees sufficient to cover security costs related to their visit.
• Limitations on how, when and where they can travel, including severe limitations on air travel such as their required wearing of special uniforms and being shackled to their seats.

These conditions are harsh and there will be complaints. To that I say, if you don’t like the terms don’t visit. Better others whom have no right to be here be unhappy than the citizens of this country be burdened in the slightest. End of need for social engineering hacks; carry your camera on board.

PatrickQG September 26, 2006 3:42 PM


You carry on gear (almost, I had more) matches what I carried both on a trip to/from SF last year, and through SF to Vancouver this year. I just carried everything on… however, I’m only packing two lenses, and my video camera is small. Keep in mind though that you have limited carry on space.

Check in is quite safe however. In the couple of hundred flights I took in the last 12 years I only ever had a bag not turn up once (and it showed up the next morning).

omahajim September 26, 2006 4:10 PM

“The smuggling operation came to light two years ago when an American Airlines pilot was accidentally served a mixture of coffee and heroin from a smuggled parcel and complained that his coffee tasted funny.”

SFgal: they just stole their idea from a Foo Fighters video 😉

Anonymous September 26, 2006 4:35 PM

“Am I missing something here? I’ve always been able to carry my camera equipment onto the plane. Kind of heavy, of course, but no airline has ever forced me to check it.

Posted by: Vance ”

Vance – define what you are carrying. I think the issue is with larger volumes of equipment that can’t easily be carried within the carryon allowances. Sure, you can carry a body or two onboard along with some lenses, etc. But someone shooting something larger than 35, with multiple backs or bodies, a large selection of lenses, etc etc can’t easily wheel a pelican on the plane. Sure, UPS/Fedex etc are an option, but some want the reassurance that the gear travels with them, to have it in-hand upon leaving the airport, etc. I sent a large pelican case UPS Red 3 days before an event in San Diego, that contained very important video equipment I absolutely needed by a certain day (hence the 3 day early shipping). I still didn’t have it on the first day as needed and had to scramble to rent. It’s a major pain in the ass. While there are all these various methods for getting stuff from A to B, some trackable, some not, it seems the only surefire method remaining is a guy and a truck, and hit the road (someone you trust). Gotta build it into the budget. Doesn’t work as well for int’l travel, which seems to be the big bugaboo here.

Gil-more September 26, 2006 5:25 PM

I think that making airlines and the TSA jointly responsible for all lost/stolen property (50% liability each) is the only way to get this resolved. If someone had to pay for it, it would get fixed. If for instance a TSA supervisor was given a bonus for having theft-free and loss-free months, and the bonus disappeared piece by piece for every theft, then he would fix the problem – it’s in his financial best interests to do so. Also, criminal background checks for anyone handling luggage, zero tolerance for theft, including full firing with no recourse for a conviction or obvious unrefutable evidence (video footage, etc). But it all starts with getting Congress to do something about it. And they don’t care about our issues, because they are shielded from them by their money and power. Remember how long it takes to get your name off the no-fly list? (As in, never…) Remember how long it took Ted Kennedy to get his name off the no-fly list? (Just a few hours, if I remember…) My solution? Don’t ever check anything you don’t want to loose. Period. If it is out of my reach or sight, I expect to never see it again.

Jim September 26, 2006 10:05 PM

The last time I flew with a weapon, (post 9/11), Delta Airlines put a piece of large tape around my locked pistol case, that clearly deliniated the contents as an “UNLOADED WEAPON”.

I asked the Delta Representative, “So, everyone can see that it’s a weapon? What’s the point of that?”, She replied, “It’s just our procedure, we are told that we have to do that.”

I was appalled, and was very happy to see my weapon when I arrived in Atlanta. I have thought twice about flying with my weapons, and I would rather ship them via UPS, than fly with them on Delta.

That’s my 2¢, YMMV.

Cryptoengineer September 27, 2006 9:47 AM

The OP is wrong. The TSA does require firearms to be in a locked case, but since handgun cases are too small to check by themselves, and are generally quite identifiable, that case has to be put in a regular (TSA accessible) suitcase, along with a card saying the locked inner case has already been inspected. Dishonest inspectors can and do steal the entire inner case.

TSA regs:

For lots of personal accounts of travelling with firearms, check http://www.packing.org. Firearms thefts from checked luggage have become such a problem that some law enforcement agencies now forbid their employees from checking guns.

At the moment, the smartest legal way to transport a firearm seems to be to FedEx it ahead to your destination.

We need to make airlines liable for the full value of items declared at check-in.


Al September 27, 2006 10:19 AM

“We impose inconveniences, financial burdens, and restrictions on the civil liberties of the citizens of this country rather than target the source of the problem.

[fascist rant deleted]

These conditions are harsh and there will be complaints. To that I say, if you don’t like the terms don’t visit. Better others whom have no right to be here be unhappy than the citizens of this country be burdened in the slightest. End of need for social engineering hacks; carry your camera on board.”

And Americans wonder why the rest of the world gets pissed off with them on occasion…. You need to get a job with the SS with an attitude like that. “Your papers please.”

BTW it’s their, not there.

Anonymous September 27, 2006 1:57 PM


I’ve been doing this for a number of years with great success. This is not a good idea for international flights due to the number of different “gun laws” overseas, even with starter pistols. Inside the US it is easy ideal and secure. Once it is declared as having a firearm and screened by TSA, I think TSA and the airlines are not allowed to open them again without you being present.

In any case, none of my firearm containing luggage has been opened to date after its TSA screening, and they put their anti-tamper stickers on the hingest and either half, so the sticker tears if the case is opened again.

This has been since 2002 and probably on the order of 200+ flights.

John R Campbell September 27, 2006 4:16 PM

Well, what about a flare gun? Sans flares, of course. Being a sailor, I’ve actually got two of ’em, but, really, would a 12 gauge flare gun qualify?

It is a firearm, I think, it’s just that it can’t be used as a weapon without blowing up in your hand…

FurrBear September 27, 2006 9:07 PM

I like the idea of the airline and TSA having to split the reimbursement for any expensive item declared in checked baggage – and let’s make that REPLACEMENT VALUE while we’re at it.

Here’s another idea for you. All your bags have an RFID tag coded to you embedded in them. As your bags pass through the process, you can watch the video cameras monitoring the baggage handling for YOUR BAGS on your modern cell phone. If one of your bags drops out of the process unexpectedly, you get an alert.

A bit lower-tech – how about a bag that, once the TSA has examined the contents and you re-lock it, a 120-decibel bag-opening alarm is set. If anyone re-opens that bag – either with a key, or by any other means – SHRIEK!

Chris September 28, 2006 12:42 PM

How about just shipping the cameras/firearms to yourself at your destination? FedEx or DHL are happy to insure, and the package will be waiting fo r you when you arrive.

ditto50997 September 30, 2006 2:25 AM

“Most checked-luggage thefts are opportunistic: someone sees something valuable and takes it. A good lock on a luggage case is a pretty effective defense in this case.”

When you go to DFW airport, and some others, they now require you to unlock and take off any and all locks on your luggage, so that they may search through the luggage if need be. I used to use locks too, and now they make me take them off, so on one zipper I put a lock on there just to fool anyone who happens to be looking, but if they look close enough its not locking both zippers together, its just locking one. It may not be effective at all, but doesn’t hurt to try.

Victor October 1, 2006 12:21 AM

My name is Victor Cox and I am the CEO of Never Check It (www.nevercheckit.com). As a frequent business traveler who has always carried on my bag, I was perplexed on what to do about the new restrictions.

In order to continue to carry on my bag, I have introduced a free service that allows travelers to pre-order toiletries and other banned items before they fly. This will ensure that travelers will be able to carry-on luggage, which will save valuable time, money, and help alleviate the stress associated with travel.

I am not sure how long the restrictions will last, but for now, I will continue to carry-on my bag and pre-order my toiletries before I fly.

Ian Cognito October 2, 2006 3:38 PM

In Italy, they had a service where you could have your luggage shrink-wrapped with plastic before being sent (perhaps after X-raying, I forget). I suppose this is to make any tampering by baggage handlers evident. Not sure if it really helps or not, just a random thought.

Bubba Bronski October 14, 2006 6:55 AM

News flash to everyone in here. Baggage handlers are human just like the rest of you. Not all of them steal or get their jollies off stealing from whoever they can. Typically they get involved in that line of work for flight benefits and want to keep their jobs for those benefits. However some of them do have lowered ethics just like people in every field. Rule of thumb, don’t check in your expensive luxury items unless you already have good insurance or don’t care. This should be the end of discussion, but I’ll continue.
Carry them on with you. If you can’t take them aboard, don’t bring them or ship them out ahead of time with a company like FedEx. Guns are an exception cause they’re pretty obvious due to their size. Just make sure they have enough packing material surrounding them for when they get tossed around. Always make sure you can lock your guns and invest in a good lock, forget trying to ship it incognito and blend in with a FedEx is probably the best way to go, since you can track your package all the way to the destination via the web and they’re insured. Hopefully RFID technology will take a full stride after the rest of the world catches on besides Las Vegas + Hong Kong. That probably won’t be for another 5 years or until airlines can emerge from bankruptcy to change their outdated baggage systems. FYI, never ever check in your heart medication or some kind of medication that’s life threatening to you or a loved one. The airlines aren’t your mommies. Nor should you expect the person trying to help you out take the blame or beating you’d like to give them for what misfortune someone else or a certain circumstance did to you. Locking your luggage or not doesn’t really matter. If they want to get in they will, if they want to be curious they will. Locks do create an extra step and discourage the baggage handler, but if I were you all I still wouldn’t plan on putting expensive items in a locked checked bag. Baggage handlers aren’t blind, they can tell if you lock 1 part of the zipper or both. Try zip ties. If TSA need to get in them and you don’t want to keep buying locks…get some sturdy zip ties at your local hardware store. Chances are a baggage handler is not going to be carrying around a pair of pliers. If they use a knife, they will most likely just cut themselves.
I seriously doubt a TSA person has stolen any of your handguns. They are surrounded by their own people all day long and have regular checkpoints, if they don’t show, they go. Where are they going to stash it? They’re not, they’re around airline personnel, the public, and themselves + their bosses all day long..too many checks and balances + big brothers. I didn’t forget about baggage handlers…I probably wouldn’t check a handgun in either. Again, that’s what FedEx is for…they won’t put a lame “unloaded firearm” tag on your package..they’re discreet and again you can track it. For those of you who check-in your laptops…I must say…maybe you should rethink that idea. I’m not saying I know all the baggage handlers, but I’m just saying it might not be the smartest move. Besides you’d be lucky it operated ok, unless you have one of those shock-proof computers like the military have. After working in the business for years, I probably wouldn’t check my firearms in with the airlines either. I’d stick to FedEx and yes they do deliver to podunk…as long as it’s a valid address. If you stick to the other rule of thumb…anything you plan to check in with an airline, don’t plan on seeing it again (always travel with 1 set of spare clothing in your carry on). Hopefully I brought some insight to your future travel plans.
Yes, I would agree with FLTravler in saying that if you had to check in an expensive item to blend it in with dirty laundry. If your gun isn’t worth the extra bucks to use FedEx, then I wouldn’t worry about it. My father has been flying with checked in guns for over 30 years out of busy airports on the East Coast and midwest and has never had a problem with theft, only delayed baggage. Just insure your firearms and make sure your contact info is visible on the outside (at least a valid phone #).

Storeman October 30, 2006 9:54 AM

I’ve worked at Manchester Airport in the UK and anyone who goes airside has to…..

a) Have a security pass that allows airside access and

b) Go through the same security checks as any passenger i.e. Go through the metal detector, empty all pockets and put any items in a tray to be x-rayed, A physical search by security etc.

This applies to everyone. When shifts change, the ongoing team is checked by the team going off.

Any possibility of baggage handlers being able to load on a bomb while not impossible, would be a lot more difficult than some seem to think.

First off, it would require collusion between members of different teams to ensure that the person carrying anything in was checked by a conspirator, something that is not guaranteed to happen before any plan could go ahead.

As for the suggestion that an explosive could be assembled from components in several items of luggage, again a lot harder to put into practice than expected.

Although baggage checked appears to go into the system together, there are several other conveyors each feeding onto the same system as the one your baggage goes to. Your 2 or more cases can and do get seperated in the system and could end up in different containers or baggage carts.

Someone holding back one item to match it up with it’s partners would most like;ly be noticed by someone not in on the conspiracy and arrouse suspicion. Then of course. all these items of checked luggage have themselves been screened and the people doing the screening do know what they are looking at.

tanya November 13, 2006 7:53 PM

All of the pithy comments of self worth and how safe it is to check your bags are great until something of yours gets taken. I am sure that all bag handelers are not thiefs but that is like saying we are not all bad drivers. I had my camera recently taken from my luggage that had to be checked on the way back from Costa Rica. I had priceless pictures on the disk of my 75 year old nana that I can never replace. The one who defends there postion the most usually is the one doing the crime. Let them have something of theres destroyed and see how fast the defense comes about? Airlines need to screen there employees better and take more responsibility of the actions of there employees. Normal operating facilities do not tolerate theft. They are using the same equipment that is meant to keep us safe by taging the valuables so someone else can steal them. Integrity I say not. Maybe there hiring practices should be a little more in depth. This is suppose to be national security right? So if anyone works at the Miami International Airport maybe you should pass the word that your campany may not be headed for bankruptcy if your people knew what customer service was and that one bad experience is all it takes for word of mouth to shut it all down. I know that I will never travel in there again nor use AA for there lack of concern and insencerity to resolving the issue.

YFly November 23, 2006 7:40 AM

Color me stupid, but why do we put up with this. If the local grocery store kept losing our groceries between the check out and the car we would not shop there anymore.

I have made the decision to not fly unless its impossible to drive. There is no where in the US thats impossible for me to drive. I bit inconvient and time consumming but not impossible.

I do not feel safe only being alowed 1 3oz bottle of liquid in a clear back in my carry on.

I do not feel safer having to take off my shoes. In fact i have been injured walking barefoot thru the xray machine when i got something stuck in my heel. I dont mind extra security, in fact in some cases there should be much more scruitny and profileing taking place than there is.

But back to the point of this post. When it starts to cost the airlines money because we do not put up with lost luggage, security requirements that do not do much good etc etc. They will find a way to fix the problem, but not before they have to.

Bruce Schneier November 23, 2006 10:17 PM

“Color me stupid, but why do we put up with this. If the local grocery store kept losing our groceries between the check out and the car we would not shop there anymore.

“I have made the decision to not fly unless its impossible to drive. There is no where in the US thats impossible for me to drive. I bit inconvient and time consumming but not impossible.”

I have no choice. I fly a lot for work. I fly to customers. I fly to speaking engagements. I fly to social reasons. I fly on hundreds of airplanes per year.

And I don’t have the time to drive. Air travel is not a monopoly, but the airlines choose not compete in this area — and much of security is dictated by the government.

SocEng December 4, 2006 6:26 PM

Re: Starter pistols. Get a nice yellow Pelican case, put your camera gear into it and slap a biohazard sticker onto both sides….

Ed December 26, 2006 11:45 AM

I recently flew US Air from PHL to LAX.
I took (6) suitcases full electronic full of electronic test equipment, all equipped with TSA Search Alert Locks. Upon my arrival, I noticed the first bag had been opened and the TSA notice was inside. The seconds bag had been opened and no notice was inside. The third bage had been opened, lock missing, and the laptop bag lock was also missing, as was the laptop.

I called US Air Security who returned my call three days later. I also called TSA who took three days to return my call.
I had to call Philadelphia Police FOUR times to receive a return call. They told me baggage theft is out of control, and suggested that nothing of value should ever be put in luggage.

WOW great system guys. The problem is out of control, and the solution is to take everything in the cabin with you !!!

How about investigating the employees pusging the cart full of stolen property, at the end of their shift. You are strip searching grandmom at the gate, and allowing stolen handgunds to float around the sanitized area of the airport ??????

LostKiwi January 30, 2007 8:48 AM

Having travelled to NZ from the UK and back with my partner we carried all our gear on to the plane as hand baggage. This included a Nikon D2x, D200, 5 lenses including 70-200VR lens, a Mamiya 645 with 2 lenses, a Leica M2 and 3 lenses, external disk storage devices, my partners makeup and a couple of books and magazines. No problems. At Heathrow we pointed out we were professional photographers and how difficult it was to carry our equipment and the check-in agent took one cursory glance at our bags (one each) and said they were no problem. In NZ we were asked to weigh the hand bagage (each of which were double the airline’s allowance). Once we explained what we were carrying and why they accepted it no problem. In my view if you are cooperative and friendly and reasonable with the airline staff they will understand and help as much as possible. In Heathrow they even gave us a free business class upgrade to Tokyo!

Double check March 2, 2007 7:53 PM

Seems to be another soultion. Why not check the bagage handlers on the way home from work also? Then they might catch the stolen items.

JF April 9, 2007 9:47 PM

Ok, here is a wild idea!… allow the hand guns on board! not only that… the airlines should issue any passanger who can pass a background check and who wants one a hand gun for the flight that they must return to the airline when the plane lands… we keep our vaulables and the badguys will be out gunned by shear numbers.

SC May 3, 2007 11:44 PM

Even that is not secure.
In 2006 June, Indian Olympian shooter – Jaspal Rana lost his gun, with which he has won medals. The lucky airlines was Lufthansa.

Annette July 7, 2007 1:22 PM

Okay I can understand stealing guns, but clothes? Apparently a baggage handler who was either a female of large proportions (2x) or the husband or boyfriend of a female of large proportions decided that they needed the black pair of pants, white short sleeved blouse and striped blue checkered patterned sleeveless t-shirt more than me. This was at the Vancouver Airport.

Troy August 25, 2007 1:57 PM

Many posts on this board keep recommending to use Fedex or another carrier to ship ahead to their destination. I just called Fedex and UPS. They will NOT do that unless you ship with a FFL (Federal Firearms Licensed) dealer. The UPS rep informed me that they would only ship dealer-to-dealer unless the gun “is being returned for repair”. Then it still has to be shipped from a FFL dealer. Pitiful.

mike March 29, 2008 8:32 PM

if i cant be free to fry with my equipment for work in my countryi guess i will have to drive or walk because they feel that my rights which date back 200 years plus are no longer mine than it might be time to find a new country.

jlbraun May 21, 2008 11:24 AM

Actually, this is completely wrong. Federal Law prohibits marking or tracking firearms in checked luggage in any way, simply because they will get stolen. Same reason the UPS and FedEx don’t mark packages containing guns.

The only way checking a starter gun helps is if your luggage gets lost. When you say “my GUN got lost” then that adds urgency.

mid-frequent flyer June 18, 2008 8:41 AM

Has anyone though of attaching a GPS tag to a valuable item, so you know where it is, even if it gets taken?

Oonaldo June 23, 2008 5:31 PM

Seahorse Model SE920 case is the largest hard-sided, wheeled case that fits most major airlines. I’ve carried aboard 2 different configured aircraft and was able to stow it in the overhead bins above. NOT WITH GUNS, but it would be great for camera eauipment.

Steve January 8, 2009 3:49 PM

“Many posts on this board keep recommending to use Fedex or another carrier to ship ahead to their destination. I just called Fedex and UPS. They will NOT do that unless you ship with a FFL (Federal Firearms Licensed) dealer. The UPS rep informed me that they would only ship dealer-to-dealer unless the gun “is being returned for repair”. Then it still has to be shipped from a FFL dealer. Pitiful.”

This is federal law I believe. Same way you cannot buy a handgun and have it shipped to you. There are plenty of online sites similar to eBay for firearms. In order to ship, you MUST ship from a Federally Liscensed Dealer to another liscensee. And that generally invokes a fee from both dealers for their time and trouble. Shipping companies need copies of both lecenses as well.

Deviant Ollam March 30, 2009 3:59 PM

As it turns out, i actually have been flying with firearms for quite some time and even have presented on this very topic at security conferences around the country.

I wish i had seen Bruce’s blog post before uploading my latest video of this talk, i would have given a nod to some of the folk who are writing in these comments.

Sadly, i’m seeing more /incorrect/ information than actual, useful fact… but the sentiment is good.

To check out my presentation, notes, and advice feel free to bounce over to…


… and check out the “Packing & the Friendly Skies” talk.

Gavin Greenwalt January 13, 2010 6:29 PM

Thousands of guns go missing every year that are checked. I don’t know that this will help anything.

Special K January 14, 2010 3:59 PM

What about international travel? I’m going to Europe in the fall and plan to check my Canon 50d and lenses in a pellican case.

Ty January 14, 2010 4:27 PM

I have no idea if this has been said yet or not.

I work for an airline. Neither TSA nor the airlines track or watch bags with firearms any more than any other bag. The card you sign simply indicates that the gun is unloaded.

TSA does no tracking of bags at all. Once they screen it, they are done.

What is true though is that many gun cases designed for air travel are much harder to break into than a suitcase with travel locks.

Again, airlines do not track firearms any differently than any other bag. Most of the time there is nothing in your passenger record to even indicate that one of the bags is a firearm.

Whoever told you this is very miss-informed.

copycat January 14, 2010 5:16 PM

Ty is right; I used to work for an airline (post-9-11), and bags with firearms weren’t identified (though gun cases are rather obvious). The advice above from Glen to use an ugly, hard-sided suitcase is good.

As for concerns about shady baggage handlers, one hopes the scrutiny of background checks would deter thieves, but they’re likely everywhere and the really good ones never get caught.

My last thought: Why are airlines whining about $$, then making things so difficult for passengers? I understand TSA is responsible for the added security measures, but charging for checked bags? And pop and snacks? What’s next? A credit card swiper outside the restrooms?


Bill January 14, 2010 8:27 PM

Sorry Guys, but they may not want to steal a crappy starter pistol, but my beloved Glock 19 never made it to my destination, no one ever found it.

Dan January 15, 2010 1:50 PM

I had a .22 pistol, a rolex and a platinum ring stolen out of my suitcase all at the same time, fucking TSA scum (and retarded me).

Eric January 15, 2010 2:04 PM

I have traveled with a firearm in my checked luggage on many occasions, nearly a dozen over the past few years. Declaring a firearm does not mean your luggage cannot be searched later, as mine was on two occasions. I once inquired of a TSA agent whether I could carry ammunition. I was told ‘yes’ and given appropriate instructions, only to discover later that my bag had been “searched” and my ammunition, as well as one of my gun’s magazines, had been removed from my luggage.

Gordon January 15, 2010 7:40 PM

People flying from Canada to the US are not allowed carry-on luggage, after the Christmas 2009 underwear bomb attempt. This is not a problem for travel within US or within Canada nor for flights from the US to Canada. A camera, including a professional camera is exempt. But, I want to travel to the US from Canada on spring break to go birding. I really doubt that they will let me take my 500 F4 lens as exempt carry-on, even if it has a camera body hanging off the end of it.

So I’ve ordered a Pelican to hold this. The decision is whether to ship Fedex or take my chances with checked luggage and lots of TSA locks and zip ties.

The problems with checked luggage are well-discussed above, but I think my household insurance covers me (I’ll double check).

The problem with Fedex is that this is an international shipment and there is a ton of customs documents to fill out that don’t have a box for someone to say they are on vacation and the item is coming back out of the US. I’m worried that if I get anything wrong on the customs document, it will be sitting forever in some customs office. I won’t get to use it on vacation and may have it stolen while people handle it. I’d have to ship it to myself at my destination hotel and I can’t be sure they will make sure it isn’t lost, especially if the Fedex docs say it is insured for $8K.

Any thoughts on how to solve the international Fedex problem?

Forest photog January 17, 2010 4:48 AM

A few points

Never, never, use UPS between Canada and the US. UPS charges extortion level brokerage fees, other couriers are not as bad. You can Google UPS brokerage to find numerous complaints. Or if you buy from E-Bay you now see sellers say they ship by the post office to Canada instead of UPS.

As for “start an argument’s” idea on country screening, I am a middle aged white guy who just happens to have been born in an East African country (not on the special list but one where there have been terrorist attacks). I can no longer auto check in for flights to the US. No problem for flights within Canada or to Europe. That is because my country of birth is flagged. With all the delays etc. I am choosing not to go to the US unless it’s business related. Friend invited me to come to New York for the weekend, not doing that cause there are too many delays and hassles for a weekend trip.

As for camera situation I am not optimistic about a solution. The number of professional and serious amateur photographers flying are too small a group for either the airlines or governments to care.

However, let’s wait a couple of weeks and see what happens with the Vancouver Olympics. You can be sure there are going to be lots of reports of stolen gear, lost gear and huge holdups of photographers at airports going to and leaving from Vancouver.

MeGusta February 1, 2010 10:05 AM

I’ve seen another way to be identified in the transport area.

It’s a sort of sticker paste on your luggage.

There is a picture of your head and your phone number on it.

Unique & Universal.

If I do remember it is related to BAGAGE IDENTIFICATION or smthg like that.

I’ll try to figure out and let you know..

It was so easy to match both images (luggage & human face on it)
Secure travel for sure.

Darren May 19, 2017 11:32 AM

At this rate… to prevent camera bodies from being stolen… someone should open up camera rental shops in tourist areas. You travel to your destination and then rent the desired camera make and model at your travel destination. Another route is opening up a Urber type registry where you can sign up and to rent your equipment to other members.

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