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Airplane Travel & Your Camera

written by: •edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 8/21/2009

There are a lot of concerns associated with bringing your camera along on the airplane—primarily, going through airport security. This article goes through the concerns and shows what you need to worry about and what are just myths.

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    Pack Right

    Your first step to guaranteeing camera safety during airplane travel is to pack correctly. You should always bring your camera and any delicate equipment with you as carry-on because, no matter how careful airport personal might be, your check-in luggage will be jostled about a fair bit, risking shock damage to the camera. Additionally, the luggage hold can suffer extremes in temperature, which can potentially damage your camera, whether from condensation or from just frying the circuits. Most camera equipment will be fine as checked luggage, on the other hand, if packed with a reasonable amount of padding.

    Most airplanes have the policy of allowing one personal item and one piece of luggage as carry-on. It'd be a good idea to bring your camera case as that personal item. This will ensure that it is with you at all times so that you can make sure no damage will be dealt to it. A well-padded camera case is a good idea, not just for airplane travel, but also for travel in general. Placing it in the above-head compartments may result in some unwanted jostling, though placing it under the chair in front of you may result in a bit of nudging of the foot. Use your best judgement.

    Some people have expressed worry that the acceleration that one undergoes during take off can harm the camera. Don't. Even the most poorly made of cameras can undergo such forces just fine, as long as it won't aggravate something that's already broken. So, bring along your camera in peace.

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    Will X-Rays Damage My Camera or Memory?

    Contrary to the fears of many photographers, standard x-ray equipment has an extraordinarily low risk of damaging your digital camera. Im fact, no digital media can really be affected by x-rays, so don't fret about your laptop either. Undeveloped film, on the other hand, may be wiped by the process, so if you have any then request an individual inspection free of x-rays and and magnetic devices. This is guaranteed by the US Federal Aviation Administration, and similar laws exist in other countries as well.

    However, if the bag holding your digital camera for whatever reason fails inspection by the x-ray machine, you may be in trouble—maybe.

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    Dangers of Magnetic Scanning Devices

    The next step in airport security is using magnetic devices, in particular, metal detecting wands. While these won't necessarily damage your digital equipment, the risk is there. If it comes to an individual inspection, then request to remove your camera and have that inspected without the use of a metal detecting device.

    So, it's probably a good idea to take out your camera before it goes through the x-ray machine, just so that it doesn't get confused with anything that might result in the whole bag being magnetically scanned.

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    While customs won't typically be bothered by possession of photography equipment, if you'll be traveling through some of the less well regulated places in the world, consider carry some sort of proof of purchase with you to prove that you did indeed buy your equipment outside of the country, such as a copy of the receipt. Some countries may require that you declare photography equipment, or even search through the files and film, depending on the journalism and censorship laws within the country. Check out the laws of the country before you go so you don't run into any potential trouble.