BitDepth 762 - December 21

Airline travel has slowly been taking a nosedive for the passengers who pay to fly. New restrictions on travel will make it even more complex for folks who travel with computers and photographic equipment.
Travel, restricted

ThinkTank Photo is famous for making rugged photographer’s luggage that looks ordinary while offering the kind of space and customizing that professionals need in their travel bags. This is the Airport International. Photo courtesy ThinkTank Photo.

Over the last three weeks, I’ve travelled to two destinations in the US on three different airlines and while I might have missed the romantic era of air travel, I’m just in time to watch it enter the first circle of Dante’s inferno.
New measures in place to scan passengers on their way to the departure gate have attracted attention.
Essentially, you’ve got a choice between having a picture taken of your body using either backscatter X-ray or millimetre wave technology or enjoying an aggressive patdown from a TSA officer if you’re selected for...let’s call it inspection.

The scanning process (already dubbed the pornoscanner) is already raising fears of increased testicular cancer and New York City is considering banning backscatter technology from its airports. It’s hard to imagine someone who travels frequently submitting to what is essentially a radiology exam on a regular basis, so that leaves the patdown, which is, apparently, a lot more than we’ve become used to.

Those experiences have become crystallised in the infamous “don’t touch my junk” video, the full story of which can be
found here.
I rarely travel for fun, so I’m always juggling enough gear for an assignment, enough clothes to be presentable and the ensuing weight that both bring to a damnably sophisticated equation.

Gear is critical, because airlines traditionally don’t respect the oversized claims that come with losing a case’s worth of photographic equipment, so putting sensitive, expensive gear through the cargo process is risky.
Until recently, most travellers were allowed one carry-on and one personal item and savvy photographers benchpressed their bags to be sure that they carried tightly packed gear bags as if they were filled with feathers.
That scam is now going to be scuttled as airlines begin to not only limit the personal item to the kind of wee handbags that only supermodels carry and weigh your actual carry-on item.

In addition, even on international flights, your baggage allowance is being limited to one item on most international carriers and you’ll have to pay a fee for another bag and for any overweight between 50 pounds and 70 pounds. Nothing is going into the hold if it exceeds 70 pounds.
There’s evidence that these restrictions have paid dividends to struggling airlines since things began tightening up at the end of 2009.
According to US Bureau of Transportation statistics, baggage fees have hit US$ 2.5 billion for the first three quarters of 2010 and
look set to add another billion by year end.

This is good news for airlines but adds to the bad news for passengers, who are being asked to endure more on their journeys, pack half of what they have in the past and get less to eat while inflight.
For business travellers using a robust notebook and photographers who must pack that and more, things have become significantly more complicated. 

Travelling with equipment is now a dizzying mambo of what you can carry-on, what you’re confident will make it through the hold and the weight of it all.
I use a messenger bag for basic photo and computer gear that’s Liat overhead bin friendly, a tight fit that defeats most regular carry-ons but my longer trip strategy has been built around a rolling carry-on and a heftier shoulder bag.

I now have to rethink things around either a rolling bag, a backpack or a good shoulder bag. I’m partial to shoulder bags over backpacks, particularly when they hang off a great strap like
Skooba’s, but a rolling bag like the Airport International might ultimately prove to be the best way for photographers to navigate the new challenges of modern air travel.
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