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07/01/08 – Protecting Your Equipment While Traveling Using The Art Of Disguise!
There is a sad fact about flying with your camera equipment as checked baggage. No it’s not that it may get crushed by a Ramp Tug (as one of my Lowe Pro Pro Roller II bags was) , it’s not that the ramp agents may toss a bag marked “fragile” over a 10 foot gap, it is that airport thieves are educated thieves.
When checking your equipment there are certain airports around the world that are known for heavy thievery. There are also some airports with a lower rate of baggage theft, but still worth preparing for. I am not talking about thefts that happen “behind the scenes,” those thefts generally happen as a result of someone spotting something in your bag during the X-Ray screening (not really a problem in the US as that screening is handled by the Transportation Safety Administration/TSA) , I am talking about thefts from the baggage carousel as your baggage is delivered to you.
Thieves who work in airports know what they are looking for. These people make a living at swooping in, quickly eye-balling the baggage , taking one or two non-descript bags and walking off with them.
There are a few ways to try and combat this problem, I employ a few of them to try and protect my equipment.
1) Do not use shipping cases that look like like photographic equipment cases. My standard strobe kit, for my Lumedyne heads, packs, etc, is the Lowe Pro Pro Roller II case. My case has the Lowe Pro logo, which is dead give away to the contents of the bag, so I got it “worn off,” so it is not clearly visible, if recognizable at all. I make sure the bag never has fragile sticker on it, even after the bag has been open and hand inspected. In addition to using a very beat up and non-descript case I wrap the edges in bright obnoxious colours (photo below shows purple/orange tape, I have now changed all to my bags and gear bright hot pink). This colour marking allows me easily see my bag as it comes down amid all the other black ballistic nylon bags. Should someone snag my bag I can very easily spot my bag, but thieves are not looking for bags that may draw someones attention, only those that can not be identified immediately upon sight.
2) Mark your case in such a way that no one would want to snag it off the carousel. If you bag is marked up in such a bright, obvious, unique way (such as my Pelican 1514 being covered in stickers) that it would be very difficult for a thief to walk up and grab the case. Don’t be fooled, your Pelican case does not blend in with the black bags. An airport thief knows there is only one real use for a Pelican, it is to protect expensive equipment be it still cameras, video or audio gear, even guns.
3) When traveling to a high risk for theft airport such as Cancun (CUN) always refuse “priority” tags if they are offered to you, and if you must check your gear case , place the case inside another bag. For travel to high risk airports I place my Pelican 1514 (if I must check it) inside a bright green Mountainsmith Cube bag. The Mountainsmith Cube (as seen below) stands out, it would deter most thieves and it also looks like some tourists bag loaded with clothing. There are no signs indicating the potential contents of the bag.
Some tips for really making sure you are not separated from the bag are
– get to the baggage claim as soon as possible
– position yourself as close to the entrance of the baggage carousel as possible
– as you claim your bags stack them in front of you against the baggage carousel as you await your others bags
Checking gear is inevitable at times. You should protect yourself as much as possible so you and your gear are not separated.