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8/10/2008 – Protecting Your Sensitive Valuables In Checked Baggage : A Last Resort
WARNING: THE FOLLOWING LAST RESORT SUGGESTION IS ONLY VALID FOR DOMESTIC TRAVEL WITHIN THE UNITED STATES
With the recent news of a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screener being caught and confessing to the theft of hundreds of expensive cameras, lenses, laptops, video equipment and other items at Newark Liberty International Airport (as I reported here on Flying With Fish : 7/10/2008 – Airport TSA Security Screener Busted For One-Man Theft Ring) I have received dozens of e-mails today asking how photographers can securely checked their equipment.
The subject of checking photographic equipment securely is one I have discussed in various online forums for quite some time. The bad news is that if someone wants to steal from you they will. The complex issue is that the most secure checked baggage scenario I am aware of is only available for travel domestically within the United States. The troubling issue is that in order to verify that your gear is securely checked you must travel with a firearm.
I have weighed the positives and negatives on discussing the last resort options to ensure a checked bag is locked upon check in and remains locked upon arrival. Ultimately I have decided that it is the best interest of photographers, and others traveling with sensitive valuables that must be checked, to know the one ‘trick up the sleeve’ that will ensure a bag can be visually checked, locked, never opened again by the TSA or anyone else while in transit, and be delivered via ‘special handling’ at your destination.
There is a little known rule in place by the TSA that allows a passenger to check an unloaded firearm in a securely locked hard-sided case. This rule applies to something as simple as a ‘starter pistol’ that requires no permit. If you slip a simple $30 starter pistol into your Pelican Case with your checked camera equipment, your camera case is now a ‘gun case.’
How does this work? Let me explain
1) When you check in for your flight you declare that your checked case contains a firearm to the airline counter representative.
2) Once you have declared the weapon to the airline counter agent you must prove to them that the firearm has an empty chamber and is not loaded with any ammo.
3) Once you have satisfied the airline requirements you must present your hard-sided case, containing the firearm, to a TSA Agent.
4) The TSA screener will then visually inspect the contents of your case in front of you. By law you MUST be present as your case is inspected by the TSA Agent.
5) Following the inspection you must lock your case with a non-TSA Sentry Lock. This means that the lock you use will in no way be accessible to any TSA agents, or ramp agents, who have access to TSA Sentry Lock keys. Both key and combination locks are acceptable, however a combination lock is suggested, as is using two locks instead of one
6) Once the TSA accepts your hard-sided case, locked with two non-TSA Sentry Locks, it is identified in such a way that it will not be opened again until it delivered to your destination and is back in your hands, and you choose to unlock it.
You CANNOT check the case containing the firearm at curbside check-in. You should check with the airline you will be flying on to check what rules and regulations that may have for checking a firearm on their flights.
Personally, I strongly suggest making every effort to carry your gear on-board. Look into a combination of a backpack that can hold a significant amount of equipment. Choose a backpack that by design does not draw the attention of an airline representative and use it in conjunction with a full size roll-aboard to carry additional equipment and longer lenses.
If you cannot deal with a backpack and roll aboard for your gear, then look into the last resort and pack a starter pistol between your 400f2.8 and 600f4 inside your Pelican Case.
For the Official TSA information on traveling with a firearm check here: