UPDATED : TSA Carry-On Baggage Allowances For Photographers

Web: www.comeflywithfish.com — E-Mail: fish@flyingwithfish.com

2/02/2009 – UPDATED : TSA Carry-On Baggage Allowances For Photographers

As a traveling professional photographer I know all to well the frustrations of wanting to bring all my equipment on board, only to face to the reality that something will need to be checked under the aircraft.

Over the past two years I have addressed the carry-on concerns of photographers in many different ways. Throughout all of this I am often frequently asked about my post from the 21st of December 2006, which can be read here:
21-December-2006 : United States Transportation Safety Administration – Know The Rules!

In this post I detailed the baggage allowance for photographers, as dictated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA).   The TSA carry on allowance for photographer reads as follows

Photographic Equipment
You may carry one (1) bag of photographic equipment in addition to one (1) carry-on and one (1) personal item through the screening checkpoint. The additional bag must conform to your air carrier’s carry-on restrictions for size and weight.

…and this is where the kicker is, the new wording goes on to state that your airline is free to ignore the TSA baggage allowance. In fact it is already implied in this wording “The additional bag must conform to your air carrier’s carry-on restrictions for size and weight.”

For a few years I carried the TSA rules with me when I was challenged by airlines regarding flying with 2 carry-on bags and a personal item. 9 out of 10 times I’d win the challenge at the gate if armed with a copy of the TSA carry-on allowance.

I have since given up the fight. In early 2008 it became clear that many airlines had created policies that stated they do not grant the same carry-on allowance as the TSA allows for.

While the TSA may make a special allowance for photographers, airlines are in no way required to follow this allowance. Airlines are free to create any carry-on baggage allowance they’d like. With these new restrictions photographers now face growing weight restrictions with some airlines, most notably Hawaiian Airlines with their flights from Hawaii to the Mainland (you can avoid having your carry-on weighed by checking in online, not checking any bags and going straight to the gate).

All of this can be confusing for many traveling photogs. You’ve done your homework, you’ve printed out the TSA carry-on baggage allowance and now you’re stuck at the gate being forced to check a bag.  The best rule of thumb, if you are unsure, is to contact the airline directly and find out their carry-on allowances.

Regardless of what a Federal Government Agency allows, the airlines are free to institute their own policy and restrictions. These policies may cause some hassles, but it is an increasing issue of the nature of traveling.

Pack light, study the carry-on allowances, and then sit back and enjoy your flight.

Below is a screen shot of the TSA’s original, and favourable, carry-on allowance for photographers.

Happy Flying!
–Click Image Below To Enlarge–


  1. I’m flying over seas in the next couple of days and I wanted to travel light. So, I got a monopod and checked the TSA website. While it’s not strictly forbidden, club like objects are listed.

    I guess I will be checking a bag since Lufthansa specifically says “no blunt objects”

    Thanks for writing about this, it was good to see some recent discussion on this so close to my travel date!


  2. Related to carrying on photography equipment is the frustration of carrying on personal care products and inconsistent TSA rules.

    New 2009 TSA Rules: You can now carry on liquids up to 3.4 oz.

    It’s about time! A common worldwide package size for toiletries is 100ml, which translates to 3.38 oz (NOT 3.0 oz). Finally, the TSA caught up with the rest of the world.

    The official TSA web site with new 2009 3.4 oz liquid carry on rules: http://www.tsa.gov/311/index.shtm

    The following TSA article clarifies that as of 2009, liquids up to 3.4 oz are allowed to be carried on all USA planes and how the TSA 3.4 oz / 3.0 oz. liquid policy confusion happened:


    We manufacture a very popular men’s grooming line of shaving, skin and hair products (www.men-uusa.com) and this confusion has been a real pain to our customers until 2009.

  3. Dec. 26, 2009 After the latest attempt dec. 25, what are the new suprises for photographers. Shall we send equipment thru Fedex and pay high insurance. Or send photo equipment thru the airline cargo, and also pay enormous ammount in insurance. It seems in my future there will be less flying. M Xmas

  4. Domestic travel remains unchanged. Flying from outside the US back to The States has baggage changes based on an airline to airline basis.

    I am seeking clarified information at this time.

    Happy Flying!


  5. So Fish, what’s the point of the TSA having a baggage guideline, if airlines aren’t required to follow it anyway? If they don’t have the authority to enforce such a rule/guideline, doesn’t this just add to the confusion? It seems kind of like saying that once you get to your destination, you don’t have to observe traffic signals (even though we really have no authority to back you up on that). 😀

    — Mitch

  6. Mitch

    I completely agree to a point. The TSA has stated what it will allow through security for passengers to take to the gate, while the airlines are free to make their wn carry-on allowance rules. Case-and-point would be Spirit Airlines now charging for carry-on baggage.

    Airlines answer to the FAA for baggage requirements, not the TSA. If the FAA said “these are the rules” it would be harder for airlines to say “No.”

    Happy Flying!


  7. If the TSA and the airlines would give death sentences to people who steal camera equipment, I wouldn’t mind checking my camera equipment.

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