Oh Canada … No Carry On Bags … What Is A Photog To Do?

18/1/2010 – Oh Canada … No Carry On Bags … What Is A Photog To Do?

The war on terror takes many forms and the target of terrorism seems to have a very clear primary target … The United States of America.

Given the obvious target of terrorists it makes absolute sense that nearly a month after the botched terrorist attach on Delta Air Lines’ Flight NW253 (Operated by Northwest Airlines), and weeks after nearly every foreign nation has returned to normal carry-on baggage allowances for flights to the United States the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) still permits ‘zero carry-on bags’ for flights to the US…

…no wait a minute this makes no sense what-so-ever!

On the 26th of December the CATSA created “Temporary Emergency Measures” following the botched attempted on NW253. Much like the US security procedures created by the Transportation Security Administration, Canada’s CATSA were a poorly planned out reactionary effort…an effort that maximizes a ‘show of force’ and does nothing to prevent terrorism. Rather than prevent terrorism the CATSA has created a security procedure that is complex, convoluted and appears to be ‘terrorizing’ passengers.

For photographer in particular not being able to travel with carry-on in problematic. You can fly into Canada with your photographic equipment, but flying from Canada to the US you must pack-and-pray … or do you?

While the CATSA states that US bound passengers are permitted zero carry-on bags … this does not include ‘personal items.’  What are personal items?

Medications; Medical Devices; Small Purses; Cameras; Coats; Items to care for Infants; Laptop Computers; Crutches/Canes/Walkers (seriously, do they need to define these items as exempt?); Containers Carrying Life Sustaining Items; Special Needs Item; Musical Instruments; Diplomatic or Consular Bags

The CATSA specially breaks down what is “Not A Carry-OnHERE

Interestingly, the Sony “Playstation Portable” (PSP) is specifically listed by name in this list, yet the iPhone is not. Good news for me since I almost always fly with my limited edition Star Wars PSP, but bad news for my iPhone…although the CATSA does allow “Pagers.” Since I stopped using a pager in 1999, can I just claim my iPhone is a next-generation-pager?

You should also keep in mind that knitting needles are allowed, but only when wool is present. I can go on about this from a security stand point for a few pages…so I’ll get back on track here…

For photographers you should take note in this allowance by the CATSA

– cameras (still and video) and accessories in purpose-designed carrying cases

– includes film, lenses, spare batteries, chargers, cables

– includes larger, professional-grade cameras and equipment

I know many photogs who have been hassled by airport security when flying from Canada to the US with extensive equipment, including being told that they could travel with their camera equipment, but not the bag.  I have spoken with the CATSA who have specifically told me that camera bags hauling only camera gear or camera gear and a laptop, meeting airline carry-on size restrictions shall be allowed through security and on board the aircraft.

Given that airport security in Canada at the moment is very much at screener-discretion I’d strongly suggest that if you are flying from Canada to the United States…and I know many will be with the Olympics kicking off in Vancouver shortly…you print out a copy of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority’s “Items Not Counted As Carry-On (US Flights)” page HERE and carry it with you.

The specific wording regarding flying with camera gear from Canada to the United States is that your camera bag is a “purpose designed carrying case.” They can’t easily argue a Think Tank Airport International, Pelican 1514 or Mountainsmith Parallax is not a “purpose built carrying case” for photographic equipment.

It is rumoured that the CATSA restrictions on carry on baggage will be eliminated in February. This may be due to the CATSA using Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) for airport screenings and these Mounties will need to be deployed to Vancouver for security during the Olympics in February.

Canada, like the US, needs to create an effective air transport security system based on effective techniques not an ill-conceived show of force. A large show of force that is baseless, reactionary, and seeking to find terrorists using already discovered methods is not the way to protect the travelling public.

…and I’m pretty sure that a Tim Hortons’ Old Fashioned Glazed Donut can be carried on board.

Happy Flying!


  1. Oh dear. I can see it now, if I pack my toothbrush, a crappy novel and a bottle of mouthwash in my camera bag will they say it’s no longer a purpose built case? 😉

    I’ve been flying with updated TSA and CATSA brochures for years. Printing them off is part of my check-in process: check-in, print boarding pass, print carry on and permitted items brochures. The tactic has saved me so much grief and has even saved some of my tools from securities “sticky fingers”.

  2. Agree that I think it’s crazy Canada is still not allowing carry on baggage to the U.S. I would like to point out that as a knitter, knitting needles are not that sharp and I often times travel with my knitting to keep my hands busy to pass the time while flying. I am curious why wool is required? Or do they mean wool=yarn? In that case, traveling with knitting needles and no yarn is a bit weird. But, if you are a knitting professional and you just bought the most expensive knitting needles ever while on vacation and didn’t want to check them in your luggage – well, that I could understand. 😉

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