If you have any plans to travel internationally to any of the ten countries that were banned from bringing electronic devices onboard when flying either to the USA or the UK (see the list of banned countries below), you might be wondering how it will affect the way you will be transporting your camera equipment. Unfortunately, the electronics ban includes everything larger than a smartphone, which includes cameras and laptops. Having recently traveled to Turkey and dealing with the ban directly, I would like to share my experience with how airlines are handling the situation and provide some tips on what to do when traveling to those countries.
The below article includes specific information for our readers traveling to Jordan for the upcoming Jordan Photography Workshop.
First of all, let’s go over the list of banned countries.
List of Countries Affected by the Electronics Ban
Direct Flights to the USA
- Saudi Arabia
Direct Flights to the UK
- Saudi Arabia
What is Banned?
First of all, it is important to point out that you do not have to worry about the electronics ban when flying to your destination. The ban applies only to inbound flights to the USA and UK.
All electronics larger than 16cm long, 9.3cm wide and 1.5cm deep is not allowed in the cabin, so anything larger than a smartphone must be checked in. Below is a sample list of banned items that will directly affect photographers:
- Any Size Laptop
- Tablet / Kindle / E-Reader
- Printer / Scanner
- Storage Devices with LCD Screens
- Wireless Headphones Larger than 16 x 9.3 x 1.5 cm
And if you are wondering what you can actually keep with yourself on the plane, here is the list:
- Chargers and Adapters
- Battery Packs (make sure to check airline regulations for allowed battery pack size)
- Camera Lenses
- Medical Devices Needed by the Passenger
- Wired Headphones
Airline Security Procedures for Cameras and Laptops
While my personal recommendation would be to put any large electronics into your checked luggage, I personally do not recommend packing your camera(s), along with your laptop into your checked luggage for two reasons – potential for broken gear due to poor handling of bags and potential for theft by airport luggage handlers and security personnel. Some photographers recommend to pack camera gear into Pelican cases and get them checked in. However, it is widely known that Pelican cases often disappear and never make their way to the final destination, often resulting in theft and loss of baggage containing valuables worth tens of thousands of dollars.
Instead of checking your whole camera bag, my recommendation would be to get only banned electronics checked at the gate, before you board your flight. Due to the electronics ban, there is now an additional security step one has to go through before being allowed to fly. During this security check, the bag(s) you are planning to bring onboard are going to be thoroughly inspected and anything larger than a phone will be taken out of the bag, which includes laptops and cameras. The airline will require these items to be checked in at the gate. While each airline is handling this process slightly differently, most airlines will have separate metal bins where electronics will be placed in bubble-wrapped envelopes / containers.
During my flight to Turkey, Turkish Airlines handled the process professionally, at no extra cost. As I was walking through the additional security check, my bag was opened in front of me and the bag contents were inspected by the security personnel. While I had all kinds of adapters, chargers, lenses, cables, battery packs and accessories in my bag, only two items were pulled out – my laptop and the camera I was traveling with (Hasselblad X1D). The security personnel handled both with extreme care and accompanied me during the process of packing the camera and the laptop into bubble-wrapped envelopes. To make sure that the Hasselblad X1D survives accidental bumps and potential drops (yes, I was very nervous to let someone else handle the camera), I requested the camera to be double packed. The airline employee did not hesitate and double wrapped the camera for me at my request, after which a tag was placed on each envelope to identify them. The copy of the tags was provided to me and I attached them to my passport to make sure that I don’t lose them. By the way, each item was categorized before a tag was issued, so the laptop went into the envelope as a “Laptop, while the Hasselblad went as a “Camera”. And lastly, I was provided a voucher for free WiFi during the entire duration of the flight (13 hours), which was awesome!
Once I landed in San Francisco, there was a separate desk setup by Turkish Airlines where they were handling the returns of the electronics to passengers (we were directed by the airline staff to the desk, which was located near the baggage claim). I first got my checked bags, then proceeded to the table. I handed the tags to one of Turkish Airlines employees, who found the items in the metal containers and after verifying my information, had me sign a piece of paper that detailed the specific items that were taken before the flight. After getting my items, I signed off and I was good to go.
It seems like a number of other airlines have similar procedures for handling electronics similarly to how Turkish Airlines is doing it. Qatar Airways, Etihad Emirates have already announced procedures for handling electronic devices at the gate – you will be able to get your electronics properly bagged and transported for you, similar to how Turkish Airlines handled mine.
Royal Jordanian Procedure
When looking for information on how Royal Jordanian (RJ) is handling the electronics ban, I only came across this page that provided a short summary of the electronics ban and the requirement to get electronics checked in before the flight. I called the airline earlier today and the agent was not sure about RJ providing a similar service at the gate as Turkish Airlines, so I have a call scheduled for this Sunday to talk to airline representatives in Amman, Jordan. I will be surprised if RJ does not have a similar service already set up, but I want to make sure that the information is provided accurately from the source directly, as it will potentially affect the way we will travel to the workshop in Jordan later this year. I will make sure to update this section of the article as soon as I get the details.
Electronic Ban Tips
If you are flying with any of the above-mentioned airlines to the US or the UK that have a separate service to check electronics at the gate, below are some tips to pack your camera gear based on my experience with Turkish Airlines:
- Pack all your camera gear in a single carry-on size bag. I personally always travel with my ThinkTank Airport Commuter (see the detailed review), which can easily fit two camera bodies and a bunch of lenses, along with accessories plus a tablet or a laptop. I have never had any issues fitting the Think Tank Airport Commuter in any overhead compartments, whether flying internationally or domestically in many countries. If you have a different bag, make sure that it fits the standard dimensions imposed by the airlines.
- Minimize the amount of gear you will be traveling with. Carry at most two cameras and at most one laptop.
- Do not check your camera or your laptop before your flight – carry the items with you all the way to the last security checkpoint at the gate
- Don’t forget camera body caps for each camera and lens. Since you can take all lenses with you without having them checked, you want to make sure that you only give the security personnel your camera bodies.
Lastly, do not let this electronics ban ruin your experience of seeing the world!
If you have any questions or if you would like to share your experience flying from the banned countries, please let us know in the comments section below!