Why You Should Be Extra Careful When Bringing Camera Gear Through Airports

You’ve probably heard people say that you should keep your camera gear with you at all times when flying, as there are multiple points in the travel process at which your valuable equipment could get stolen or damaged. In case you’re not convinced, check out the video above showing an investigative report that ABC News recently did.

To test airports that have a history of theft, Brian Ross of ABC’s The Blotter left 10 iPads inside the plastic bins at security checkpoints. At 9 out of 10 airports, the screeners followed protocol and immediately contacted the owner using the contact info prominently displayed on the iPad. In the 10th case, an agent was filmed taking the iPad out of the bin before it vanished.

Don’t forget your camera bag in one of these bins — you might not get it back.

Unlike digital cameras, iPads have a built-in tracking feature called Find My iPad. Using this feature, Ross tracked down the missing iPad two weeks later to a house 30 miles away from the airport, which turned out to be the residence of the TSA agent last seen handling the device. When Ross and a camera crew confronted the man, he denied knowing about the iPad, and then tried to put responsibility on his wife after Ross made the device beep (again, using Find My iPad).

ABC reports that 381 TSA agents have been fired between 2003 and 2012 for stealing things from airline passenger luggage. Experts believe that this figure may only be the tip of the iceberg. The TSA defended itself after ABC’s sting, claiming that theft wasn’t a widespread problem and that the fired agents “represents less than one-half of one percent of officers that have been employed.”

Less than one-half of one percent is still a pretty high figure when we’re talking about the risk of losing cameras and lenses worth thousands of dollars.

Moral of the story: keep both eyes on your camera bag at all times, and always do carry-on instead of check-in whenever possible.

P.S. In case you missed it, last year we shared a disconcerting video showing why putting a lock on your zippered luggage doesn’t really do anything to protect its contents from theft.

Image credit: Can we get any more degrading by mandiberg

  • brandi

    wow thats bs tryin to blame his wife wow dude grow some balls

  • jake

    not sure why im reading this here and to on the sundailymailmirroretc-website?

  • JJ

    added to the list:
    Do not give hand luggage to Ryanair staff (Camera stolen, 2 years ago)
    Do not leave camera on beach (the seagull incident with the gopro a month ago)
    Do not leave camera unattended on seabed (The shark incident a while back),
    Photographers have a tough time lol

  • 9inchnail

    The best place for your camera is in it’s original packaging in your closet. Just leave it there and find a new hobby. Your camera will last for AGES.

  • Wolf

    by blaming his wife he tried to get avoid being fired..
    It was the best and only choice for them both..

  • SL

    Try flying through Johannesburg (OR Tambo) Airport in South Africa, I’ve only flown to and from there three times (out of 15+) that something wasn’t taken… even wrapped checked baggage.

  • Kris J Boorman

    Maybe not stealing an iPad would have been the best way to not get fired. Its no surprise he blamed his wife.

  • bob cooley

    Any theft is wrong. And I’m no fan of TSA’s ‘security theater’.

    BUT, I don’t think that 381 thefts out of a workforce of 58,400 employees over the course of 9 years is significant. That’s the equivalent of .072% (that’s less than 1/100 of a percent) of theft due to their workforce / year.

    I’m sure that isn’t statistically different (and possibly less) than the number of camera’s stolen (or just lost) in any other scenario.

    The reason that I say possibly less, is that I always do carrry-on w/ my gear, and the only times they ever open the bags is in front of me – that’s SOP, and I’ve been traveling w/ gear for over 20 years. I think most photographer’s are going to be pretty diligent any time his/her bag is out of their hands.

    And any time that you are in an area of THAT many people, I’m always more careful in watching my other personal belongings (phones, wallet, etc.)

    Again, any theft is wrong, but this report seems unnecessarily alarmist.

  • Sean McCann

    Actually that is just over seven 1/100’s of a percent. And this is just the proven claims of theft. What about the thefts that are denied and claims abandoned because folks perceive you can’t fight that agency?

  • junyo

    For domestic US travel:
    – Hard case
    – Flare gun/starter pistol/something that technically qualifies as a firearm
    – Firearms declaration form

    You get to lock the case with a non-TSA lock, and be present when/if it has to be opened (although some TSA people will be dicks about it). How I travel with anything I can’t keep on my person.

  • fast eddie

    I took a Pelican 1610 carry-on case to Poland and back that I wouldn’t let anyone handle. I went from Indianapolis through New Jersey, Düsseldorf and finally Krakow. I was shooting a wedding and had to cram as much as I could into my carry-on. I was way over the limit of carry-on luggage weight. It weighed 34 lbs.! Two bodies, 5 lenses, two flashes, 8 camera batteries, 24 AA batteries, chargers, voltage converters, etc.

    A few airline staff asked if I would allow it to be stowed in the underside of the plane during regional flights, but I can be persuasive and was allowed to keep it with me.

    It also helped that my 2 year old son was with me, and I had a product called the Ride-On Carry-On attached to the case.

    It’s a child’s seat that connects to a carry-on bag that turns the bag into a child transportation system :) No one was inclined to handle the case when my son was practically sitting on the thing.

  • Mansgame

    For years we flew without the TSA and things were more or less fine. You’d walk through a metal detector, along with your family, you’d wait for the plane, give everybody a hug and set off on your trip. Now, you have to wait in line, take your shoes off, give ID and looked at like you’re a criminal, lose your things, and the punchline is, none of this makes any difference in safety.

  • bob cooley

    Sean, you are correct: 7 1/100th of a percent – my bad on the math. It’s still a statistically insignificant number. Even at ten times that amount, its still not higher than theft or loss in any other situation.

  • Richard H. Weiner

    Not specific to the discussion but if nothing else…one pair underwear and socks with toothbrush rolled inside tucked into your camera carry on bag. Anything else that is lost or stolen can be bought or rented when you get to where you need to be.

  • Dave

    What makes it harder to accept is you are being ripped off by an agency that is supposedly there to protect you. You have to jump through ridiculous hoops just to travel nowadays… is a borderline nightmare. To then find out these monkey’s in uniform vandalized you is the ultimate slap in the face.

  • Tod

    I wish your reporter would go after the bankers as they went after that guy! it is a shame!

  • yu tube

    381, these are only the ones that got caught with enough evidence to be fired. How many are stealing but not getting caught?

  • Wallerus

    I condone publicly calling out a thief on TV, but that dude needs to man up. Calling out your wife? That’s extremely low dude, I don’t see why the lady even stays with him for that crud.

  • Wallerus

    Theft is theft regardless of the %, it shouldn’t be tolerated. It’s more of a PSA than anything.

  • bob cooley

    And I clearly state – ANY theft is wrong. My point is that since it’s not statistically significant from theft in any other context, that the alarmist story is unwarranted.

  • Wallerus

    Wasn’t disagreeing with you at all. Just commenting.