Airlines usually weigh your cabin luggage at the check-in/baggage drop-off and do not allow more than 7-8 kilos per person. How to successfully board a flight if the total weight of the gear you are taking with you exceeds the maximum allowed for carry-on luggage?

The gear is, obviously, too precious and fragile to be transported in checked baggage, so the cabin luggage is the only option.

As many comments below are more concerned with avoiding the situation in question instead of overcoming it, Let's say the issue has no other ways of resolution, i.e. you have to board the plane with the gear you have in your carry-on and your bag exceeds the weight limit. It also not country specific and encompasses all of the world, including less developed countries. It means that:

  • Taking less gear is out of question, all the gear is essential and you can't downsize or substitute anything for anything smaller/lighter (a good example is a large format film camera setup). What gear to take with you and how to take less of it is a completely different topic that deserves a discussion of it's own, but it's out of the scope of this question.
  • Renting/borrowing the gear at destination is not an option as you could have gear that can't be easily, if at all, found to rent or it is financially prohibitive. There is also a concept of your own tool which essentially prohibits many photographers using other's gear, because it either doesn't feel the same or may be not as reliable as your own that you look after and which quirks (if any) you know well. For many the issue of being liable for any damage is an added stress factor that gets in the way.
  • Sending your gear by mail/courier is impossible due to financial and logistics reasons (too expensive, many flights per trip, no trustworthy service etc.)
  • Packing all the gear into a securely locked foam-padded hard shell case and checking it in is also not acceptable as it is not secure (someone can still cut the lock and steal the contents), mandates a payment for excess baggage (it's implied you already have one checked-in bag) and airport/airline security or customs inspection have the right to open your case without your presence if they suspect there is something dangerous/prohibited inside. For inspection they will cut any locks they can't open and secure the case afterwards with nylon zip-ties.
  • 1
    "Taking less gear is out of question" Is there no way you can rent or borrow some of the equipment where you're going ? Do you really need everything you plan to bring ? Do you need to (for the future) switch to lighter gear (e.g switch from DSLRs and heavy lenses to MILCs and ligher lenses) ? May 27, 2017 at 0:32
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    @StephenG Like I said, it is out of question. Beside the fact that many people simply won't shoot with any gear other than their own (there is a concept of your own tool), renting or borrowing is simply impossible in many places around the world. Especially when the gear you use is not mainstream, but something like a large format camera or just a vintage manual focus lens. Last time I was travelling with Nikon D700, Nikon FE2 and Pentax 645NII. Good luck renting even them anywhere easily.
    – lightproof
    May 27, 2017 at 0:57
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    I've never had my carry-on bag weight checked (US airports, commercial jets). However, when flying on charter, island-hopper, 12 seats or less, everything has been weighed, including myself. For small aircraft, it's not worth trying to bypass the weight restrictions.
    – scottbb
    May 27, 2017 at 1:46
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    Flagging as off-topic as this question would apply equally well to any other kind of heavy items, and is thus not about photography.
    – user29608
    May 27, 2017 at 18:31
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    This certainly seems on-topic here. Safe travel with our expensive gear is a huge concern, and is absolutely a factor in the meta-subject of photography. By analogy, all sorts of optics-related questions are probably more generally (and more rigorously correctly) answered under the [optics] tag at Physics.SE, but that doesn't stop them from being on-topic here as well, considering how important lens optics are to photography.
    – scottbb
    May 28, 2017 at 15:08

4 Answers 4


I've asked a more or less similar question on Travel StackExchange a month ago, but didn't get a helpful answer. The answer is not as obvious as one would think as there is almost no info on actual airline policies, so I'd like to answer the question myself as I've got more knowledgeable since.

The problem with flying with lots of gear is that while you can pay for excess baggage on a per bag basis, there is no such option for a carry-on and you are allowed only one no matter what. Thankfully, there are ways to deal with this limitation.

  • First, you are usually allowed either a women's bag/purse or a laptop bag that airlines don't weigh as long as it conforms to allowed dimensions. A small college-type backpack/daypack will often pass for such bag if it's not stuffed to the brim and looks obviously bulky. Many airlines won't care even if it is and some don't even weigh your carry-on, but you never know and I wouldn't count on it.

  • Second, there is, apparently, no limit for the weight you carry on yourself, so to minimize the weight of your bag, you should take out and put on yourself everything you can. Cameras with the heaviest of your lenses attached to them are probably the best starting point. If you have a jacket or a vest, don't put it in the bag, wear it instead and stuff all it's pockets with your gear. If you have lens pouches with a carabiner, you can also attach a couple of them to your belt or belt loop of your pants, but don't overdo it or you could start looking suspicious to the security guards. If you have a laptop or women's bag, you should also put the gear you can't put directly on yourself inside it.

  • If you are traveling together with someone, chances are, their bag is lighter than the airline limit. Put some of your gear into their carry-on for the time being.

  • Also, put everything you can into your checked luggage. For example, a tripod/monopod usually weights a lot more compared to other gear and it's not as likely to be stolen if a thief opens your suitcase as it's harder to sneak out with due to it's size.

After you pass the check-in/baggage drop-off desk, you should find a place somewhere aside and put all the gear back inside your carry-on bag before proceeding further to the security checkpoint or passport control.

Plan beforehand and decide what gear you will be taking out while you are still at home packing your bags.

All of the above concerns flying regular airlines. The policies of low-cost airlines are usually vastly different and they will likely charge you for many things a regular airline won't.

Big thanks to Matt Granger, who shared most of this ideas in his YouTube video!

  • 2
    One thing you might want to make note of is that, at some airports, carry-ons get sized at the gate rather than the bag drop. Carrying stuff on in a vest, then sticking it back into the bag, might lead to a rude welcome at the gate (resulting in a gate check of your bag with all your gear inside). May 27, 2017 at 6:17
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    @SebastianLenartowicz if it gets sized only it's ok, as long as your bag conforms to the size restrictions. As photographic gear tends to be pretty dense (all the metal and glass), the weight is much more of a problem. In my case, when I have less than only half of my rolling case (cabin approved size) full, it already weights 9-10 kilos. I doubt you will have any issues if you try to board a plane with, for example, your a Mamiya RZ67 hanging by your side.
    – lightproof
    May 27, 2017 at 8:18
  • @lightproof - You are absolutely right. I have never had oversize bags either.
    – Itai
    May 28, 2017 at 3:05

First of all, airlines rarely weigh carry-on luggage. In hundreds of flights taken in 56 countries, I have only had my carry-on luggage weighed twice. Both times it was overweight but I came prepared.

It is common for international flights to allow 10kg of carry-on, plus 10kg of personal item. The best is to stick within the allowed limits to start with, so be prepared to divide you weight between these two. The personal item has a size limit which is smaller, so make sure to get bags of the correct size. On some airlines, mostly on domestic flights you have a limit of 7kg or 5kg as you mentioned. Still, you get 14kg or 10kg in total when divided between the carry-on and personal item, which can be quite a lot of gear.

There were two cases where the rules made impossible for me to fit within the limit: Economy class on Emirates does not allow a personal item, so the limit ended up being 7kg. Vietjet specifies 7kg in total, so dividing does not help. For these I had packed a custom made vest which can carry 10kg of gear. I placed one DSLR with F/2.8 lens attached and in additional lens in each pocket, this allowed me to move 6kg onto me which no longer counts as carry-on weight. An additional pocket to fit a 14" laptop was still available in case I had to go down to 5kg.

Anything that will allow you to move weight onto your personal gives you additional flexibility. There are vests from Scottevest and The Vest Guy purposefully designed for this. Neither of these was available here in Ecuador, so I designed my own and had it made exactly to my specifications. The vest made it much easier to go through security, keep passports and boarding passes handy as an added bonus.

Not only is it impraticable and risky to place any camera gear elsewhere, most airlines will not allow it. At the checking counter of Vietjet, GOL, Amazonas and Azul (all airlines with low carry-on limits), there is a sign saying that it is forbidden to pack electronics and valuable items in checked-luggage, so the only sensible choice is to carry it on your person (or family member if you have one handy).

  • If the "personal item" is quite restricted it normally includes a laptop bag. You can get quite a lot of camera kit in a bag designed for a 15" laptop, even if you carry a (much smaller) laptop in there.
    – Chris H
    May 28, 2017 at 15:11

You've preemptively ruled out many options,which I think you should consider.

First (departing the UK) hand luggage is rarely weighed, and weights are rounded down.size matters much more. I use a maximum hand luggage size backpack. Over a shoulder it doesn't look heavy even with over 10kg in it. Don't carry anything extraneous, so buy the overpriced bottles of water and books for the flight in departures.

Second, the less valuable, less essential kit can be packed in the hold. Spare bodies, lenses after your top 2, (especially the lighter ones), flashes, chargers, tripod (this is sometimes required, sometimes too long for hand luggage). I suggest you pad them well (individually) in a hard case, then wrap that in a coat/jumpers/towel and place in a normal suitcase. This stops it looking like a camera bag at baggage reclaim.

When choosing and packing a suitcase, lid pockets can be used to ensure padding on that side even if the case is opened. Any pockets in the sides can be used similarly. When bags are searched, security are by no means careful but they do put thing back in roughly the same way. Use that to your advantage.

There's little to no point locking cases through airports (with a few exceptions). Fake TSA keys are all over the place, and if the bag looks too attractive at baggage reclaim the whole bag is at risk lock or not.

Don't forget spare lithium ion batteries must be in cabin luggage.

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    I agree. On the count of ignoring country-specific condition in the question, within the U.S., traveling with a gun (which includes starter pistols or flare guns), you must lock the checked case with a non-TSA-approved lock. Therefore, you can use the best MasterLock you want on the case. I've used this trick many times for added peace of mind when checking photographic gear I couldn't carry on, or additional computer and electronics I had to check.
    – scottbb
    May 28, 2017 at 15:03
  • @scottbb yes, that's, apparently, a very handy trick. Unfortunately, it works only within the USA.
    – lightproof
    May 29, 2017 at 11:13

Traveling with an assistant will allow their carry-on allotment to be applied to transporting the equipment. Some airlines will allow the transport of equipment in the cabin via the purchase of an additional ticket.

  • Flying with an assistant is one solution, works equally well with friends/family. Purchasing additional ticket gives you the right to have twice as much baggage, including carry-on. The trick is to contact the airline and let them know that it's not a mistake and you are indeed purchasing an additional seat, otherwise they will decline the booking. Some people will buy additional ticket if, for some reason, they want an empty seat next to them, and some people can't fly otherwise because of being severely overweight and requiring sittings on two seats simultaneously.
    – lightproof
    May 29, 2017 at 12:10

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