Beating Airline Baggage fees, part 2

Essential guide for underwater photographers, on beating the airline's bagage fees
By Ridlon Kiphart

Underwater Photographer’s guide to Beating Airline Baggage Fees – Part Two



In our last article on airline baggage fees and packing, I hope you got how these fees are here to stay and how they can constitute a significant increase in your airline ticket price. I also mentioned some of the few remaining loopholes in baggage policies and how we might focus on those. In over 15 years of traveling the world with my dive gear and underwater photographic equipment, I’ve never paid a baggage fee – not once. In this article, I’ll show you exactly how I do it.


How much underwater photography gear does anyone need?

Man is that a loaded question! Who doesn’t want the new F1.0 lens with ultra-nano technology, photoshop coated lenses in 12 pairs and 88 elements and perfect imagery software built in and optional jetpack and interstellar transporter? New technology is always coming out – some of it really awesome – and then there is always the need to have the right lens in our quiver for capturing an image in a specific situation. But this can all go overboard fast and this is where we need to start. Remember – if we are going to bring the kitchen sink, then no packing strategy is going to help.

underwater photography gear, baggage fees

Does anyone really need to bring all this gear? Ok - don't answer that!


By the very nature of being underwater photographers, it means we are bringing a lot of gear. First, normal clothes and sundries; then dive gear and finally camera gear and housing, etc and it adds up fast. So before we find ways to pack more gear, we are going to start by taking less.

On just about every dive trip I go on, someone shows up with a mammoth amount of gear and if that’s you, there are few strategies that will save you from baggage fees except paying for a first/business class ticket or being Platinum elite – all which give you significantly increased baggage allowances.


Strategy One – Less is More

Over the years of shooting both topside and underwater, I’ve honed my photographic needs. I don’t bring a huge quiver of lenses and I leave anything extraneous at home. All the extras like filters, cleaning kits and grease really add up. So I make sure and bring only what I really need – the bulky instruction manuals stay at home.


Strategy Two - Use your carry on and your “personal item”

My personal item is my laptop bag and in it I carry my laptop, two back up hard drives, cleaning kit, portable photo printer and batteries and chargers for two strobes and camera(s). Next, I pack all of my camera equipment and housing in my carry-on. There are a number of carry-on bags that are made specifically for this purpose. I bought a regular, inexpensive American Tourister carry on bag that is exactly the maximum legal dimensions for a carry on with most carriers worldwide. Then I took the padding out of my Pelican case and fitted it into my “looks like every businessman’s overnight bag” American Tourister. My bulky Pelican case was within the legal dimensions but it always got second looks from airline and security staff and it was heavy and it didn’t have wheels. Nobody gives my carry-on a second look and at times it has over 35lbs of camera equipment in it! This effectively offloads a lot of weight from my checked baggage. TIP! If you travel this way, make sure and get on the plane as soon as possible to secure overhead space. You don’t want to gate check this bag!


Strategy Three - Get elite status on at least one airline.

It’s easier than you think even if you don’t do a lot of flying. First, concentrate your flying on one of the major U.S. carriers and their codeshare partners. For instance, you can get United miles for flying Continental and vice versa. So if I am going to go for elite status on say United, I use that frequent flier number even when checking in on a Continental flight. That way I don’t end up with my miles dispersed between different programs. Look for specials that let you earn additional elite status qualifying miles. Delta offers credit cards that not only earn you miles with each purchase but also can earn you elite status qualifying miles as well. I make elite status with Delta every year on this feature alone.


Strategy Four - Get the credit card(s) of the airline(s) you fly the most.

There is a great new feature on some of the airline sponsored credit cards: If you present the card at check-in, the airline will waive the first checked bag fee for the card holder and 1 to 3 other people traveling with you. Well worth it.


So What do I Typically Bring?


  • - 1 DSLR body (I rarely bring 2)
  • - 1 wide angle zoom lens
  • - 1 macro lens
  • - 1 telephoto zoom lens
  • - 1 mid range zoom lens
  • - 1 housing
  • - 1 flat port
  • - 1 dome port
  • - 1 extension ring (works with dome port on zoom wide angle and also with flat port if I want to use a 100/105MM macro lens)
  • - 2 strobes (I like Inon Z240s because they are compact & light yet powerful
  • - 2 strobe arms
  • - 3 sync cords (1 backup)
  • - Hartenberger light (for artistic lighting, night and modeling)
  • - 12 AA rechargeable batteries
  • - 2 camera batteries and charger
  • - 1 cleaning kit (lens and sensor)
  • - Spare o-rings and grease
  • - Spare port cover
  • - Laptop & charger
  • - 2 portable hard drives
  • - 3 CF cards @ 16GB ea.
  • - Canon Selphy compact photo printer & charger (I use this to print out photos that I take of local people so I can give it to them on the spot :)


Packing Tips

As mentioned above, some of this gear goes in my Wenger laptop bag which has a couple of different compartments and doesn’t count towards my weight allowance. I pack my DSLR body inside my housing to save space and have never had a problem. This is a carry on bag so it doesn’t get heavily smacked around. If you have a big dome port (12”+), a larger housing or larger strobes this may not work for you. I specifically choose my equipment to be ergonomic, sturdy, high performance and portable since I’m always traveling to shoot. On the rare occasion when my camera carry on bag is overflowing, I put my two Inon strobes in my checked bag wrapped up in clothes. Easy.


Conclusion – beating airline baggage fees

That’s it! Start by simplifying and reducing, then maximize your weight and size allowance for carry on baggage and finally get friendly with the airline that you fly the most. Depending on how often you fly, you’ll save hundreds of dollars a year with these strategies and tons of hassle. Happy diving!

By Sharkman & Mantagirl
Aka Ridlon & Carin Kiphart
Underwater Photography Guide Travel Editors

Further Reading

Best dive destinations for underwater photography

Dive travel information for underwater photographers

Choosing a liveaboard or resort for underwater photography

Top 10 tips for dive travel


About the Authors

Ridlon and Carin run Global Diving Adventures, a premium provider of SCUBA diving vacations and advice on SCUBA diving travel & the adventure lifestyle.  They provide their friends the experiences and knowledge to live an extraordinary life through adventure.




The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear


Visit Bluewater Photo & Video for all your underwater photography and video gear. Click, or call the team at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!


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baggage fees

Why not just a jaktogo''
and save all that hassel

Lyang Lyang ?

Hi !
I was thinking about going there and I read there was a limit of 100kg person and luggages (yes! they weight you as well!).
I am 68kg so only 32 kg left and there is no specification if it is only cargo luggages or carry-on suitcase are possible. I woudl be fine to pay a reasonnable extra luggage price, but no information found. Any tips from any photographer ? Thanks !

Underwater Photographer’s guide to Beating Airline Baggage Fees

In the section titled "So What do I Typically Bring?" you state you rarely bring more than two DSLR bodies. I pretty much bring exactly what you bring (trying to keep weight down), but I always bring two DSLR bodies.

I use one exclusively for land photography and the other for underwater photography. At least, if I have a mishap and flood my housing I still have a backup body to shoot my photo assignments.


I would also check with all airlines used in all legs of your trip, because some are now including the weight of all carry-on baggage!

In February 2010, I went ice diving in the White Sea (Russian High Arctic) and used Finnair as my carrier. Flying to New York to Helsinki, Finland was no problem. However, My dive partner had a problem flying from Helsinki to Kusaamo, Finland.

My dive partners checked baggage was overweight, so he tried putting some stuff in his carry-on. Finnair had no problem with this as long as his checked bags AND "carry-on" did not exceed their total combined baggage weight limit. I was shocked to hear this because I never had an airline weigh my carry-on and combine its weight with my checked bags.

Suffice to say, I had to put some of my dive partners items in my bags or they would not let him take it on board.

Note: Some of the wheeled carry-on bags can sometimes weigh more when empty, than the total carry-on weight allowance of some international airlines!

Finnair Carry-on baggage allowance:
Business Class: A total of two pieces, with a maximum combined weight of 10 kg or 22 lbs.

Economy Class: One piece only, with a maximum weight of 8kg or 17.5 lbs.

Finnair seemed to only enforce this baggage allowance on their local in country flights. I didn't have an issue with international flights.

Chris Weaver

Baggage Fees

Yes, you are a very lucky diver to be flying from the US. With an international ticket you can take more luggage when you fly with a US airline.
Never paid any baggage fees until I moved, now I'm flying out from Brisbane.
Not once have been able to avoid baggage fees. They always weight your carry-on at the ticket counter. You can take it with you to the plane but they add the extra weight together with your dive bag (24kg. + 10kg camera & laptop + carry-on housing, strobe, ports, chargers....+ 14kg)
Any tips when I'm flying from Australia.


Karoly Nemeskeri

Photographers have got it easy!!!

I'm a videographer, using a Gates Z1 housing. Just my storm box with the housing, spare port and external monitor (no camera inside) weighs 25kg. I also use Ridlon's technique of putting as much as possible into flight bags and laptop bags.

My flight bag from Singpore to London a couple of weeks ago contained my Gates housing, spare hard drives, external monitor, various chargers and batteries - the whole thing weighed around 25kg.

My backpack contained my 17" macbook pro, 2 hard drives, more batteries, cables, chargers. Weighed around 15kg.
Plus I hand carried my Sony Z1 (2kg).

As you can imagine I was more than a little nervous carrying this lot through security and the gate, knowing that If I got stopped, Emirates charge $100SGD/$74USD/£48 PER KG!!! The reality was, no one, literally no one even looked at my baggage.

Once you are on the plane, you're almost there, but whatever you do don't ask the trolley dollies to help lift your bags to the overhead lockers!!!

Baggage fees

Great guidelines thanks

Some good ideas!!

I also wear a 5.11 Tactical Vest when I travel. It has many pockets that I use to hold the heaviest of items such as batteries, chargers, some lenses, etc etc. I once had the vest filled with 27lbs of gear!!

The airlines can't make you empty your pockets, when I go through security, I take the vest off and place the whole thing into the bin and put it back on the other side of the xray machine. When I get on the aircraft, I take the vest off and place it in the overhead bin with my other gear.

I also use and a cheap canvas duffle bag, I gave up on my $200 multi pocket, multi heavy metal buckle back pack and went with something that cost me less than $3. I use this to carry my laptop, and other odds and ends. This bag weighs less than 2lb. Yes it holds breakable items but I have never had anything broken in all my travels.

Happy Travels!!

Terry Moore