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28 June 2013

Traveling with photo gear has always been an adventure but the peril seems to have increased dramatically since the airlines started charging for checked luggage.

Airport Navigator. This rolling bag can take a lot of gear plus a laptop but it's too big to fit under the seat in front of you.

Checked luggage has never been the way to transport expensive, fragile optics. Even with sturdy equipment cases from companies like Pelican.

On one flight of our recent cross-country run this month, travelers were warned to remove their laptops and other fragile gear before checking their carry-on. So even the airlines know it isn't wise to check fragile, expensive gear.

Companies like Think Tank Photo have designed a variety of roller bags that meet the carry-on requirements for just that reason. With a bag like Think Tank Photo's Airport Series, you can roll your gear on board and hoist it into the overhead compartment.

Not any more.

"If you have a carry-on bag that is too big to fit under the seat in front of you," the PA system will crackle, "please bring it to the desk so we can check it. There is no more overhead storage room on this flight."

And just like that your expensive gear in its soft nylon case get tossed into the cargo hold.

You can always request special treatment for your fragile professional gear but that's not a plan in our book. There's likely to be a few guys in front of you making the same request. And you don't have any recourse if your request is denied.

If you do have to check your carry-on bag, you can still salvage one camera and lens because slinging a camera around your neck doesn't count as your personal carry-on bag. So you can save one of your children, Sophie.

We had considered using the Airport Navigator on this trip but, at the last minute, decided to use the bags we always use. We're ready for a better solution, though.

What we'd like to see is a small roller bag large enough for a body, lens (or two) and strobe with a pocket for a sleeved 13-inch laptop or tablet that would fit under the seat (or most seats, since there's no standard there) in front of you.

Some aircraft -- like the Canadair Regional Jet we flew to Washington, D.C. -- can't fit any normal-size carry-on in their overhead bins. The shallow bins can handle a sport coat and that's about it.

But there's always some room under the seat in front of you. And a bag that can fit there with your most precious gear would still allow you to hazard a larger carry-on for the overhead bin with the rest of your gear.

Until then you're only option is to beg for mercy.

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