Anyone who has ever traveled with me knows my philosophy about gear is that you take as much as the conditions allow. If I am traveling entirely by car, I will fill up the car…no matter how big it is. If I am traveling by foot, I will carry as much as possible, taking into consideration the terrain, the weather, the length of the trip, and what my body will tolerate. In this case, we are obviously traveling by plane and car. That means the plane part of the trip is the limiting factor. And not the wide-body jet to Africa, but the puddle jumpers we will be taking once we are there. I almost never put camera gear in checked bags, although I occasionally have done so (only in a Pelican case). If you aren’t familiar with Pelican cases, I suggest you check them out. They are the best.
I don’t plan on checking any gear for Africa. I will most likely end up checking a small bag of clothes and such, but no gear. That means it all must fit in the bag/s allowed as carry-ons. In case you have not flown outside of the US lately, that means just 1…that’s right…just 1 carry-on bag. On many of the large airlines that bag may weigh a maximum of 7kg (That is 15.4 pounds for us Americans). The most weight you can reasonable expect in economy class, outside of the US, is 10kg (22lbs), but don’t count on it. Check with each airline you will be flying to be sure. British Airways still allows 1 bag and 1 handbag with a total weight of up to 12kg (18kg for business and 1st).
I will be flying: United, Ethiopian Air (trans-Atlantic and domestic in Ethiopia), and Fly540.
The published limits for United are not problem. They still allow 2 pieces (1 carry-on and 1 personal item) and don’t even mention a weight limit, although I am sure they have one. One trick here…in addition to the two bags, United allows an extra “diaper bag” and a jacket. As for the diaper bag, maybe you can rent a kid for the flight…it you think it is worth it. As for the jacket, see my tips about clothing below. Warning…there are separate rules for United Express.
Ethiopian Air does not differentiate between their wide-body limits and their puddle jumper limits, but they really sock it to you. Their published limit for economy class is 1 bag with a maximum weight of 7kg. Ladies may carry on a small handbag or purse, but they are very explicit about how it might be used. It must be “appropriate to normal traveling dress and is not being used as a container for the transportation of articles, which would otherwise be regarded as baggage.” See my Clothing as Baggage section below…a necessity on Ethiopian. One additional thing that they allow for free…a small camera. One camera is going around my neck. Business class get 2 bags of 7kg each. Look for that solo business traveler to carry on a bag for you.
Interestingly, Fly540, has no weight restriction on what they call “hand luggage”. They do however, have a fairly small maximum size of 56 x 45 x 25cm. Each passenger gets one checked bag free, up to 20kg.
Clothing as Baggage
With the baggage fees and tight restrictions on carry on bags, the airlines are doing their best to convince us we should be looking at the bus as a possible alternative, but they know they have us by the short hairs. There are a couple of tricks. Buy and wear a vest with lots of pockets. Unless you look as if you are smuggling televisions, they will usually consider the vest a piece of clothing and not a bag. Cargo pants are a must. Yes, emptying out those pockets at security is a pain, but worth the effort for many reasons. Throw out the modern hatred of fanny packs and buy one. Wear it when you check in and at any time you might be required to weight your bags. Wear it in the bag to reduce visibility. Remember, generally it is not the job of airport security to weight your stuff, but I have seen it happen.
Next post…Africa: how much camera gear? Stay tuned.