Cameras in the Bins: TSA Implementing New Airport Screening Procedures Affecting Photographers

Cameras in the Bins: TSA Implementing New Airport Screening Procedures Affecting Photographers

In an effort to improve the security of airline passengers and the nation’s airports, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is implementing new, stronger screening procedures for carry-on items that require travelers to place all electronics larger than a cell phone in bins for X-ray screening in standard lanes. These changes could affect photographers traveling with equipment on board by potentially requiring each camera body, some hard drives, speedlights, tablets, audio recorders, and other common electronic equipment to be removed from cases and placed separately in bins for X-ray, slowing the screening process.

DHS Secretary John Kelly announced in late June new security requirements for nearly 280 airports in more than 100 countries due to increased threats to aviation security. The new screening procedures in standard lanes are already in place at 10 U.S. airports with plans to expand to all airports during the weeks and months ahead.

TSA Acting Administrator Huban A. Gowadia said, “Whether you’re flying to, from, or within the United States, TSA is committed to raising the baseline for aviation security by strengthening the overall security of our commercial aviation network to keep flying as a safe option for everyone." There are no changes to what travelers can bring through the checkpoint; food and liquid items that comply with the 3-1-1 liquids rule, electronics, and books continue to be allowed in carry-on bags.

As the new procedures are phased in, TSA officers will begin to ask travelers to remove electronics larger than a cell phone from their carry-on bags and place them in a bin with nothing on top or below, similar to how laptops have been screened for years. This step is intended to help TSA officers obtain a clearer X-ray image. This would mean that a photographer carrying two camera bodies, a speedlight, and a laptop would need to place the equipment in two or more separate bins in addition to screening the equipment bag on the X-ray belt. There was no mention as to how this would affect discretionary additional screening of carry-on baggage after an X-ray.

Fortunately the stronger security measures do not apply to passengers enrolled in TSA PreCheck who are using dedicated lanes now available at 200 airports nationwide. Travelers enrolled in TSA PreCheck do not need to remove shoes, 3-1-1 liquids, laptops, electronics, light outerwear, or belts. The program allows TSA to focus resources on passengers who may pose a high risk to security while providing expedited screening to those travelers who have been identified as low-risk, trusted travelers.

[via TSA]

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10 Comments

Josh Bryant's picture

I fly at least twice a week. Even with PreCheck, I've had my camera gear inspected on I'd say at least 70% of my trips this year. I have a Manfrotto MB PL-3N1-35 backpack, and it often gets pulled off the line after the X-ray and I have to show the TSA how to open every compartment while they swab my camera body and all my lenses. Usually just a minor inconvenience at major airports, but I've had small airports make me take EVERYTHING out, which is a huge PITA.

Dan Howell's picture

I am assuming that you are talking about post-X-ray discretionary screening. I frequently fly with equipment and get my case additionally screened 50% of the time. That is not what this new directive is talking about if my read is correct. However there is a chance that it will reduce the number of additional screenings with clearer initial X-rays in the non-TSAPre line.

Josh Bryant's picture

Yes, but it happens far more than 50% of the time for me. I realize it is unrelated to the new directive, main point was taking everything out is a hassle. Luckily I don't hit airports that don't have PreCheck lanes very often, so I'll hopefully avoid that. I could see being asked to take all lenses out too even though the directive doesn't call for it, especially at smaller airports.

Obviously I'm not a fan of this move considering how much gear I fly with to shoot video and photo on location. But I was always surprised by the infrequency with which my video pelican case was ever inspected beyond the scan. Maybe 25% of the time.

Patrick Hall's picture

Has anyone confirmed that this is actually happening? I fly a fair amount (usually 1 round trip flight a month at least). I just got back from LAX two days ago and nothing out of the ordinary was inspected. I usually travel with another photographer or two and we are usually carrying multiple cameras, laptops, and even mini NAS boxes with networking cables. I've yet to have TSA inspect my bag unless 1) the bag has one of those huge external batteries like the Paul C Buff Vagabond or 2) it's a bag I have used near gun powder (lesson learned). I have noticed that our bags sometimes get pulled when we travel with large 70 - 200 2.8 lenses although since we have moved from Nikon to Panasonic that problem won't affect us anymore.

All that being said, maybe I'm just lucky with TSA and the screeners let our bags go through without issue.

Dan Howell's picture

LAX wasn't one of the new procedures trial airports. The new regulations will probably go into effect shortly. I flew from LAX earlier this month and I have TSAPre. My camera case was selected for additional screening after X-ray (as it was in EWR on the same trip). I am always ready to comply. The agent used the pads to swipe and sniff every corner of my case. They pulled out both bodies and lenses to use the pads. Again, I find this to happen 50% of the time over the last year, less over the past 2-3 yrs.

Patrick Hall's picture

When you went through LAX, did they have that new "3 bin station" on their security belt? I went through terminal 2 and it was the worst design ever. Basically instead of having one line where you grab as many bins as you need and go single file, they had 3 people stand up to the belt and then one bin was despinsed to each person. If you need 3 bins like most of us photographers, it really stalled the whole process down.

Oh, and LAX placed an escalator right before the TSA ID booth....I wanted to see how that worked when the line extended downstairs.

Ryan Bartels's picture

I just returned from three weeks abroad in Africa last Thursday. Going that way in late June (Charlotte, London, Nairobi, Lilongwe), security was more or less normal. Returning, however, I noticed a difference in Paris (in place of London on return) and Charlotte, where I was asked to remove my camera. To be honest, I don’t recall if I was asked to remove my camera body in Charlotte or if I did it automatically having done it in Paris on my prior stop.

My iPad Pro 10.5 and my camera body were the only items in my bag I was required to remove in Paris. So, it really wasn’t that big of a deal. I didn’t take a drone this year, but a Mavic, etc., would likely need to come out as well I would imagine.

Batteries (both camera and larger device-restoring units), external grips, lenses and even speedlights weren’t necessary to remove as I asked the crew working by opening my bag and showing them. They said, “Just the iPad and the camera.”

Had I been running with multiple cameras, camcorders, etc., I could see the bottleneck it could create. But I really didn't find it to be a problem at least on this trip.

I was in Atlanta twice in early June and was surprised that I wasn't required to remove my shoes nor was I required to remove my 15" MacBook Pro which I thought was strange. Again, I asked the agent assuming I'd have to. Perhaps this has since changed as well.

I’m sure your milage may vary (no pun intended) with TSA depending on airport and agent temperament.

More pointless security theater.

Just a question for you pros who travel a lot. I'm going to South Africa in October to shoot photos. The hosts for this trip will be hunting. The chances of my equipment, cases, and bags to get gunpowder residue is highly likely. How will this effect my passage through security? Not to mention the fact that I'm a competitive shotgun shooter. GSR is around me constantly. Thanks in advance.