Your Favorite Carry-On Camera Bag May Soon Be Too Big To Fly

Your Favorite Carry-On Camera Bag May Soon Be Too Big To Fly

As a traveling commercial photographer and filmmaker who flies over 100k miles a year, I NEVER let my camera bodies and lenses leave my side. Well, soon, filmmakers like myself may be in big trouble. The reason? The International Air Transport Association (IATA), unveiled a new size guideline this week for domestic US flights that proposed a 21% size reduction in max carry-on size allowed. So my prized and PACKED Think Tank Airport Security camera bag may soon be 21% too big to carry onto a flight. Freaked out? Me too. Read below to learn more.

According to the IATA press release:

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), announced a new initiative to optimize the accommodation of carry-on bags given differing carry-on bag sizes and airline policies.

Working with airline members of IATA and aircraft manufacturers, an optimum size guideline for carry-on bags has been agreed that will make the best use of cabin storage space. A size of 55 x 35 x 20 cm (or 21.5 x 13.5 x 7.5 inches) means that theoretically everyone should have a chance to store their carry-on bags on board aircraft of 120 seats or larger.

An “IATA Cabin OK” logo to signify to airline staff that a bag meets the agreed size guidelines has been developed. A number of major international airlines have signaled their interest to join the initiative and will soon be introducing the guidelines into their operations.

“The development of an agreed optimal cabin bag size will bring common sense and order to the problem of differing sizes for carry-on bags. We know the current situation can be frustrating for passengers. This work will help to iron out inconsistencies and lead to an improved passenger experience,” said Tom Windmuller, IATA’s Senior Vice President for Airport, Passenger, Cargo and Security.

So what does this mean to you? Well the IATA is just a trade association, NOT a government agency, so this proposed regulation is not a requirement for airlines to follow. That being said, eight international airlines have already adopted the size guideline. Those airlines include Air China, Avianca, Azul, Cathay Pacific, China Southern, Emirates, Lufthansa, and Qatar.

According to the Washington Post, airlines like American and Delta have not expressed that they will adopt this new policy suggestion anytime soon. Although, if you have flown domestically any time recently, you know that baggage fees and overhead bin space are getting out of hand. You and I know that it is only a matter of time before all of the airlines force us to use smaller camera bags. The IATA's move this week is merely one scary step closer to that policy change.

An example of an IATA Cabin OK bag. Image supplied by the IATA.

Sure, the IATA claims they want there to be less carry-on bag anxiety for those worried that overhead bin space will be full by the time they board the plane and will be force to check their bag. In fact, around 20 people are forced to check their bags on a full flight with planes that have 120 seats or more. The idea would be if you have "IATA cabin ok" bag, you are guaranteed to not face this issue again, but at what cost to those that fly with precious production equipment?

Douglas Sonders's picture

Commercial Photographer (mainly Phase One medium format digital) and filmmaker based out of NYC. Started a site called to spread stories about well-behaved and positive pitbulls. Love cars, 80s movies, dogs, and adventure. Free time is spent traveling, sleeping, adventuring, or working on my baby, a 1969 Mustang Mach 1.

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First World Problems..
LOL I keed.

I think the airlines could handle this better.

Before I started carrying expensive photography gear on planes with me I tried to just put everything in one suitcase to be considerate and save all the trouble in the cabin.

Silly me. I end up getting charged for an overweight suitcase or even a second suitcase and have everyone else clog the overheads with every piece of junk they can get on. This also massively slows down boarding and unboarding of the plane.

Instead of charging folks for extra bags they should be charging them for extra carry-on luggage. I myself would gladly pay the extra $25 to know that my camera gear is going to be in the cabin with me and not thrown around like a rodeo rider.

The TSA and airlines simply need to get together and guarantee safe passage of baggage. Then it wouldn't be a problem. Put cameras up, track bags (customs already takes a photo of your bag at the check-in counter when you're checking it and associates it with you/knows it's yours), and friggin' guarantee that your bag will be handled with care if marked "fragile" and that it won't get stolen, etc... Then we could all rest easy. But no...they basically say they're not responsible because too many different people have their hands on the bag and they wouldn't know who's responsible... It's not that hard, people.... But what are we supposed to do? Drive/take a train for days? Come on, people....

I take a rollie and either my Tenba or Lowepro Slingback. Either one of the camera bags will fit under the seat and the rollie goes overhead. Then I see people coming on with multiple rollies or a combination of bags that clearly exceed the one overhead and one personal limit. So if they just cracked down on them, there wouldn't be need to change any standards.

Well I call it a fair decision, the rest of the world had already been using these dimensions for the cabin luggage so I do not see why the US should be different :) and btw the Thinktank Int. V2 roller does the job for me perfect :) and fits within these dimensions already :)

Sorry Jozef, but your bag is too big. You were reading the interior dimensions which meet the specifications, but the exterior is just too big. New bag for you...

Well, I really doubt it because of couple reasons. The reason I chosen V2 version of roller which is certified for International dimension rules and not USA one was exactly the oversized dimensions of US baggage allowance. So if you bough a case bigger than standard International rules are then yes you might need to buy a new one. I am ready to fly with multiple bags with different sizes because as you can see bellow every company has its own rules :)... so my advice, always try to buy camera bags which are fine with International rules as a guidance and have 2 3 different ones to fit even more strict airlines :)... and the best advice, be very nice to a person who is questioning your size and if it is 3x6 mm larger like in my case for USA standard from this week on, show them that it actually fits the measuring sample case, because my actually does fit in :)... here is more on it from wiki :)... The actual size and weight limits of cabin baggage can differ widely, in some cases they are dependent on the aircraft model being used, in other cases it depends on the booking class. As an example of the lack of standardisation, the maximum permitted cabin luggage restrictions of some airlines are:

42 cm x 32 cm x 25 cm Wizz Air (or 56 x 45 x 25 for an extra fee)
45 cm x 35 cm x 20 cm Japan Airlines on aircraft with less than 100 seats on domestic flights
48 cm x 33 cm x 20 cm Aer Lingus Regional (Stobart Air – one bag max. 7 kg)[2]
48 cm x 36 cm x 20 cm Aurigny Air Services class Regional (one bag max. 10 kg) or class Inter-Island (max. 6 kg)[3]
50 cm x 45 cm x 20 cm Jet Airways for flights within India with ATR aircraft (one bag max. 7 kg for Economy Class, one bag max. 10 kg plus one laptop for Business and First Class)[4]
55 cm x 35 cm x 25 cm Air France (weight allowance depends on route and class),[5] Jet Airways for all other flights (one bag max. 7 kg for Economy Class, one bag max. 10 kg plus one laptop for Business and First Class),[4] Malaysia Airlines; (one bag up to 7 kg plus one personal item)[6]
55 cm x 40 cm x 20 cm Asiana Airlines,[7] Korean Air[8]
55 cm x 40 cm x 20 cm Ryanair (first bag max. 10 kg);.[9] Second bag of size 35 cm x 20 cm x 20 cm also allowed.
55 cm x 40 cm x 23 cm Austrian Airlines, Edelweiss Air, Lufthansa, Swiss Global Air Lines, Swiss International Air Lines (one bag max. 8 kg or a foldable garment bag up to 57 cm x 54 cm x 15 cm);[10][11] Flybe (one bag max. 10 kg),[12] Air Canada (10 kg plus one personal item not exceeding 43 cm x 33 cm x 16 cm) [13]
55 cm x 40 cm x 24 cm Aer Lingus (one bag max. 10 kg plus one personal item not exceeding 33 cm x 25 cm x 20 cm)[2]
55 cm x 40 cm x 25 cm All Nippon Airways, Japan Airlines on aircraft with less than 100 seats on domestic flights, for all aircraft on international flights
56 cm x 35 cm x 23 cm Delta Air Lines (One bag plus one personal item),[14] United Airlines (one bag plus one personal item)[15]
56 cm x 36 cm x 23 cm American Airlines (One bag plus one personal item),[16] Virgin Atlantic[17]
56 cm x 45 cm x 25 cm (IATA size) British Airways (one bag plus one bag up to 45 cm x 36 cm x 20 cm, up to 23 kg each);[18] EasyJet (one bag, no special weight limit, not guaranteed to travel in cabin; 50 cm x 40 cm x 20 cm is guaranteed);[19] Finnair (one bag, max. 8 kg plus one personal item)[20]

Aer Lingus regional (operated by Stobart Air) really sucks. Aside from the 7 kg limit, the ATR 72 aircraft that they use are cramped and uncomfortable and don't have the same level of instrumentation that would enable them to fly in all of the weather conditions that larger aircraft can. Avoid if at all possible.

So "damn" rare? :-) But yes, it's an issue we're all trying to work on; and occasionally things slip through the cracks when someone tries to get a news piece out as quickly as possible :-)

Time to get creative...wear your zoom lens around your neck on a gold chain...velcro a couple of speedlights onto a baseball cap...women who aren't pregnant can wear maternity clothes and stuff everything into that space...maybe some kind of ankle holster system...

Time to start selling fake MEDIA CREDENTIALS...

I don't know Douglas... Looking at those pictures of your carry-on bags, I see an awful lot of empty space there. Do you REALLY need all that cushion? Do your high-end pro bodies really need half an inch of foam between them? Let's be honest. Wrap them in a piece of paper towel, some rubber bands to hold it all together, and bam.

Carry-ons. Heck, you could stuff it all into a duffel bag half the size! :-)

If only the airline staff (and passengers) understood that the current agreed upon (international) sizes, are actually for fitting under the seat in front of you - not for overhead bins..... Or that the current size, means when bags are placed in overhead storage correctly, every single passenger on the plane can have 2x carry on sized pieces of luggage, without issues (1 under the seat in front of them and 1 overhead). You make the choice to sacrifice foot/legroom in order to have that 2nd bag.

Hint, if you are not placing your bag in the overhead on it's side so that the top handle / side of the bag, is all you can see from the aisle, you are placing your bag in wrongly and are part of the problem.

" know that baggage fees and overhead bin space are getting out of hand"

Getting out of hand? That shipped sailed the day airlines started charging to carry-on bags. It's why I try to fly Southwest as much as possible. I don't fly that often anyway. It has become such a hassle with fees and the elimination of refreshments. I mean a drink and a skimpy bag of pretzels?

If they never charged for carry-on, they'd never have to deal with people trying to take too many things on or bum rushing the bins and overstuff them before everyone boards.

I don't totally buy the "trying to conserve fuel costs" justification either.

Carry on restrictions here in Australia put an end to camera gear in the cabin long ago. Unless you're shooting with a super basic kit, there's not much chance of putting much in carry-on.

The limit here is 105 lineal centimeters. Add up your dimensions and the total needs to be less than the limit. That's even less than the regulations being proposed/implemented there in the US.

Oh, and don't even start complaining about weight. Pretty sure the limit on most carries is 7kg (bit over 15lbs), and they are pretty strict about it.

I know photogs that fly with their partners and make their petite female partner carry/wheel massively overweight bags, so that the flight crew don't suspect overweight issues.

If you fly in Australia and have this problem, learn this phrase....

"This bag contains sensitive equipment, the value of which exceeds your carriers insurance limit ($10k). Are you personally willing to guarantee it?"

So long as your bag is not idiotically oversized, the crew have instructions (Qantas, JetStar and Virgin at least) to allow it on-board as carry on. The small airlines like REX, are a very different story however.

Hi guys, Simon from thinkTank here... Couple of things to note; IATA is a trade body and can't enforce its suggestions...

This from their own FAQ's

My current carry-on is larger than IATA Cabin OK bags. Will airlines now insist that I
check it? Will I have to buy a new, smaller carry-on?

No. Each airline is free to set its own policy regarding baggage, but this new initiative is not
expected to result in any sudden spate of baggage rule changes.

Oh my god you folks are so spoiled, .... 4 years ago I purchased one of those very expensive think tank, carry on approved bags, 3 years ago I had to purchase something much smaller, because not only was I told right before entering a plane that it would not fit, I was told that if I want to fly on that plane, I have to gate check the bag. I then purchased a 1510 pelican, and almost always it will fit above, BUT I have never been able to fit it under a seat in front of me, so if I board anything other than 1st class, or group 1, i have to gate check it, which I then take everything out, swap some stuff in my backpack, and BLACK RAPID strap the rest up, and carry it like I am working a job. My 1510 does not fit in every overhead compartment, so I have to resort to what I just said, but the new thing that is happening is that in some instances I am being told, "Sorry, we do not allow Pelican cases in the cabin, you must gate check it" WTF?!?!?!
The end result is, the attendant at the entrance of the plane can decide right on the spot, and you have to abide, which I do, because no one likes and angry airline passenger.
Long story short, on Domestic flights, I haven't be able to use m think tank bag in years, . . . best $400 i ever spent! LOL

You are correct sir, your experience is vastly different than mine.
99.9% of my assignments/job are domestic, flying mostly regional jets, with the occasional trip on a 320/319 AB, which that bag would fit, but no luck on a MD88/90, ERJ's, CRJ's, heck, I am being told to gate check my 1510 a lot of the times. I also work with a handful of photogs that experience the same thing as me, which is why I think you are spoiled!

There is a solution that takes care of many birds with a single stone: Go Mirrorless!

Sony Alpha... a7m2 or a7Rm2. Smaller, Lighter... the Future.

Sitting in an airport right now with my think tank international 2.0. I've traveled a couple times in the past few years with no problem bringing it as carry on. This trip has been very different.

The flight attendants have been VERY grumpy both ways. They are saying no before I can even talk to them. They all keep saying the same thing "it's a $10,000 fine for me if I allow that bag on. I'm not risking that fine." No other explanation. I was able to convince two of them that it will fit and voila it does. One told me it was a height thing but I was not allowed to prove it fits. Very annoying...

All flights through United.

I own a MindShift BackLight 26L, and it's too large to fit underneath the seat on an international flight. (29 x 51.5 x 20 cm)

Here are the personal carry on limitations of the flights I will be on.

Air Canada: 16 cm x 33 cm x 43 cm (6 in x 13 in x 17 in)
Swiss International Airlines: 40 x 30 x 10 cm)

Here is the gear that I want to take:

Canon 5D Mark III
EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM
EF 24-70mm f/2.8 II USM
EF 70-200 f/2.8 IS II USM
Gitzo GT2542T Series 2 tripod
Really Right Stuff BH-40-LR Ballhead
Format Hitech filter kit in pouch
Canon Timer Remote Controller TC80N3
Canon GPS Receiver GP-E2
Canon Extender EF 1.4xIII

I already have a carry-on travel backpack for my clothes, etc., so I need a camera bag to put under the seat.

What do you recommend?