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March 2003 Vol. 29, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Those New Baggage Requirements

how to protect your gear and your film

from the March, 2003 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Flying? Seems the only way to protect your dive gear these days is to wear it on the plane.

Not long ago we warned about Pelican cases being rifled by handlers at airports like Miami and recommended that if you couldn't hand-carry photo gear, then place it inside a well-secured but uninteresting piece of baggage. Alas, given the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) baggage screening procedures that took hold January 1, such a precaution may mean little these days.

Today, all checked luggage may be hand inspected, so TSA advises not to lock checked baggage. Any item deemed suspicious as it wends its way past x-ray and explosive detection devices will be opened and inspected. In those airports where bags go through these devices in your presence, you'll be asked to open the luggage, if necessary. However, where screening takes place within the bowels of the baggage system, TSA will attempt to open locked luggage with master keys. If that fails, they will cut the locks.

TSA will soon provide free tamper-evident seals. Essentially cable ties, they have a tear-off tab containing the tie number so that one can determine if the tag they affix is the same one on the bag at the time of arrival. If TSA opens a bag, it will place an official card inside and close it with a security seal. By the end of the year, TSA also expects to videotape inspections that take place behind the scenes.

TSA doesn't assume responsibility for damage to the locks they remove. If, upon arrival, you are missing anything from a bag that they have inspected, you must file a claim. TSA has six months to settle claims. However, David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association, says that it is not yet clear who will take responsibility in case of theft or harm of luggage -- the airlines or TSA. So don't be surprised if TSA and your airline point fingers at each other.

So before you depart home make a record of everything in your checked luggage, including serial numbers of articles or detailed descriptions and the replacement cost. Place one copy in your luggage and carry another one elsewhere.

What should a traveling diver do?

Carry on as much as you can, ranking items by value and utility. Medications, medical assistive devices, and prescription masks may be more important than a regulator that you can easily rent. Balance the likelihood of missing diving days with the value of your gear. Note that most U.S. airlines limit you to two carry-on items, including a purse, briefcase, laptop, or the like, neither to exceed about 22" x 14" x 9" and 40 pounds. These must fit in overhead storage and under the seat.

Pending availability of TSA seals, continue to lock your baggage or secure them with plastic or nylon cable ties. To reduce the chance of a thief cutting it and replacing it with one of his own, use odd colors. You can purchase numbered or printed ties from such outlets as American Casting & Manufacturing ( adj_nylon_sec_strap.htm).

Purchase high quality equipment insurance such as that offered by DAN ( and DEPP ( Both insure against loss or damage to gear and set premiums on declared value. DAN reimburses for the cost of restoring or replacing your loss, while DEPP, at its option, will either repair or replace your gear. Some benefits may change because of TSA's procedures. For example, DEPP's Vice President Sandy Hall told us that they are considering replacing insured gear only when an entire piece of luggage is missing after a flight. They would no longer cover pilferage of individual items during air travel.

What About film?

Photographers need to protect film from x-radiation. Some new carry-on airport scanners are more powerful and more dangerous to unprocessed high-speed film than were older, low-level radiation models.

Checked baggage will be subject to high-dose scanners that almost certainly will harm film in a single pass. Don't send unprocessed film through either device. Carry it on and request a non x-ray inspection. To make this request more agreeable to the inspector, place the film in clear plastic canisters inside a clear Ziploc bag.

However, this may only be a sure option in the U.S. Some countries may not grant you such consideration, so place the film in a lead-shielded bag sold by photo retailers. Before purchasing one, however, ask about its effectiveness with newer, more powerful airport x-ray devices. The lead bag showing on the scanner may trigger an additional inspection.

Whenever feasible, purchase film at your destination and have it developed before departing. Alternatively, you can send film via an expedited carrier, but ask if their package examination procedures include exposure to x-rays. Since the x-rays don't affect digital camera images or processed film, prints, slides, and CDs, these items can be checked.

- Doc Vikingo

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