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|| News Item: Posted 2008-06-30

Leading Off: Air Travel Is A Bitch
CRJs, Crushed Gear and Wearing Pajamas

By Robert Hanashiro, Sports Shooter

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / Sports Shooter

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / Sports Shooter

Using those extra padded dividers left over from configuring your roller comes in handy to make hinged tops to the sections for a little added protection.
To borrow a line from Howard Beal: I'M MAD AS HELL!

I started out thinking about doing a rant about a roller-full of my gear being mishandled during flight on a CRJ (Canadian Regional Jet) to Colorado, but now I figure "What the hell?" Let's do a full-tilt-boogie bitch session on how airlines are killing us!

My colleague Bob Deutsch and I once had a conversation about the actual joys of traveling on CRJs because large backpacks and rollers are gate checked because they will not fit in the small overhead compartment or under the seat. We envisioned our bags packed with our company's expensive gear being handled like a newborn and placed gingerly in a special place that will keep it safe and sound.


When I arrived at the Olympic Training Center for my assignment, I began pulling gear out of my roller and my 24-70 zoom sounded like a baby's rattle! When I pulled the lens cap off…pulverized glass came tumbling out into the floor!

And was I pissed!

Next, when I pulled out a BRAND NEW Nikon D3 and a BRAND NEW D300, I tried to slip the SU800 TTL Commander into the hot shoe, but for some reason it would not slide in …because the tops of both cameras were crushed.

Now I was double pissed!

I have spent my career trying to be as careful with my equipment as I can, taking great pains to make sure that I don't tweak a lens mount (by yanking a camera body with long, heavy glass attached) or running around with gear over my shoulder swinging wildly, banging off of walls (or people).

But, some things are out of our control, obviously #1 with a bullet are airline baggage handlers.

On my flight home I took extra notice on how gate checked items were being handled and I watched in horror as the bags, including my roller, were tossed up from the ground to the jetway stairs like sacks of potatoes.

When I arrived back in Burbank, I stood at the bottom of the air stairs and watched as a bag fell off the conveyor from the cargo hatch and another fell to the tarmac from the top of the cart they were loading.

After getting over my anger, well, some of it, I took inventory of what I learned from this:
• Always check to see what aircraft you are flying in.
• If it is a CRJ, rethink my carry on strategy.
• Take better care in how I pack my roller.
• Never assume that an airline baggage handler cares about your property.

Since regional jets are going to be more and more common as the airlines cut costs, it's almost inevitable that we'll be on one if you do any amount of travel. As airlines take larger planes out of service, orders for new regional jets are up significantly according to a story I heard on NPR recently, meaning we'll be gate checking our large bags a lot more in the future.

Instead of the big roller, I am going to go back to my trusty Lightware Digital Backpack as my main carry-on bag for the time being. I am also looking at a Lowepro Stealth Reporter AW I bought years ago. While I won't be able to get long glass on-board a CRJ in either, I will be able to get a body or two, two or three lenses, speedlite and laptop.

The Think Tank Airport Security roller packed with my long glass and other gear will now go into my Lightware Travel Kit Case (now called the Multi Format 1629) and checked.

Is this perfect? Hardly. But it's the best I can figure…for now.

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / Sports Shooter

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / Sports Shooter

Placing cameras into rollers or camera bags grip side up might save you some grief with a careless baggage handler. Also using a padded camera pouch (pictured a Nikon D300 in a LensCoat BodyBag) adds some protection.
As far as packing gear into your roller, Ron Taniwaki from Nikon Professional Services gave me a few tips:
• Place your cameras into the roller GRIP side up
• Use those extra padded dividers that you're not using to form a flap over the tops of the slots in your roller to add some cushion and protection
• If you have lens wraps or camera pouches, USE THEM. The more shock absorbing protection you can use, the better
• Have a small jeweler's screwdriver handy because vibration eventually loosens screws on lenses and camera mounts (and be careful using Loctite!)

We all know that the airlines industry is in bad shape, with most carriers grounding aircraft, laying off employees, cutting back on routes and nickel & diming passengers to death with new fees for checking bags.

Since February, I have been stranded twice by airlines, which had only happened once before in 20 years of working for USA TODAY. The first instance, I was stranded in New Orleans because US Air was short flight crews that day. The second time it was Black Tuesday, the day American Airlines grounded all of its MD-80 aircraft.

I've been charged various excess baggage fees from $25 (United for one over their limit) to $125 (for two over on Continental).

I've listen to a flight crew complain loudly about how much they hate their jobs while riding a hotel shuttle van to the airport.

I've found half-eaten sandwiches, wads of chewing gum, broken toys, a porno DVD, a shoe with a broken high heel and spilled contact lens solution in the seat pouch.

I will admit that not all of my flights the past couple of years have been horrible ordeals, it just a shame that the bad incidents far outnumber the good.

While standing in a massive line at security screening at Denver International a couple of weeks ago, I thought about what the frequent traveler should do to cut down on the hassles and time it takes to get from the terminal to the gate:
• Wear nice baggy, comfortable pajamas with a drawstring instead of regular clothing, so you don't have to remove a belt or have metal buttons set off the magnetometer.
• Have slippers on your feet instead of shoes, especially shoes with laces or boots. (Better yet, wear those paper booties they use in hospitals over your socks instead of shoes.)
• Carry only credit cards to use when you have to buy something so you never have any loose change on you.
• Use double-sided tape to attach your driver's license to your forehead so the TSA can confirm your ID at a glance …and you won't lose it in the process.

You know, since you're dressed for bed, just sleep in and forget about flying to that assignment…you'll have less stress and live longer.

* * *

The Beijing Summer Olympic Games are about 45 days away and this issue of Sports Shooter features several articles that will be informative and helpful to those covering the World's biggest sporting event and those that are not. Frank Folwell makes his Sports Shooter debut with an exhaustive look at Beijing and the Olympics, while Asian-based photographer David McIntyre contributes his personal insight into China.

Dan Powers and George Bridges contribute this month's "In The Bag" and "Photographer's Toy Box" respectively on gear for the Olympics.

SI's Robert Beck writes that the recent U.S. Open is "the best" event that he has ever covered.

Matt Mendelsohn tackles this month's question in "Ask Sports Shooter" while Vincent Laforet rants about the state of the photography business and the economy.

The "Sports Shooter Conversation" returns with a Q & A about covering the NBA Finals with the Los Angeles Times' Wally Skalij. Matt Miller of the Omaha World - Herald gives us the lowdown on covering the College World Series (Editors Note: YEA BULDOGS!)

Kim Komenich ponders our profession after a visit to a Lee Friedlander retrospective.

A couple of internal Sports Shooter notes: Welcome to Adorama the new sponsor of the Student Photographer of the Year Contest and "welcome back" to Jeff Snyder. The upcoming Sports Shooter Academy Boot Camp has added Dave Honl and Mike Goulding to the faculty … and yes, there is still room in this workshop.

* * *

On the nightstand is Bangkok Haunts John Burdett's third installment of the entertaining escapades of Thai police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep and Too Close To Call by Jeffrey Toobin. Big Blue Ball Peter Gabriel's tribute to world music is on heavy rotation on iTunes.

As always, thanks to Special Advisors & Contributors: Deanna & Emma Hanashiro, Brad Mangin, Rod Mar, Trent Nelson, Jason Burfield, Grover Sanschagrin, Joe Gosen, Paul Myers and Bob Deutsch.

Thanks this month to: Frank Folwell, David McIntyre, Robert Beck, Vincent Laforet, Matt Mendelsohn, George Bridges, Dan Powers and Wally Skalij.

I welcome any comments, corrections, suggestions and contributions. Please e-mail me at

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