This morning I was woken up at 4am by someone hammering on my front door. I was ecstatic. Why?
Because the guy who was banging 7 shades out of my door, was also carrying my pelican case full of flash equipment that I had last seen at Queenstown airport in New Zealand 4 days ago. If you own and travel with an Elinchrom Ranger (or similar batery powered flash) then you would be advised to read on.
Let’s face it, if you put a Ranger through an x-ray scanner at an airport , it’s going to trigger some alarms. And so it should, a metal box full of wires wrapped around something resembling a car battery. I’d be worried if airport security didnt want to have a closer look at it. When flying though most countries, baggage security agents will open up your case, have a quick look at it, swab it for bomb making substances and then send it on its way. In case you are unfortunate enough to have an agent who has not seen a flash battery system before, its always advisable to include a copy of the manual for the Ranger clearly visible in the case.
You can download a copy of the manual from this link : HERE
On the font of the manual I write a quick note saying that the IATA specifications are located on page 4 of the manual. These specifications state that the Ranger battery meets all the necessary standards to be deemed a non-dangerous goods item by IATA providing that the 30amp fuse is removed from the battery and the battery stored separately from the Ranger.
Sometimes security agents get especially freaked out by the words “lead acid battery” written on the side of the battery case. It is in fact a Sealed Lead Acid Battery that does meet all the necessary requirements for air travel but I have had the batteries confiscated in the past at Auckland airport because the security personnel were not willing to listen to me. In that situation I returned home with everything apart from the battery and then contacted Elinchrom for a suggestion. They pointed me to a separate letter from a Panasonic engineer that specifically stated the specs for the actual battery inside the battery box.
You can download this letter: HERE
I provided the agents at Auckland airport with this letter and they returned my battery. Keep a copy of this letter along with the Ranger manual inside your case.
So far I have flown to many different places with my Ranger and these 2 printed items have done the trick. But a few days ago I experienced more trouble traveling through Auckland airport. My bag was checked through to Vancouver via Auckland when I left Queenstown. My flight to Auckland was delayed and there was only a matter of minutes between landing there, and taking off again on my way to Vancouver. I was already on the plane which was about to pull away from the gate when an Air New Zealand representative came running down the aisle looking for me. I was dragged off the plane (in front of 300 pairs of glaring eyes) and was told that my bag had caused a level 4 security alert. No problem I told them, i know why and you can find the IATA specification for the offending item inside the case.
Now hear lies the problem because as it turns out, the passenger HAS to be present in New Zealand for the case to be opened. They could not read the info I had provided because they were not allowed to open the case unless I was there. At this point the plane was late and costing them a fortune in ground fees. My case was somewhere on the other side of the airport in a secure room. If they left it there, it could not be opened if I left, but if i went to open it the full 747 of people would be even later. And it was already 10 minutes late having waited for me to arrive on my connection from Queenstown.
Now in the end I talked them through exactly what it was in the case and sent the keys to the lock off with an Air NZ rep who went and opened it herself after many phone calls and frantic radio conversations. How could this have been avoided? Apparently if I had also carried a copy of the specifications with me in my hand-luggage and ALSO given a copy to the check-in agent ( who would have attached a note to the outside of the case) then this could have been avoided. They ended up sending me on the flight without my case, which finally arrived, as i mentioned last night.
I had always assumed that my case would opened by security and that the specs in the case would solve all problems. I dont know how many countries have similar regulations to New Zealand but in the future I will be travelling with a huge stack of these letters linked above and I suggest you do the same. Sitting on the other side of the world wandering if your precious cargo will ever safely make it back to you is not a nice feeling…..
Thanks for this post. I’m leaving NZ (Queenstown) tomorrow and always have trouble getting out of NZ with the Ranger. Getting here is never a drama, just leaving with it!
I lost my copy of the Panasonic letter and spent hours trying to find it online before leaving home.
Also your advice to give copies to the check-in agent and also keep copies in hand luggage is something I hadn’t considered.
No probs my man. Hope it goes smoother than my journey!!
Thanks Dan. This is some good stuff.
What’s with the requirement that the battery be stored separately from the ranger? I usually travel with my ranger battery in my carry-on for the sole purpose of reducing weight and keeping the rest of my ranger kit under 50 pounds. But I’ve been considering paying the fee and keeping them together. Do you put the battery in a separate bag?
Yeah all i do is take it out and put it in a separate compartment inside the bag. I think thats ok, i think the main thing is that its not plugged into the ranger. You never had any trouble taking the battery in the plane then as carry on?
No trouble at all. I haven’t taken it outside the US, though. My carry-on camera bag ALWAYS gets additional screening with the swabbing and bomb-sniffing machines, but I’ve never been asked about the battery. I gaff-tape the fuse to the outside of the battery compartment, and all is good.
What’s the deal with locking luggage these days in various areas of the world? I thought locks weren’t allowed (in the US at least) in case a search was required but you said your case was locked. If this had all happened elsewhere would they have just busted the lock open?
Yeah you can lock them, but they have to be the TSA approved locks. They have a key that opens all the TSA locks and the locks have a special symbol on them to denote that they are those type of lock.
Amazing, I have just returned from NZ… was about to board my plane in Auckland back to Vancouver when the gate agent calls my name and says “What is in your pelican case??” I kindly explained it was a Camera Flash, and that I had been travelling with said flash for over 2 years flying with no problems, it was completely legit, safe, and certified. She then states that the only way it is safe is if it is a Panasonic battery… I say, hmmmm yes I think it might be – knowing full well that it may not be, but might be the only chance I have at getting on my flight.. Bingo – that was the correct guess.
I will have my manual in the case from now on.
Hah that’s crazy man, i’m sure that being a Panasonic battery has nothing to do with it. Maybe they kept a copy of my letter from the panasonic engineer that i gave them though. hah you just never know with them.
Thanks for advice, Dan. Up till now I never placed a copy of the manual with Ranger pack. I usually keep it with my cameras manuals in laptop case. Good advice.
You’re welcome Tatiana. Thanks for reading the blog!
Thanks so much for this – I’m buying a Ranger as we speak for international usage – I’ll take this information and gat copies of the information fixxed to outside of my flight case
Wow, Glad I found your post. About to travel with a Ranger Quadra. Will print out the manual, etc. THANK YOU !!!
Matthew, the links i included above are for the Ranger RX not the quadra, here is a link to the Quadra manual download. http://www.fotoflits.com/produkten/pdf/brochures/RQ-manual-EN.pdf
PS . great Tea photos on your site. going to be a very nice book!
Many thanks for all the effort to put this all up!!
At the moment I am renting Elinchrom gear and I am absolutely in love in the quality of light and the gear itself – hope i will buy set in near future.
Big Thanks for all the videos on Vimeo – they are very helpful!
Very informative. I’m planning of getting a ranger quadra but wondering what kind of hazzle i might get. Good to know to have this letters and documents. Thanks to this blog of yours 🙂
Well. i just flew from continental US to Europe , and then to Russia.
My Quadra heads went in carry-on, and batteries + power center went in luggage. No extra calls were made (as in no major freak out in airports), except that my RX power center is broken now – its not detecting B channel at all (heads are ok, cables are ok, i checked). Doesnt make me feel any good about EL or TSA, seeing that i got workshop to run in 2 days, and there is no repair centers for EL in Siberia, where i am right now..
Wow that is not good. I assume they left a TSA “calling card” in your case ?
I have to say too that I have a quadra system here right now to test and review and so far, in general I am not so impressed with the build quality compared to my Ranger RX. So potentially something might have come loose in your pack….
Thanks for this post, it was great in preparing to fly with a Ranger. I also contacted Mark Astmann from the US Bogen (Manfrotto & Elinchrom) group about documentation.
I recently travelled from the US to Europe with a Ranger RX AS. I removed the battery and taped the removed fuse onto it.
On top of that was the manual (with page 4 – with the IATA confirmation – highlighted and post-it-noted), a battery specifications sheet from Panasonic, a letter to the TSA explaining what it was, plus an FAA leaflet about batteries. It still got confiscated from my checked baggage and in it’s place the standard ‘your bag was inspected by the TSA’ leaflet. The unit itself and the Freelite head were still there.
I’m still waiting for a reply from TSA but I doubt very much if anything will come of it. No word so far.
I shudder to think what might have been confiscated had I left the battery slotted in the Ranger itself…
Wow are you serious ? They took it ?!! Without contacting you first? I would be beating down the door with a letter from my lawyer. I can’t believe they didnt even call you to the gate to discuss it. Which airport was this at ?
Nothing. I found out when I arrived at my destination.
Washington Dulles (IAD)
Of course I have tried to contact the TSA about this, no answer so far 10 days later.
Thanks for this post! I am planning on traveling with my ranger, but I live in Argentina and I have to travel to Chile, the thing is that the main issue isn’t the documentation, but the roberies that take place on airports. Has anyone had any experience with traveling in South America?
Try this : https://dancarrphotography.com/2012/04/10/travel-tip-traveling-with-pelican-cases/
Otherwise….. just make sure you have insurance !
I’ll try that. I have a couple of vanguard cases. I’ll see what I can do and let you know. BTW, do you have insurance on your equipment?
Oh yes! You MUST get insurance as well. Preferably from a photo insurance specialist because then they have provisions for rental equipment if your gear gets lost or stolen
Dan, great post, but allow me to shed some light as I have a lot of experience with this!
The IATA approvals and the material Safety Data Sheets and battery manufacturer notifcation of Non-Dangerous Goods you can get online are misleading. There is a massic misconception that these documents mean that you can take these battiries on a plan for air travel. YES you can take them on a plane, a Cargo plane. They are approved for air travel by cargo, but they are not approved for air travel on a commercial passenger plane. I spent hours and hours talking to Virgin, Qantas, Air NZ, CASA, the Airports, and the 3rd Party Security Screening Companies to find out everything.
Have a read of the post I created to document all this and happy Flying! http://www.brodiebutler.com/travelling-elinchrom-batteries-australia/