A wildlife photography enthusiast I know told me just a few months ago, he was told air travelers could carry their tripod on the outside of their photography bag on the plane with no problem.
Another traveler told me that the weight limits on carry-on luggage doesn't apply if it's all photography gear.
Each of those statements are myths. Some may have some truth in them, but generally, none are true.
Myth 1: In addition to your carry-on bag, and a personal item you're allowed a third carry-on bag for your photo gear. – It's not true.
On the TSA website many photographers have found the quotation, “You may carry one (1) bag of photographic equipment in addition to one (1) carry-on and one (1) personal item through the screening checkpoint.” Those same photographers apparently failed to read, “Please confirm your air carrier's restrictions prior to arriving at the airport,” at the end of the same photograph.
Whether TSA permits the extra bag for photographic gear through TSA security, is almost irrelevant. The restrictions the airlines impose on carry-ons are the ones which count. There might be an exception somewhere in the world, but I know of no scheduled airline which permits more than one carry-on bag and one personal item. That's even in first class. In some cases, you might not even be permitted both.
On many US domestic regional jets, the airlines require the carry-on bag to be gate checked. Only the personal item may be actually carried into the airplane, so you should place all valuable and breakable photographic gear in your personal item.The photographic gear exception to the one carry-on and one personal item is that the airlines generally permit passengers to carry a camera with lens on to the plane separately, not in one of their two carry-on items. I've never been refused this.
Myth 2: The airlines have no weight restrictions on photographic carry-on bags. – It's not true.
While many airlines, especially US domestic airlines, generally don't enforce their carry-on weight restrictions, many other airlines fully enforce their carry-on weight restrictions. Sometimes a US domestic airline gate agent will enforce them for a particular passenger, if antagonized.
Traveling on BMI from Manchester to Edinburgh the airline weighed each and every carry-on bag and personal item, and forced many passengers to check in carry-on bags, which could be a disaster for bags containing photographic equipment.
I wear a photographer's vest when traveling for its convenience, and to act as a third carry-on, if necessary. I have carried photo gear in my vest, into the plane, when necessary, to permit my carry-ons to meet airline weight restrictions, and permit me to have necessary equipment while traveling.Myth 3: If photographic equipment in your checked-in or gate checked luggage is lost, or damaged the airlines will reimburse you for your loss. – It's not true.
Every airline with which I'm familiar specifically refuses any liability for valuable and breakable items, and electronic gear, in your luggage. It's in their contract of carriage.
Note: the actual limit on liability is much lower than most passengers believe. US Airways, for example, limits their total liability for lost or damaged baggage and their contents to $3,300 per passenger on domestic flights, and about $1,800 per passenger on international flights. Neither would cover the cost of a prosumer DSLR with lens.Myth 4: According to TSA, there are no specific restrictions on bringing tripods or monopods as carry-on. – This is true, but, practically speaking, there are tripod/monopod restrictions as carry-on.
Monopods, not packed in your carry-on bag, or personal item usually will be considered the same as a baseball bat, and like the bat will be prohibited as a carry-on.
Tripods or monopods with spiked feet will be rejected from being brought into the cabin.
If you attach a tripod or monopod to the outside of a carry-on, and it's longer than the carry-on, where attached, its length will be used to determine if the carry-on is within the airline's linear dimensional restriction. If the restriction is exceeded, neither the tripod, monopod, or carry-on bag will be permitted in the cabin.
If you carry your tripod or monopod separately, cased or not, it will be considered to be either your carry-on or personal item, meaning you could only bring in one additional bag as carry-on into the plane.
To bring a tripod or monopod on the plane, I suggest packing it in your carry-on bag, if it will fit, or in your checked-in luggage.
Myth 5: Your camera equipment is safe in the overhead bin of your plane during your flight. – It's not true.
Most air passengers assume anything they carry into the plane, once on board, is safe, but that's a bad assumption.
I lock my carry-on and personal item if placed in the overhead bin of any flight I'm on. I enclose my camera equipment backpack in a PacSafe bag protector. This keeps the wandering fingers of passengers and crew out of my bag.
About a year ago, there was a celebrated case of a famous actor's son arrested upon landing, at Philadelphia International, for stealing valuables, including cameras, out of passengers' bags stowed in the overhead bin. He picked through passengers' carry-ons while they slept on the long night flight. This isn't an isolated incident.