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  • Using Locks on Pelican cases when shipping UPS

  • todd mcmullen

    September 21, 2012 at 2:43 pm

    If shipping ground can you use locks on pelican cases for gear?
    Seems to be some varied opinions on this.

    Todd McMullen
    Flip Flop Films

  • Bill Davis

    September 21, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    My last 10 flights with gear have resulted in my collecting no fewer than six TSA “we’ve inspected this bag” flyers tucked into my stuff.

    It always makes me feel kinda sorry for the poor inspector that had to dig under my layers of devices, power supplies, cables and grip gear trying to figure out which if any might be something dangerous.

    The stuff we typically carry – batteries, complex electronic circuits, long stick like shapes via tripod legs – all of this make a video shooter’s luggage sensibly suspect.

    So I expect inspection. And have come to realize that the traveling model for me has changed.

    Personally, I don’t use locks at all anymore. The absolutely “mission critical” stuff I carry with me on the plane. The checked stuff is all gear that if required, I could go to a local camera store and replace in an hour, if necessary. So what’s the actual point of locking the case?

    If I’m going to a small or suspect place, I’ll use a TSA approved lock, but generally not.

    It’s just stuff. And today, it’s mostly stuff that can be replaced fairly quickly in any medium to large city in the US (which is where I tend to shoot.)

    If I was doing wildlife videos and working in smaller places or away from civilization, I’d likely feel much differently. But for my corporate video practice, centered on major airports with lots of eyeballs watching the entire professional handling baggage chain, I suspect my traveling equipment theft risk is pretty small.


    “Before speaking out ask yourself whether your words are true, whether they are respectful and whether they are needed in our civil discussions.”-Justice O’Connor

  • todd mcmullen

    September 22, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    Makes perfect sense Bill

    Todd McMullen
    Flip Flop Films

  • Todd Terry

    September 23, 2012 at 12:15 am

    Hey fellow Todd…

    I feel exactly the same way as Bill does, when flying with gear. I won’t put locks on checked cases, but I’ll put tie-wraps. If TSA wants to cut them off, that’s fine. But I never check the irreplaceables, though… for example, I carry on my lil case of primes. It’s small enough… and worth more than all the other gear put together.

    You asked about ground shipping, though. Yes, we sometimes put small locks on Pelican and similar cases when ground shipping… but tape them down good with gaffer tape so they don’t flop around.

    That being said, though, obviously it won’t keep anyone from stealing the contents, if someone wants it they’ll just take the whole case. That thief is probably even thanking Pelican for the convenient fold-away handle to make it easy… and for the bigger ones, even wheels.

    It’s a crap shoot.


    Todd Terry
    Creative Director
    Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.

  • Nick Griffin

    September 23, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    Whenever I have to fly with gear I take the camera, with our wide zoom attached, as carry on. On the few occasions it’s been necessary to check gear I haven’t bothered with the locking wire ties because the stuff that’s being checked (sticks, lights, stands, matte box with rails, etc) is unlikely to have much value to would-be thieves, so why make it look like it should? What worries me is the FSI field monitor because that does have some visual appeal, even if I doubt a casual observer would ever guess that what appears to be a 17″ TV could be worth nearly $3k. But that’s what insurance is for* and why we now have a 7″ FSI that can fit in the camera case.

    Having a camera as carry on is why I always pay extra for early boarding so I get onto the plane while there’s overhead bin space. Imagine being told that “because your bag won’t fit it will have to be checked by a flight attendant as regular luggage.” Don’t know who’s insurance will pay for a camera broken under those circumstances and hope I never have to find out.

    Far more often in the past few years, now that so many airlines have hefty bag check fees, we FedEx gear ahead (all but the camera) to the place we’re going to shoot and avoid having to schlep it through the airport in the first place. The cost is nearly the same or just a little bit more. AND, getting back to what I believe was posed as the original question, I ALWAYS secure Pelican cases and shipping tubes with wire ties and this has never been a problem with FedEx. Don’t know about UPS because we’ve had such bad luck with them on other things I greatly prefer FedEx.

    There’s also an entirely different approach we’ve taken to travel lately. A few years ago we started expanding the range considered acceptable for driving. When adding the cost of two airline seats — to the aforementioned shipping costs — to the cost for the rental car, SUV or van at the other end — it actually takes less time and is more convenient for us to drive to locations 5 or 6 hours away. Add to that billing clients the standard IRS mileage rate of $0.505 per mile and driving becomes an even better choice. I do phone calls while my producer partner works on his laptop.

    [Todd Terry] “It’s a crap shoot.”

    *- As I said, that’s what insurance is for.

  • Chris Tompkins

    September 24, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    Ya, I recently drove 8 hours for a gig. Would have to be farther to justify flying.

    Needed lighting and audio, did not want to bother with the flight and it was actually only a couple of hours longer then the quicker and more hassle route. And I had all my gear with me in the car.

    Chris Tompkins
    Video Atlanta LLC

  • Richard Herd

    September 25, 2012 at 10:17 pm

    Are you worried about theft or opens?

    For theft, there’s not much you can do.
    For opens, you can use nuts and bolts.

    I used to work for UPS when I was much younger, loading package cars. One of my drivers had a Guitar Center on his route and I’d load him up with all kinds of really expensive stuff, with brand names: Gibson, Roland, Sure. The facility was so well lit and well accounted, and we worked so fast under a supervisor’s ungodly pace, there’s almost no time or opportunity for theft.

  • Martha O’Grady

    July 1, 2013 at 5:23 pm

    Given the high cost of baggage on the airlines, I’m thinking of shipping gear via Federal Express instead. Does anyone have any pro or con experience on the topic? Thanks!

  • Kevin Prange

    June 29, 2018 at 3:06 pm

    I know you posted this a long time ago. What did you end up doing? I had tried TSA approved locks on Pelican cases when shipping by UPS and found that they were easily damaged by the shipping process. I had to have one cut off when I returned because it was so damaged that I couldn’t turn the tumblers. I went to zip ties instead. I figured I wouldn’t be able to stop a thief, but 1) it adds an extra step they have to take, 2) if the zip tie is missing on arrival and gear is missing, I then have evidence that someone within the shipping chain was responsible.

    Anyways, would love to know what your solution was.

    Kevin Prange
    NAED, St. Louis, MO

  • Patrick Ortman

    July 1, 2018 at 6:51 pm

    I am on an airplane at least twice a month. Here’s what I do:

    – Pack your camera and your lenses in one carryon (if possible).
    – Pack your batteries in another, along with media and laptop.

    Then Pelican Air cases. Add TSA locks to them. They are cheap enough to pay for when the odd one is broken or “misplaced” by TSA.

    Overall, TSA does their best, and I’ve had a lot of really great connections with them talking about celebrities and fun on set. But I definitely noticed a reduction in “I swear we packed that” once the locks went on.

    I’d go FedEx but… in my world, things change really fast. So putting it in baggage is perfectly fine.

    Oh, and of course bring your proof of being media with you, to get that important media rate service.

    Los Angeles and New York video production for businesses and brands:

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