The first time I took my camera tripod on an airplane as carry-on luggage I was terrified. What airport security is going to confiscate it? What about the airline staff at the boarding gate? Or at the door of the plane?
Not one of them said a thing because-with some caveats-flying with your tripod is okay. Let's look at the situation.
Is a Tripod Legal Carry On?
The TSA does not give a damn about your tripod.
Now that comes with a major caveat: everything is at the discretion of the TSA officer at meet you. They're pretty broad to confiscate anything they want, even if it's technically on the approved list. If you're bringing your grandad's ancient two-meter long wooden tripod with you or just like it to ass, then all bets are off.
The TSA is also just the security provider at American airports.
Does a Tripod Fit In Your Baggage?
Just because the TSA has let you through the security screening does not mean your tripod is on the plane yet; the airline still has to let you on. And this step is trickier.
Skyscanner has a good summary and different levels of enforcement of the rules.
This is not a universal book when it comes to getting your tripod on the plane. In general, if your tripod and bag are combined-whether your tripod is bagged or strapped to the outside and come under the maximum dimensions and weight limits, you are not going to have any issues.
The majority of the time I've flown with my tripod, it's been strapped on the outside of a bag that fits the maximum allowed carry-on dimensions. My tripod usually falls within the limits of what airlines call a "small bag," "personal item," or "laptop / handbag" if I needed it. In around 20 flights, there has been an issue.
Now, there's one big thing to note here: I'm flying with our sister site's favorite collapsible carbon fiber tripod. The MeFOTO Road Trip folds down to just 15.4 "long and weighs 3.1 lbs. While it's still a tripod strapped to the side of my bag and it's the smallest tripod you can buy it's not obnoxiously oversized and easily fits in the luggage racks.
Tips for Flying With a Tripod
If you're going to fly with a tripod in your carry-on baggage,
- I've only really read this in passing so far.
- Pay for early boarding: If you're traveling with your camera gear, it's always a good idea to get on the plane as early as possible.
- Be nice: A smile and a friendly man walking along the way with an airline staff. Do not be that passenger and they'll go out of their way to help you. On the other hand: Flying with camera gear is tricky. It's expensive and delicate, but so heavy. You're almost always going to the lines of what's allowed by the airline's policies. Have a bit of respect for your fellow travelers and just think about your actions. If you're bringing too much stuff, you should really check it in.
It's worth bringing with you. The good news is that you can follow the airline's baggage rules.