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Travel Warning: Don't Pack a Pelican

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#1 cmm1970


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Posted 18 April 2005 - 12:37 PM

I just returned from Bonaire. It was a mixed week of diving with a story I wanted to share.

In the last year, I assembled two DSLR rigs. One Aquatica S2 and the other a Sea and Sea DX-70. Both had dual Inon storbes and the works. Following the lead of many posters here on the board and that of the agent who sold me the Aquatica rig, I packed them carefully in Pelican 1610 cases. I put no camera or scuba related stickers on the cases and I secured them with TSA approved locks.

We departed last Saturday for Bonaire on American Airlines. We laid over in San Jaun and then flew via Turbo prop the next day. This overnight was the usual unexpected delay. Our bags did not make it to Bonaire until the following evening. All four bags made it, but one Pelican case had its lock cut and had been cherry picked for the housing, gears, and ports. OK, so we still had one rig to use in Bonaire and had a pretty good time.

We left for Austin the following Sunday and our bags did not make the connection in Dallas. When they were delivered today, guess what? Both Pelican cases made it home, but the Aquatica rig was no longer in the case nor were the ports, gears, or strobes.

This has made me very sad to say the least. Most of it was insured, but that still does not make it OK. I wanted you all to hear this story because I feel certain that the "expensive nature" of things enclosed in Pelican cases made these high value targets in the San Juan airport. Be warned if you are traveling with your rigs in one of these cases. They must scream "TAKE ME, I can be sold on eBay".

For future flights, once we have recovered from this theft and reassembled our kits, we will not be packing in Pelicans. I will be carrying my housing on the flight along with my lenses and computer. What else can you do?

I hope this helps some of you not experience the loss that I did in the last week. Sherri and I are devastated at the total lack of security and regard the airlines have for their passengers that pay thousands of dollars to fly with them.

Best regards all,

#2 kdietz



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Posted 18 April 2005 - 12:51 PM

Yikes....I hate to hear stories like this.....makes me appreciate all the trips I've made without a hitch.....guess it can happen to anyone at anytime

Thanks for the heads up

Karl Dietz...Nikon D200...Ikelite iTTL housing...10.5mm...15mm FE...12-24mm...17-35mm...60mm micro...105mm micro...dual DS-200's

#3 james


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Posted 18 April 2005 - 01:20 PM

Man, that is terrible! Not only did you have adventures in travel, missing flights and luggage, but to have stuff stolen right out of your locked boxes :-(

Not to go on a rant here, but it seems like AA is always having problems like this. I haven't had anything stolen yet and I try to avoid flying AA if I can.

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#4 Detonate


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Posted 18 April 2005 - 01:37 PM

Ouch. That really sucks.

I use one of the Storm Cases that is made to fit in a carry-on size compartment. I pack my housing, strobes, ports in there. And then I have a Camerea/Laptop backpack for my camera bodies and lenses.

Just be prepared for long delays in the security line after they X-ray your storm case. :/

#5 SeaDogDiver


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Posted 18 April 2005 - 02:47 PM

I'm really sorry to hear about your experience!

Beyond your personal loss, what makes me really upset is what a one-way street this seems to be with the airlines. We all need to play by the rules and submit to all the security, but the airlines cannot maintain security over their own employees. Seems that we can't walk in witout several checks, but employees are able to walk out with things that don't belong to them!!

A sad comentary on an industry!

#6 anthp



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Posted 18 April 2005 - 03:04 PM


Seems like there isn't really much you can do except take out insurance, and as james suggests - perhaps not fly AA!

Thanks for the warning.
Anthony Plummer
"It's much better down there... It's a better place..." Enzo, Le Grand Bleu.

#7 karenp



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Posted 18 April 2005 - 09:47 PM

That is really unfortunate! There's nothing more infuriating and devastating than having equipment stolen out of locked bags.

I have always struggled with checking my pelican case - I can carry it on but this means I'm also carrying on my regulator, DSLR camera and lenses plus my flight amenities. This makes for *very* heavy carryon without wheels.

One thing I have done is that I put my pelican case inside another suitcase and use clothing to fill in any gaps. While this won't deter someone who may open my bag, it at least doesn't call attention to itself from the get go. This of course is not secure and I don't stop fretting about it until I actually pick up my bags.

Having good insurance will help take the sting out of it but it's always an inconvenience. Interesting that people have had bad experiences with AA. I fly them almost exclusively and have not had any issues yet...

I'm traveling to Hawaii next month on American so I will think very carefully about how to pack my gear for this trip. Thanks for sharing.

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#8 cmm1970


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Posted 19 April 2005 - 02:06 AM

In all honesty, I think the problem was with the staff of American Eagle in the San Juan airport. Too much conincidence that one camera was stolen on the flight there and one was stolen on the flight back. It is almost like they were looking for the second case when it came back through.

#9 yahsemtough


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Posted 19 April 2005 - 05:55 AM

Man, that sucks. I would go balistic on the airline. They tell you that you can't lock your stuff now for search but it is a smorg for theives in the back.

Watch EBAY maybe it will show up.
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#10 cmm1970


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Posted 19 April 2005 - 07:20 AM

Both Pelican cases had TSA approved locks. They were removed. Either cut or the operator had a key. Bottom line is that if they decide they want it, they get it.


#11 Starbuck


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Posted 19 April 2005 - 07:37 AM

Wow. Thanks for posting. I just bought a storm case to travel with to Indonesia but I think Im just gonna pack like I ususally do. One pelican and one tamrac computer backpack in the overheads holding 2 d70's..

I've had problems with other airlines and late luggage.. I dont think it is airline specific but airport specific. My wife and I have noticed big problems with certain carriers at certain hubs.....and now try to avoid them.

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#12 timing


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Posted 19 April 2005 - 07:43 AM

This really sucks. Why not have a list of suspect airports / airports that you avoid / have had troubles? Of course, given our litigious times this may not be allowable.

#13 CeeDave


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Posted 19 April 2005 - 08:33 AM

Sorry to hear of your bad news.

When I use my Pelican case, it travels inside my dive duffle, wrapped in neoprene. Of course, TSA and others can still find it, and I could still suffer a loss -- but it does make it scream "steal me" a bit less.

Chris White
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#14 scubag


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Posted 19 April 2005 - 09:46 AM

Sorry to hear of your losses,

I fly with American at least 20 flights a year, and up until quite recently, I flew through San Juan to St Croix on a regular basis. I've never had a loss. The only difference is that I never check my cameras and housings. The cameras go into a Lowepro soft shoulder bag and the housings, ports, strobes and laptop etc go into a wheeled carry on bag that fits in the overhead compartment. The only things I check in are clothes and my beat to hell looking (but perfectly serviced and working) dive gear.


#15 JackConnick



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Posted 19 April 2005 - 10:46 AM

A friend of mine years ago used to pack his gear into a cooler and paint red crosses on it with large stencils: "Human Transplant Organs. Do not open or delay".

Or the old asia travelers' trick: Pack you expensive items inside a duffle wrapped by all your most smelly clothes and underwear!

But seriously, sorry for your loss. I hope you ream AA a good one, maybe if they know about the loss they can do something about it. A polite, but firm, letter asking for compensation above and beyond insurance might net you a travel voucher or something.

I think the days of checking Pelicans is over for me. They do make a new one that just meets airline rules and has wheels. But I think the LoewPro, soft baggage carry-on is the way to go.


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#16 Alex_Mustard


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Posted 19 April 2005 - 12:19 PM

What a horrible story, Mike.

I do hope that you give the airline a hard time and get compensation.

During the last two years I have twice had my aluminium case (similar in size to a Pelican) go missing on flights when my other bag - a big green holdall has come through.

Finally at the beginning of this year I decided that the ali box attracted far too much attention and now my housing, ports and strobes travel in a hard plastic suitcase - that looks like everyone elses. May not be as strong as a pelican or an ali box. But I am hoping that it won't attract the attention either.

After reading your story I am glad that I have.


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#17 cmm1970


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Posted 19 April 2005 - 12:39 PM

I planned to adopt your strategy entirely. I love the cool look and bullet proof nature of the Pelican, Storm, and Aliminum cases, but they attract too much attention.

#18 fforbes


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Posted 19 April 2005 - 03:37 PM

Some airports are notorious for theft. A few months ago 5 TSA agents were arrested for stealing cameras and jewelry from checked bags at Ft. Lauderdale airport, and the 5 ratted on several more TSA agents.

Hiding stuff in old clothes etc doesn't work too well any more, TSA xrays all the checked bags, especially the "heavy metal" bags.

It infuriates me that the airlines & airports get away with next to no liability for property that is in their care, custody, and control. If they were legally liable for the thefts, they would monitor the baggage areas with cameras. As it is, it's not their problem so too bad for you. I can't stuff all my gear in 2 carry-ons, I just worry the whole trip and open up the cases on the spot as they come off the carosel.

BTW, it was no cooincidence that your luggage was delayed and then jacked. They needed time to move your bag to a place where they could paw through it. It really sucks, and you have no recourse.

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#19 AnthonyC



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Posted 19 April 2005 - 03:45 PM

Greetings from rainy Sydney. Sorry to hear of your loss, that is a terrible way to start and finish a trip. Personally I have travelled all over the Pacific using Pelicans and never had a problem - PNG, Vanuatu, Fiji & the Solomons. Although I did take care to scrub the large "SEA & SEA" logo that screamed "open me" when I took delivery of one of my Pelicans.

I couldn't help but wonder after reading this thread yesterday because immediately before my daily dose of WetPixel I had just finished my daily eBay sweep and found the following item for auction that seemed to be listed for a pretty cheap price... particularly the "Buy it Now" option.


I found it very co-incidental and don't mean to cast aspersions on what may be a legitimate sell, but as per above I couldn't help but wonder upon reading of a stolen Aquat / S2 / Inon in your thread here so soon after looking at a pretty cheap (and just listed) Aquat / S2 / Inon on eBay... <_<

Hope you are back into a replacement rig soon.

#20 octopus



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Posted 19 April 2005 - 05:22 PM

Sorry to hear about losses both ways. It might be something to do with San Juan. I flew through with a group of friends last year to and from Bonaire. Two different friends were traveling with checked Pelican bags one with dive gear and the other with a video rig. When we arrived back in San Francisco, neither was latched correctly and in the case of the video gear things were every which way. Luckily nothing was stolen, but an immediate complaint to AA about the condition of the luggage was met with a 'it is the fault of the TSA employees not us' attitude.

Hope all turns out well for you.