I just didn't want to pay their $15 per checked bag fee–that's each way–for a photo/interview trip to Napa. What to do? Then I recalled reading somewhere that photographers could carry their camera bag on board in addition to the one carry one and one personal item.
A not-so-quick check of the TSA web site confirmed it was true. Just in case, I also called Alaska Airlines to find that their policy also allowed the extra camera bag if TSA allowed. We're covered.
Here's the exact wording from the TSA web site: "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. The additional bag must conform to your air carrier's carry-on restrictions for size and weight. Please confirm your air carrier's restrictions prior to arriving at the airport.
Air carriers may or may not allow the additional carry-on item on their aircraft. Please check with your air carrier prior to arriving at the airport."
(Those of you lawyer types probably noted that the bold wording allows the airline to over ride the TSA rules. So be prudent. Check with your airline customer service, who I have found to have no clue so default to TSA rules. Although I didn't get the Alaska/Horizon Airline special photographer's baggage policy in writing, it might not hurt to do so.)
Now I felt confident in my ability to circumvent the baggage fee. So I jammed my tripod and underwear into a borrowed carry on-sized suitcase (Alaska allows 10"X17"X24"), packed my camera gear into my well-padded Tamarc backpack (Alaska allows up to 10"X17"X24"), put my MacBook Pro and paper work into my personal-sized laptop case and dutifully marched for the security line.
No problem through security. But at the gate, the Horizon representative carefully counted my three bags. Almost in disbelief at the results of her count, she informed me: "You are only allowed one carry one and one personal item."
Ah, with the elegant manners of a French diplomat, I replied–three times–my TSA and Alaska Airlines findings. "I even have it in writing."
"Let me see," the gate keeper demanded, yanking the paper from my hand.
After reading the printed TSA web site statement, the representative attached a bright orange tag to my bag. This was my all-clear pass, indicating that I could bring this extra photo-equipment bag on board. She then thanked me for educating her and the handful of other curious gate personnel who had gathered.
Napa here I come.