Recently, the folks at Think Tank Photo sent our writer, Aloha Lavina, an “Airport Intenational Roller Bag V.2” for review. After dragging it through half of South East Asia and North America, here's what she had to say about it.
If you travel with a bit of gear, you’d want a bag that promises durability and protection, security, convenience, and the ability to hold all your gear.
The Think Tank Airport International Version 2 roller bag delivered on durability. It accompanied me on 10 flights for the past few weeks, four regional flights in Asia, two domestic flights in Asia, two intercontinental flights, and two domestic flights in the United States. The bag rolled over rocks, sand, gravel, and concrete as well as airport hallways and airplane aisles, and not once did the wheels snag or get damaged. Apart from surface scratches, the wheels are fine.
Did I have to worry that the jiggling from all the different surfaces would damage the equipment inside? Disembarking in Los Angeles, the handle slipped from my hand, and the bag fell to the floor with a bang. But I wasn’t worried; ThinkTank makes firm molding, and the four lenses, the two camera bodies and the backup viewer hard drive were fine inside. For surfaces where I really didn’t want to roll the bag over because they were too rough or had too much drag, the handles on the side, bottom and top ensured I had a good grip while carrying the bag over my head.
The Airport International is a great choice for someone who travels intercontinentally, especially when there are domestic flights involved. Domestic flights are usually on smaller aircraft, and although the cabin bag size regulation is only slightly different, the aircraft storage sizes for passenger bags differ. The different aircraft used on domestic flights have different overhead bin sizes. On the 32-seater Dornier 328, where the overhead bins are shallow, there is no way you can fit the Airport International’s 33 x 47 x 16.5–19.1 cm dimensions inside the overhead lockers. In the Dornier, I had to ask the flight attendant to store the bag where the crew stored their cabin bags. The best thing about the Airport International when I had to ‘part’ with it was that there is a security system that comes with the bag. A TSA combination lock secures the main zipper sliders. A front cable and a lock secures a laptop case if you store your laptop in the front stretch pocket. Finally, there’s another cable and lock that you can use to chain your entire bag to an immovable object.
Another domestic flight I took used a 74-seater Bombadier Q400. This slightly larger domestic aircraft had slightly deeper cabin lockers, and I was able to store the Airport International inside the overhead bin. On intercontinental flights and regional flights that use Airbus or Boeing jets, the cabin storage bins are roomy and the Airport International fits perfectly in the overhead bin.
Gear and Fit
For both assignments I worked on at this time of travel, I had to bring my 15.6 inch laptop. At first I thought the laptop would fit in the elastic pocket outside the bag; the laptop can be inserted slightly more than halfway into the pocket; but I didn’t feel that it was that secure, and certainly part of the laptop hanging out didn’t give me confidence to leave it in the pocket while it was riding in the overhead bins. So I had to bring a backpack laptop case in addition to the Airport International. ThinkTank does have a product called the Low Divider set, so you can fit the laptop in a sleeve inside the bag, but this is sold separately and I did not have it while traveling.
On the last leg of my trip, I picked up an iPad 2, and it seems to fit well in the outside elastic pocket. Again, the soft quality of the material used for the pocket doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in putting the iPad there, so I carry it with the laptop in the separate backpack. I can foresee the convenience of traveling with the laptop or iPad tucked into the elastic pocket though, for the security check when you have to separately scan your mobile computing device; having it in the pocket makes it easy to take it out during security checks.
I like the space inside the bag. It holds four lenses, one of them a long telephoto, and two camera bodies. I’ve also already used this bag for an editorial fashion ad assignment, and it was a great bag for two camera bodies, 50mm and 85mm lenses, and three portable flash units. The inside of the bag cover has some convenient pockets for CF cards, remote control, wireless triggers, and cords, etc.
The bag has a built-in pocket at the top below the handle that stores a passport, and the front zipped pocket is perfect for storing pens, small notebook or camera manual, an iPod, printout of e-ticket, and other small bits.
Other features I like
• The Airport International V2 comes with its own waterproof cover that stores in a corner of the bag and is easy to slip over the bag when you need it.
• The handle is extendable for tall folks and has a first tier for short folks.
• It’s relatively light, around 4.3–5.2 kg, so it’s easy to lift even with equipment inside. Of course, if it were lighter that would be a plus, especially if you are carrying more than one camera body and more than two lenses.
ThinkTank gave me this bag to review, but if I had to buy it, I probably would. The U$369 price tag is reasonable for a bag that carries as much as it does, provides security and is a durable bag with convenience features.
I have to say that were it offered with the Low Divider Set at the current price or slightly higher, it would be an even better bargain and would definitely be the bag I would recommend to photographers who travel a lot.
I have the low divider set, and I can report that this makes the bag ideal, particularly for intercontinental travel, and also for general use. It is my standard camera bag, it contains my two bodies, 5 lenses (including a 70-200 2.8), two flashes and other accessories, with ease.
With all that gear, it’s heavy, though. Don’t let them weigh it at the airport!
At time of press I was checking in to LAX for my flight back to Bangkok. They asked me to weigh the bag–it came out 10kg and luckily I had some status with the airline as a frequent flyer or it would’ve been a hassle. I think I’ll get the Low Divider now that I’ve traveled with this bag–thanks for the thumbs up!
I’ve used thinktank gear in the past and it does just as it should, well made and easy to use
On most regional flights in the eastern US (Delta Connection, United Express) the bag does not fit in the overhead compartments or under the seat. So you are forced to gate-check it – which means they will drop it 4-6 times from various heights before you get it back. So far 1 lens broken (international flight with regional connection) on 4 flights. If you have to take a smaller plane, I would instead recommend the Shape Shifter bag. Fits just a little less content, but never had to gate-check it and therefore never had anything broken.
I really liked the ThinkTank Airport out of the box–but the front feet wore out very quickly, which causes it to lean forward and the bottom from to drag on the ground, which caused the top flap to rip.
ThinkTank customer service was no help at all. They felt that the feet wearing down was normal wear and tear and refused to help. They wouldn’t even provide or sell me a set of replacement feet. I was very disapointed.
I just got the Pelican 1510. I don’t like it quite as much–doesn’t hold as much gear for sure. But I do feel like its a bit safer and I can count on it being unbreakable or replaceable.