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ThinkTank Photo: Airport International v2.0, review [video]

This is one of the best bags I’ve ever used! If you travel by air with either a lot of camera gear, or one of the big telephotos such as a 600mm, the Airport International v2.0 is well worth a look. Not only is it designed to fit within all International carry-on sizes, but it gives you a huge amount of storage space and three built in security locks. And because it’s a roller, it makes your journey more comfortable as well!

Update 2017: Despite buying this bag way back in 2012, I still use it to this day. I’ve taken it all over the world and it still proves to be the best bag for the job when carrying my gear abroad.

Having almost thrown my back out carting a 600mm, D3s and laptop in my usual hand luggage travel bag (the ThinkTank Photo Streetwalker HardDrive – which, in 2017, was replaced with the MindShift Gear MP-3 V2) I was keen not to do that on my trip to Yellowstone, especially given that involved two flights to get there. So good friend of mine let me borrow this bag. And all I can say is, wow! It took all the strain out of getting the gear to my destination, and the ease in which I could move it around the airport resulted in a much more comfortable and stress free journey! I’ll get this out the way now, I love this bag. So much so I promptly went out and got one of my own.

Airport International V2 specs

Dimensions: 14” W x 21” H x 8” D (35.6 x 53.3 x 20.3 cm)
Weight: 9.5–11.5 lbs (4.3–5.2 kg) depending on accessories used
Number of built in security locks: 3 (two of which are made by Samsonite and TSA approved)
Included accessories: Removable rain cover
Optional & compatible accessories: Low profile internal dividers, stream line laptop bag

Video Review

If you want to see the bag, I’ve done a video review which you can see below. I go over the main specs of the bag and show them in operation to help give you a better idea of what the bag is about. You can also carry on reading where I go in to more detail and give my thoughts on certain aspects.

What’s on the outside?

Being designed by ThinkTank Photo, you know the Airport International V2 is going to have some great touches, and you’d be right! The first thing you notice is how ‘normal’ it looks. It’s very understated and doesn’t scream ‘I’m full of valuable camera equipment’, which I love. Even the logo is small and discrete. Everything about this bag lets you know it’s been very carefully thought out and designed for the photographer who needs to fly with their gear. From the user replaceable and detachable wheels (which require an Allen key, not supplied) to the clever placement of pockets and handles, the bag is every bit the perfect travel companion. The lower sections on the outside of the bag are reinforced with toughened plastic, making it extra robust for demanding journeys and it’s also designed to fit within all international airlines hand luggage restrictions (at the time of writing), so that it can easily be placed in a planes over head storage area or under the seat. One word of warning though, if you’re travelling internally in America, it may not fit on smaller regional jets as they can be very limited in space. In that case you may need to gate check the bag – so if in doubt it’s always best to check with the airlines current hand luggage allowances before you fly.

Front view of the Airport International, showing the secondary pocket and stretchy laptop pocket.

Front view

The rear of the Airport International houses a zip compartment for the steel cabled lock.

Back view

Carry Handles and passports

As usual with ThinkTank, this bag has been very well thought out. And the Airport International v2.0 has several nice touches to make carrying it around during your journey easier. For a start, there are handles on the top, both sides (one of which doubles as a tripod/monopod anchor point) and even the bottom.

Handle under the Airport International v2.0 to bag picking bag up from any side easier.

Underside handle

The bottom of the Airport International has a reinforced kick plate and handle

Bottom with reinforced kick plate and handle

The top one and main side one are both highly padded and very comfortable even when the bag is full and heavy. All these handles mean that however you need to pick the bag up or move it to place it somewhere for storage, be it in the airport, the plane itself or in a taxi on the way to the hotel, the Airport International v2 is always easy to grab and go. It may not seem like much but I bet all of you have at some point found it awkward to lift a heavy bag out of a packed space because you couldn’t get a good grip on it…

The left side of the bag houses a nice thick padded handle and the main compartments lock.

Main side carry handle and compartment lock

The right hand side has a strap that doubles as both a tripod holder and a handle to lift the bag.

Right side tripod holder doubles as handle

Also, there is a nice handy zipped compartment right at the top of the bag where you can put your travel documents so they are always easy to gain access to – and on top of that is a business card/address label holder with clear front, should you want to use that. The back also has a serial number on an ID plate, so you can register the bag on the Think Tank website. That way, if it does ever get lost, you can keep your fingers crossed if it’s found it may still work it’s way back to you.

Passport Pocket for easy access of your travel documents. ThinkTank Photo Aiport International v2.0

Passport Pocket for easy access

Locks locks and more locks

This bag has three separate locks, two of which are Samsonite locks that are TSA approved, meaning they have TSA key holes so if airport security do need access to your bag should you decide to check it in (if you’re brave enough), they can unlock and lock it back up easily. The first lock is to secure the main compartment of the bag, and comprises a 3 digit combination release. You simply click the zips in place and the main compartment is secure, it’s a nice clean system.

Three digit Samsonite TSA lock for main compartment is built in to the side of the bag, just near the carry handle.

Three digit Samsonite TSA lock for main compartment

The second lock is hidden behind a zipped compartment on the back of the Airport International which is big enough to hold other small items (this space cleverly makes the most of the way the collapsible handle is stored, but more on that later). This is a padlock style lock, again with a three digit combination. But where this differs from the main compartment locking system, is this padlock is attached to a long piece of thick interwoven and shielded steel wire, meaning you can lock this bag to an immovable object. I’ve never had the need to secure a bag in this way, but it’s nice to know if you are travelling alone and do need to leave it somewhere, anywhere, for even just a few moments, you can lock the bag to an object so it can’t go for a walk very easily – even if you want to be extra safe leaving it in the hotel.

Rear lock compartment to enable you to lock the Airport International v2.0 bag to an imovable object.

Rear lock compartment

Rear lock concealed behind a zipped flap on the Airport International v2.0 bag

Rear lock concealed

The final lock is similar to the second lock, in that it is attached to the bag with a length of wire, although this time thinner. Also the lock is a slightly more simple three digit clasp lock, like a keyring. This lock is found in the front zip, along with some extra storage pockets. It’s main purpose is to secure a separate laptop bag, such as the TTP Artificial Intelligence, to the main bag if you use the front laptop storage pocket as described further down. The inside of the pocket this lock is stored in, also has a metal ring so you can loop the wire through the laptop bag and then lock it back to the Airport International.

Laptop securing cable stored in front pocket allows.

Laptop securing cable

All three of these locks are handy to have, although it has to be noted they don’t feel ultra heavy duty. Although, they are of course a very good deterrent for the casual thief. It’s fair to say though, that I have several Samsonite TSA locks of my own and none of those feel overly heavy duty either so I think it’s more down to the spec of the TSA locks than a money saving exercise on ThinkTanks part.

The ThinkTank Photo Airport International V2 is one of the most practical bags for air travel.Click To Tweet

Laptop storage

The very front of the bag has a pocket made from the same stretchy material you can find on the side pockets of the StreetWalker HardDrive, for those of you familiar with that bag. And this area is where you can store your laptop. I was slightly unsure about using this pocket at first as it doesn’t completely hide my 15″ Macbook Pro, however once I put my MBP in it’s suede sleeve (from Water Field designs, aka the SF Bag Co), it was less obvious there was a laptop there.

Laptop on view in front pocket

Laptop on view in front pocket

Laptop stands out less in a sleeve or bag

Laptop stands out less in a sleeve or bag

The stretchy pocket also held the computer in place firmly in conjunction with the suede sleeve. So much so that I had to use two hands to pull it out again. My friend puts his 17″ MacBook Pro in there, so it can accommodate even the largest of screens – as far as slim line laptops go at least. As I mentioned above, using a bag such as the TTP Artificial Intelligence will give you the added security of being able to securely attach the laptop giving extra peace of mind.

Another optional accessory you can buy for this bag is a set of lower internal dividers, so that you can store the laptop inside the main compartment, should you wish to do that. Obviously that will use up some of your camera gear space but its nice to know the option is there should you need it.

I have to admit, I was planning on taking a separate laptop bag but I was so glad I just put it in the front of the v2.0 instead as again, it just gave me one less thing to have to carry and worry about.

Extendable handle

The top of the Airport International v2 also contains another zip. Undo this and you are presented with the extendable main handle with which you pull the bag. This is a four section handle which extends out far enough to make the bag comfortable to pull around even when weighed down with a lot of equipment. Because this handle collapses inside the bag, it means the floor of the main compartment is slightly raised in the middle to roughly half way down the bag, to allow for the handle to be stored. It’s not a big problem, and something you can’t avoid, but it does mean lenses placed at the sides of the bag feel more natural laid down rather than stood on end. But, in an effort to make the most of this situation, the clever boys and girls at ThinkTank used the reverse of this occupied space to store the outer lock mentioned above, in it’s pocket (which is large enough for other smaller items).

Extendable handle stowed away on the Airport International v2.0

Extendable handle stowed away

Airport International v2.0 handle fully extended

Handle fully extended

Wheels

The v2.0 features quite nice sized, soft wheels. Not too soft, but soft enough to help reduce vibrations working through to your equipment. As mentioned they are user replaceable with the aid of an allen key, and removing them also makes the bag ever so slightly narrower at the bottom which may or may not help in an emergency if you need to squeeze it in an ultra small space.

The wheels on the Airport International are removebale and can be replaced by the user. They are also a little soft to help reduce vibrations.

User removeable soft wheels

What’s on the inside?

Storage space, lots of it!
Although this bag is designed to fit within most major airlines carry on bag sizes and given it’s relatively small footprint, you can fit a lot of gear in here! There are over 15 dividers as standard so the inside can be configured in every way you can think of, and some you probably never will! The dividers are also very chunky to help add extra protection to the contents whilst you are transporting it across the globe. If you remove all of them, you get one huge storage space should you ever find yourself needing to use the v2.0 as a normal travel bag.

Although listed as holding up to a 500mm f4, the Airport International can hold a 600mm with no problems at all.

Interior holds a 600mm f4 VR II

 

Update 2017: The latest version of the Nikon 400 E fit in the Airport International v2 beautifully, with the lens hood attached.

For some reason, this bag is officially listed as holding up to a 500mm f4 lens. I’m not really sure why that is, because as you can see in my photos and video, a 600mm will fit in absolutely fine! I put in this bag for my trip to Yellowstone: A 600mm, D3s, D7000, 14-24 f2.8, 50mm afs, My Bose headphones in their quite bulky case, a rocket blower, power cable for the MacBook, sunglasses in their case and a couple of filters, my memory card reader and memory card wallet. Oh and of course the MacBook on the outside! But that’s just one example, of which there are many. If you use smaller telephotos or just wide and mid-range primes/zooms then you’ll be able to get way more in here. The only problem you might have, is not being able to lift it to put it in the over head storage once you have filled the v2.0 up with goodies! But you get the idea..this bag can store everything.

I can’t speak for Canon, but for Nikon shooters, it’s worth saying if you use the old 600 AFS II you can keep the first part of the stage two lens hood on if you want and still get a laptop in the front, and with the 600 VR you can keep both sections on.

The inside of the main compartment flap also has the usual array of zipped pockets allowing you to store filters, cables, memory cards etc.

Summary, pro’s and cons

If I could complain about anything it would be the collapsible handle. Although it performs perfectly well, even when the bag is loaded up with over 10kg of gear plus the 4kg of the bag itself, it does feel very flimsy which is a big contrast to the rock solid build of the rest of the bag. But this is in part due to the use of a 4 section handle to reduce the amount of space it takes up when stored inside the bag.

The other negative for some might be the weight of the bag itself, which when empty of equipment still weighs over 4kg! Of course being a roller bag this weight isn’t really noticed, but it’s something to consider if you find yourself flying with an airline that enforces a strict hand luggage weight limit – although I’ve always been lucky and not had that problem.

But as I’ve said, I love this bag. It’s been a revelation in air travel with camera gear for me and I can’t see myself going to back to a rucksack for hand luggage again as once you experience wheeling a heavy bag vs carrying one, there really is no contest. If you need to fly with your camera gear, you really cannot go wrong with the Airport International v2.0. The build quality and materials are first class, despite it’s relatively small size it’s got enough storage space for even the largest of telephotos and it has several locks built in. Added to that every little detail has been carefully thought out making the v2.0 highly practical and speedy to gain access to when you need something from within it.

There really isn’t anything else you can ask for in a camera bag for air travel, it’s as simple as that!

So, head over to ThinkTank Photo if you want to buy in the USA.

About the author

Richard Peters is a Surrey based professional wildlife photographer, Nikon Ambassador, and one of the few British photographers to receive the accolade of European Wildlife Photographer of the Year. He is known for a style that often favours dramatic use of light, runs wildlife photography workshops and, from camera clubs to big industry events, holds talks about his work.

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