Thanks everyone, I think I will just check the thing as normal.
Hey Andrew...Just spent three days getting to Seattle...brought only hand held (35mm+2 1/4) in carryon but no tripod...I was going to take tripod in checked bag.After four delays and subsequent cancellations we missed our connection but eventually got to O'hare after about six hours of waiting...My wife's bag came out onto the carousel as we walked up...mine not so much! After an hour of "the run around" I was about to give up when I was paged!!!!! & picked my bag at the "lost" counter...moral to the story...this time of year you are rolling the dice...good luck and have a great trip.
If your tripod is fitted with sharp metal spikes on the feet, as mine are, does it qualify as a weapon?
For all my overseas travel the tripod fits well into the hold luggage with everything else. I see no reason to carry it on, but I do take all cameras with me in a <10kg carry-on bag with a smaller Manfrotto tripod.
My wood tripod goes in my suitcase to be checked in but wanting to travel lighter I need a smaller suitcase. It's handy to have a tripod on the other end.
I have a nice padded carrying case for my tripod, so I always check it and have had no problems. Some airports (like Atlanta) make you pick it up in an "oversize" luggage area, so you might have a moment of concern at the carousel until you figure that out.
If you are worried about it being damaged, the safest (and probably cheapest) shipping container I have heard of is home-made from pvc pipe. Put a cemented cap on one end and a threaded one on the other, and it's practically bulletproof. I've never felt the need to resort to this.
Another tip I learned for large checked items such as tripods, light stands, etc., is to buy a rolling case for golf clubs. They are not very expensive and hold a lot of large items.
Twice in the past year I have taken a tripod onboard with me, as a carry-on.
These were domestic flights in the USA, however.
You might want to consider this as an alternative to a padded case for your tripod: get yourself a length of plastic drain pipe to fit your tripod & some padding... I've used 5" black pipe & caps. Glue a bottom cap on the pipe, wrap your tripod in foam, or even a towel, and tape up the cap on the other end. This also works when you need to ship your tripod, or large rolled-up artwork.
I'm sitting now enjoying a Bass and a grilled chicken Caesar in the bar at Terminal 7 at JFK airport with a little more than an hour to board a flight to San Francisco. I checked in online and printed out my boarding pass this morning. I've got my Linhof 2x3" Tech V with two lenses, Acratech ballhead, and a laptop in my Urban Disguise 50 bag and my clothes, Linhof Report tripod (the one from the 1950s that folds flat) and other odds and ends in a Victorinox carry-on overnight bag, and no checked bags. The TSA inspectors were interested in my laptop, which got an explosive residue swab, as did the UD50 bag it came in. No problems, and it took me about 10 minutes from arrival at the terminal to arrival at the gate.
I'm carrying just three rolls of 220 to tide me over until I can get to Gasser's, which is a short walk from my hotel.
I'll still check my big series 5 Gitzo when I travel with it, but I think this little travel tripod (about 18-19" long without head) is a good choice as a carryon.
After combing the TSA site for a definitive regulation and finding none, I found a good thread on tripods at flyertalk.com, where some TSA officers participate, and my sense was that the size of the tripod is a factor, so I figured I'd take a chance this trip but leave enough time to check my bag if necessary, or enjoy a Bass if not.
David, I'm at Detroit airport waiting for my flight to London in a cyber cafe near my gate.... In Minneapolis, I asked for a hand search of 30 rolls of film. Each roll of film got the residue swab!!! But the TSA agent was really helpful. My camera bag got some major scrutiny though. Another TSA agent wanted to look at my hasselblad. My tripod was checked with my luggage and fingers crossed nothing goes awry! I'm on my 3rd 22oz Sam adams. :-)