I've flown AA from Toronto to Curacao in June 2007 and had no problem with a laptop in a briefcase and a Lowepro Compact AW full of gear. The camera bag went overhead and the laptop went under the seat.
I would not recommend checking any camera gear except for tripods, monopods or the like. All checked baggage is x-rayed so having cameras in the suitcase will cause it to be inspected manually and noted.
In the old days before 9/11 you could lock your gear in a Pelican case and check it but these days they will cut the locks off to open the luggage.