Travelling with Mini Quad and LiPo Batteries

Travelling with a drone includes some inherent inconveniences, but it’s really easier than it seems with a little preparation. Here are some basic rules to follow on how to travel with mini quad and LiPo batteries on an airplane.

Folks travelling with mini quads are most likely hoping for lots of blue skies and tons of fun. If you happen to be one of these lucky enthusiasts heading out on a trip, the last thing you want is to spend hours locked up in a stuffy back room – which is a distinct possibility if you don’t know “the rules.” As always, knowledge is power, so follow along for several quick tips you can use, to make sure your next dream drone vacation doesn’t turn into a drone-confiscation nightmare.

If you are not travelling on plane, check out a couple of backpacks we reviewed for quadcopters, SLFPV also shared some experience with his choice of backpack.

#1 – How Many LiPo Can I Take?

Airline and airport might have different regulations regarding LiPo batteries. Some limit the number of battery packs you can carry, some don’t care how many as long as no one single battery exceeds certain watt hours.

Large and well equipped airports seem to be fine usually, but smaller airports are more nervous about LiPo’s. I strongly recommend checking their websites, or calling them up to make sure before you go through. And follow the regulations from both the airport and airline you are travelling with.

For example, the FAA rates batteries by Watt hours. To calculate watt hours, you take the voltage of the battery pack and multiply it times the Amp Hours.

`Watt hours (Wh) = Nominal Voltage (V) x Amp hours (Ah)`

Mini quad batteries are generally measured in mAh (milli-amp hours), where 1000mAh = 1Ah. So for example, a 4S 1300mAh battery is 14.8V x 1300mAh/1000 = 19.24 Watt hours.

According to rules by the FAA, there is no limit on the number of batteries as long as no one single battery exceeds 100Wh. Only two batteries are allowed with airline approval if they are over 100Wh.

Mini quad LiPo batteries are well below this watt hour limit, so there shouldn’t be a limit on how many you can take. But security will still get nervous when there are too many show up, so be sensible and always ask!

#2 – Preparing LiPo

Cover the battery terminals to prevent from shorting during transportation. To do this, use 3D printed caps, or simply use electrical tapes. Place batteries in as many separate bags as you see fit.

Label each battery with the voltage, capacity and watt-hour, and then make an inventory of all your batteries, listing these same info.

This is not compulsory (because security didn’t check mine every time), but it would help speed up clearance if the security is being more careful. This also helps you understand if you have any batteries larger than the limit.

Before you leave for the airport, remember to do the following:

• Put your LiPo batteries to storage charge (3.80V – 3.85V), or the level required by the airline – some actually require batteries not to exceed 30% of their rated capacity
• Cover up battery terminals
• Put LiPo in Lipo-safe bags
• Print out the airline’s regulation regarding LiPo batteries, put it somewhere with your batteries. If anything happens you can pull out the documentation and show them
• Batteries are only allowed as carry-on baggage

Once boarded the plane you can just leave your quad(s) / batteries on the overhead locker.

#3 – Tools In Checked Baagage

Batteries have to be carry-on, but tools should go into your checked baggage, especially if it’s sharp and pointy. Do this and it will save yourself from potential headaches. Use common sense and check online if in doubt.

If you decide to take your quad in carry-on, remove the props. Not only you could bend / damage them during transportation, the blades are sharp!

#4 – Separate your items

Avoid mixing your important stuff with your multirotor stuff.

Put what you think have a higher chance of getting checked or confiscated in one single bag (such as your batteries). So even if it does happen, your more important stuff don’t get taken away.

#5 – Be Transparent and Kind

Think of this tip as more of a cardinal rule for drone travel. All words have power, and the ones you use to describe your mini quad to travel officials have the power to ruin your trip.

I personally wouldn’t call it a “drone”, a “quadcopter”, a “multirotor”, a “mini quad”, or anything else that sounds cool. It is, for the duration of your trip, a “toy RC helicopter“.

If you are using LiPo bag, try to remove or cover the words “explosion” and “fire” to avoid causing unnecessary panic at the check point :)

With everything you do, you want to give the impression that you have nothing to hide (after all, you don’t!). For example, if you plan to pack your mini quad as carry-on, take it out of your bag and place it in its own bin at the Airport security checkpoint.

Expect suspicion; it’s their job. Do what you can to ensure your quadcopter will be easy to take out should the agents require it.

If you find yourself in a situation where someone has the power to make the call whether to confiscate your drone for good, your kind words and friendly demeanor might mean the difference between keeping or losing it. Expect and be prepared that you will likely be hassled at the airport for traveling with a drone and especially lots of LiPo batteries. And remember that those hassles serve the purpose of keeping us all safer in the skies.

Happy flying!

And one more thing. While these tips have been serving me well personally, you always want to check with your particular airline and airport to make sure you’re aware of any specific rules they may have.

Edit History

• Jul 2016 – Article created by Tim Jennings
• Mar 2019 – Article written

16th September 2019 - 6:40 pm

This is an old article but still an important topic! As a long time RC builder and flyer of nearly every type of vehicle and particularly large 3D helicopters and many, many quads and multicopters, I believe it’s important to emphasize how fragile and dangerous LiPo and other high energy density battery types are.

As a personal example, I used to frequently transport my helicopters and “drones” ( hate that word because it’s so incorrect in so many ways not the least of which is becaus of it’s association with military UAVs by virtually all the general public) in the back of my SUV keeping my batteries in a cardboard box. I also always line the floor of the SUV with a large piece of cardboard to protect the carpet. That piece of cardboard would prove to be a critical factor in saving my vehicle. At the time, I thought the batteries were reasonably protected until one day, while negotiating a freeway overpass, one of my helicopters rolled over and fell on the box of batteries in such a way that one of it’s blades penetrated a 4s 1800mah battery. The cut was only about a half inch long and a quarter inch deep or less however it caused one cell to short out internally.

I realized something was wrong when I looked at the rear view mirror and saw that the entire area behind the front seats was filled with dense white smoke. Yes, it was that quick and only seconds later the smoke had filled the entire passenger compartment such that I was barely able to see enough to quickly pull over to the side of the freeway. I stopped the vehicle as quickly as I could, jumped out, ran around to the rear and opened the back door to billowing smoke and flames. Since the battery was on fire in a box of other batteries there was no way to grab it and remove it from the SUV without getting seriously burned however I was able to grab the edge of the cardboard that protected the carpet and slide the entire contents out of the SUV onto the ground where I was able to grab the heli out of the way, push over the box of batteries, and use an umbrella to push the flaming battery away from the others and off the cardboard.

It burned for over 20 minutes lighting off each cell of the battery cells in sizzling and mildly explosive succession eventually generating flames nearly as tall as myself and much billowing smoke. I tried a halon fire extinguisher I kept in the SUV to absolutely no effect. Burning LiPo batteries generate their own oxygen. When it finally stopped burning and was cool enough (over an hour later), I was able to pick up the offending battery by sliding a piece of sheet metal under it and leave the scene.

Had I not been able to remove the flaming battery from the vehicle so quickly, there was no doubt in my mind that the vehicle interior would have caught fire and very likely destroyed the entire SUV as well as likely causing other batteries to light off. In the end, the only serious damage was the loss of a \$120 helicopter blade set and a hundred dollars or so of burn damaged batteries.

Lesson learned, I now transport all batteries in a container designed to transport LiPo batteries and I never, ever take them on an airplane without safety packaging and proper declaration and labeling.

A second experience was as a passenger on a commercial airline flight from San Jose, Ca. to Tokyo. Midway over the Pacific Ocean the pilot announced over the intercom that we were “having a problem” and had to land at the nearest airport. We were a good 4 hours from ANY airport and ended up landing at some airport in northern Japan. They parked us far away from the terminal and deplaned us via buses. On the way out I was able to view the open cargo hold and saw much smoke damage. I later found out via the NTSB that “a small lithium based battery being transported in checked baggage in the cargo hold ignited destroying the contents of a baggage container. The resulting fire was contained in flight as a result of the aircraft fire suppression equipment in the baggage hold”. I had only carry-on baggage but apparently, most everyone who had checked baggage lost their luggage.

These personal experiences drove home for me that, because of their extremely high energy density and relative fragility of Lithium based batteries, they are a serious hazard and one should take every precaution to transport them safely and certainly never try to transport them on airplanes without following airline rules for packaging and declaration to the “T”. It could save your life and that of others.

Wingspinner

14th July 2016 - 10:07 pm

Hi Oscar, I found when I went abroad with a quad the rules were very vague, almost up to the carrier themselves, I took a 160 sized quad and those batteries I brought of you! I phoned the airline ahead of even planing how to pack the quad and was expecting to have to carry the lipos in hand luggage. It all went in the hold in a flight case I’d brought, they didn’t seem bothered at all. I think for the smaller quads you’ve got to think the lipos are smaller than a laptops…..
They just stuck a fragile sticker on it and it was all good.

17th July 2016 - 3:42 pm

Hi Ben

yea the whole thing is new to everyone and nothing seems to be standardised yet. but it wouldn’t hurt to be a bit more prepared i guess :)

14th July 2016 - 9:21 pm

thanks guys! But would you recommend running around on an airport with two quads attached to the back of my backpack?

17th July 2016 - 3:38 pm

I have seen some people do it, but I would recommend putting them in a bag so they don’t get stolen or lost.