Travelling with a drone includes some inherent inconveniences, but a little preparation can ensure friendlier skies. Here are some basic rules to follow on how to travel with mini quad and LiPo batteries on an air-plane.
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.
#0 – LiPo Restrictions in Airports
Every airline and airport has different regulations regarding LiPo batteries. Some are more strict than others. Large, well equipped airports seem to be fine usually, but smaller airports are more nervous about LiPos and to be sure it might be better to check with them before you go through.
There should be no limit on the number of <100Wh batteries, and only 2 over 100Wh are permitted with airline approval. These are the rules for FAA and some other countries, presumably the UK is the same. Although there is no limit on how many small LiPo batteries you can take, security will still get nervous when there are too many show up.
#1 – Understand it’s all in the delivery
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.
That said, here’s what you do: avoid calling your drone 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 :)
#2 – Be transparent
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 a 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.
#3 – Remove propellers
Even if you have an awesome drone case or backpack that allows propeller-attached transport, you should still remove the props for your trip. If you’re asked to take your multirotor out of its case, there’s a possibility the security might want you to also power it on. Having the props already removed will be much more convenient and less time consuming for both you and the airport staff. The sharp blades might also injure someone.
#4 – How many LiPo can I take?
LiPo batteries for mini quads are small so you can actually take quite a few with you (check with airline how many exactly you can bring). Some have rules on how many Watt-Hours (total capacity mAh x voltage) you are allowed to bring on board.
Before you leave for the airport, remember the following:
- Discharge your LiPo batteries to storage charge, or below the level required by the airline (some require batteries do not exceed 30% of their rated design capacity)
- Tape up the terminal connectors with electrical tape
- 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 aircarft you can just leave your quad(s) / batteries on the overhead locker.
#5 – 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.
#6 – Tools – No knives or scissors
You can’t carry certain tools with you, such as wire cutters or scissors (anything that looks like can be used as weapon). Use common sense and check online if in doubt.
#7 – Be kind and polite
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 that you will likely be hassled at the airport for traveling with a drone and lots of LiPo batteries, so be prepared. And remember that those hassles serve the purpose of keeping us all safer in the skies.
#8 – Make an battery inventory
Probably one of the most important off the list here, is to make an inventory of all your battery. All they look at is the Watt-hours of your battery:
- Work out the “Wh – watt hours” for each battery, stick that on the battery (Wh = capacity * nominal voltage)
- Write them down on a piece of paper, along with quantity
This is not compulsory (because security didn’t check mine every time), but I found it helped speed up my clearance in several occasions. This also helps you understand if you have any batteries larger than the limit.
And one more thing. While these tips are great rules of thumb, you always want to check with your particular airline to make sure you’re aware of any specific rules they may have.
Author : Tim Jennings, Drone Enthusiast & President of Custom Case Group Co-author: Oscar