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.
#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.
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.
- Jul 2016 – Article created by Tim Jennings
- Mar 2019 – Article written