A drone is a fun way to capture the memories of your trip or vacation. When traveling with a drone, however, take note of the rules that are enforced by the airlines, by airport security or the civil aviation authority like the FAA, in order to travel safely and with minimal hassles.

Are drones allowed on planes? The short answer is YES but you must be aware of the rules and policies imposed by individual airlines on the transport of drones and lithium batteries. In the U.S. and Canada, drones may be transported in carry-on and checked baggage. The other main consideration is batteries. Lithium batteries that are less than 100 Wh, which are used by DJI Spark, DJI Mavic and DJI Inspire 1, may be transported in-device in carry-on and checked baggage, OR as spares in carry-on baggage only. There are other considerations, of course, such as how you store and transport your drone, batteries and other accessories. Here’s the complete guide!

Soft Shell Backpack vs Hard Shell Case

When it comes to carrying drones on airplanes, your main objectives should be to prevent theft and damage, ensure safe transport of your drone, accessories and batteries, while meeting airline size restrictions, especially for carry-on baggage.

Generally speaking, if you have no intention of checking your bag, it is much more comfortable to travel with a soft shell backpack as a means to carry your drone, accessories and batteries. This set up would work for most regular size drones.

I would recommend the following bags and accessories:

However, for larger drones like the DJI Inspire 2, it would not be feasible to travel with a carry-on baggage that also meets size restrictions. Therefore, it is far better to travel with a hard shell case that can more adequately handle the rough handling of checked-baggage.

Carry-On or Checked Baggage?

Since most airlines will not compensate for a damaged drone carried in a checked bag, it is best to transport your drone and accessories in a carry-on baggage rather than a checked baggage whenever possible. That way, you can ensure that your drone is transported safely and securely AND that it arrives WITH YOU at your destination.

If you must transport your drone in a checked baggage, make sure to:

  • Transport in a case that will adequately protect the drones and your accessories.
  • Remove and carry your spare batteries and SD cards in your carry-on. Refer to the policies below regarding battery size to see what is allowed.
  • Market the case fragile.
  • Familiarize yourself with the airline’s damaged and delayed baggage policies.

Tip! If you are traveling on a smaller plane, you may be required to gate check your carry-on, which means you will need to quickly remove your spare batteries and carry them on your person.

Pay Attention to the Lithium Battery That You Are Transporting

The battery used by your drone is a lithium-ion battery.

Just like for other portable electronic devices, airlines and transportation authorities are concerned about the lithium batteries that you are carrying for your drone. Potential short circuiting and overheating may happen, which as you can imagine, is problematic and can be disastrous while in the air.

The FAA, TSA, CATSA and individual airlines have rules regarding the size of lithium batteries, measured in watt-hours and when and how the batteries may be transported.

Therefore, when reading the TSA and airline policies, you must be aware of the following three things in order to know how the policies will be applied to your situation:

  • size of batteries measured in watt-hours
  • in-device vs spares (not installed in the drone)
  • carry-on vs checked baggage

How to Determine Watt-Hours (Wh)

The FAA, TSA, CATSA and individual airlines all measure battery size by Watt-Hours which is a unit that may not readily be found on your actual battery.

But it’s quite easy to calculate. Simply multiply the volts (V) by the ampere-hours (Ah).

Example: A 12-volt battery rated to 8 Amp hours is rated at 96 watt-hours (12 x 8 = 96). For milliamp hours (mAh), divide by 1000 (to get to Ah) and then multiply by the volts.

Or use this calculator by inserting milliamp-hour (mAh) and voltage (V) and clicking on Calculate to obtain Watt-hours (Wh).

Tips on How to Pack Lithium Batteries in Carry-On Baggage

  1. Discharge rechargeable batteries to between 35 and 50%.
  2. Pack spare batteries in carry-on baggage only and not in checked baggage.
  3. Ideally, keep spare batteries in the original retail packaging to prevent unintentional activation or short-circuiting.
  4. If original packaging is not available, effectively insulate battery terminals by isolating spare batteries from contact with other batteries and/or metal objects such as coins, keys or jewelry. Use a LIPO safe battery storage bag like this. You can also place non-conductive tape across the battery’s contacts (+ and -) to prevent short-circuiting.
  5. Pack the battery well in order to prevent crushing, puncturing, or putting a pressure on the battery, as this can cause an internal short circuit and result in overheating.

Traveling With A Drone From or Within USA and Canada

When traveling with a drone, you must survivethe scrutiny of airport security and the airline carrier that you are flying with. It is very likely that you will be subjected to additional screening. Be prepared to answer their questions and be conscious of how you have packed your drone, batteries and accessories in both your carry-on and/or checked baggage.

If your trip originates in the USA or Canada, see below for the specific policies that pertain to you. Refer to the policies of TSA and the individual airline for trips originating in the USA. Likewise, refer to the policies of CATSA and the individual airline for trips originating in Canada.

Battery Rating:<100 Wh<100 Wh100-160 Wh100-160 Wh>160 Wh>160 Wh
Baggage Type:Carry-OnCheckedCarry-OnCheckedCarry-OnChecked
TSAIn device: YES
Spares: YES
In device: YES
Spares: NO
In device: YES, with airline approval
Spares: YES, max 2 when protected and with airline approval
In device: YES, with airline approval
Spares: NO
NONO
CATSAIn device: YES
Spares: YES, with airline approval
In device: YES
Spares: YES, with airline approval
In device: YES
Spares: YES, max 2 individually protected with airline approval
In device: YES, with approval from carrier
Spares: YES, with airline approval
NOIn device: YES, with airline approval
Spares: YES, with airline approval
Alaska AirlinesIn device: YES
Spares: YES
In device: YES
Spares: NO
In device: YES
Spares: YES
In device: YES
Spares: NO
NONO
American AirlinesIn device: YES
Spares: YES
In device: YES
Spares: NO
In device: YES
Spares: YES, max 2
In-device: YES
Spares: NO
Contact Special AssistanceContact Special Assistance
Delta AirlinesIn device: YES
Spares: YES
In device: YES
Spares: NO
In-device: YES
Spares: YES, max 2
In-device: YES
Spares: NO
NONO
Southwest AirlinesIn-device: YES
Spares: YES
In device: YES
Spares: NO
In-device: YES
Spares: YES, max 2
In-device: YES
Spares: YES, max 2
NONO
United AirlinesIn device: YES
Spares: YES
In device: YES
Spares: NO
In device: YES
Spares: YES, max 2
NONONO
Air CanadaIn device: YES
Spares: YES
NOIn device: NO
Spares: YES, max 2
NONONO
Drone and Lithium Battery Transport Policies in U.S. and Canada

Click to jump to the policy that pertains to you:
TSA Drone Policy
TSA Lithium Battery Policy
CATSA Drone Policy
CATSA Lithium Battery Policy
Alaska Airlines Drone and Lithium Battery Policies
American Airlines Drone and Lithium Battery Policies
Delta Airlines Drone and Lithium Battery Policies
United Airlines Drone and Lithium Battery Policies
Southwest Airlines Drone and Lithium Battery Policies
Air Canada Drone and Lithium Battery Policies

TSA Drone Policy

When it comes to traveling with drones, TSA defers to the individual airlines. Their official advice when it comes to carrying drones in carry-on bags or checked bags is to check with the airline that you are traveling with. However, the final decision rests with the individual TSA officer when crossing a security checkpoint in U.S. airports.

TSA Lithium Battery Policy

When it comes to lithium-ion batteries (a.k.a.: rechargeable lithium, lithium polymer, LIPO, secondary lithium), passengers may carry all consumer-sized lithium-ion batteries (up to 100 watt-hours per battery). This size covers AA, AAA, cell phone, PDA, camera, camcorder, handheld game, tablet, portable drill, and standard laptop computer batteries and many popular regular-sized drones.

The watt-hours (Wh) rating is marked on newer lithium-ion batteries. External chargers are also considered to be a battery.

With airline approval, devices can contain larger lithium-ion batteries (101-160 watt-hours per battery), but spares of this size are limited to two batteries in carry-on baggage only.

CATSA Drone Policy

CATSA is the equivalent of TSA in Canada. CATSA has jurisdiction when the flight that you are taking leaves from Canadian airports.

When it comes to traveling with drones, CATSA defers to the individual airlines. Their official advice when it comes to carrying drones in carry-on bags or checked bags is to check with the airline that you are traveling with. However, the final decision rests with the individual CATSA officer when crossing a security checkpoint in Canadian airports.

CATSA Lithium Battery Policy

CATSA permits the transport of lithium-ion batteries with the following restrictions:

Lithium-ion batteries with a watt-hour (Wh) rating of 100 Wh or less may be carried in a device in either carry-on or checked baggage.

Spare batteries: Spare lithium-ion batteries of 100 Wh or less must be packed in carry-on and are permitted only with air carrier approval in checked baggage.

Lithium ion batteries exceeding a watt-hour (Wh) rating of 100 Wh but not exceeding 160 Wh may be carried in a device in either carry-on or checked baggage with air carrier approval.

Spare batteries: No more than 2 individually protected spare lithium-ion batteries of 100-160 Wh are allowed per person in a carry-on, with the approval of the air carrier. Spare lithium batteries of 100-160 Wh are permitted only with air carrier approval in checked baggage.

Alaska Airlines Drone and Lithium Battery Policies

As far as I can tell, Alaska Airlines has no specific policy specific to drones.

As for their policy on lithium batteries, this is what they have to say:

You may bring spare lithium batteries for devices such as laptops, cell phones and cameras, in carry-on baggage only. Spare batteries must be packed with terminals covered/insulated to prevent short-circuiting. Original retail packaging is sufficient, or if not in original packaging, the terminals must be covered with non-conductive tape.

Spare lithium batteries of any type may not be placed in checked baggage because of the potential fire hazard. You may check bags that contain lithium batteries only if they are installed in the electronic devices. Damaged batteries will not be accepted for transport.

American Airlines Drone and Lithium Battery Policies

Drones are allowed by American Airlines with restrictions. The drone’s battery must not exceed 160 Wh. Drone can be carried on if it or its box is less than 22 x 14 x 9 in / 56 x 36 x 23 cm.

Batteries from devices in checked bags should be removed and placed in a carry-on in separate plastic bags.

Lithium-ion battery acceptance by Watt-hour (Wh):
Less than 100 Wh – Unlimited quantity in carry-on baggage
100 – 160 Wh – 2 spares in carry-on baggage
160 – 300 Wh – Contact Special Assistance

Delta Airlines Drone and Lithium Battery Policies

It does not appear that Delta Airlines has a specific policy on the transport of drones. However, Delta does have this to say about the transport of portable electronic devices:

Devices containing lithium metal or lithium-ion batteries (laptops, smartphones, tablets, etc.) should be transported in carry-on baggage and not placed in checked baggage.

When that is not possible: the devices should be completely powered down to the OFF position (they should not be left in sleep mode), protected from accidental activation, and packed so they are protected from damage.”

When it comes to the transport of lithium battery, Delta has this to say:

As you probably know, traveling with consumer electronic and medical devices containing lithium cells or batteries (e.g. watches, calculators, cameras, cell phones, laptops, camcorders, hearing aids, etc.) is allowed onboard as carry-on. Spare lithium batteries are allowed as carry-on only, and must be individually protected to prevent short circuits.

Passengers are permitted to travel with lithium-ion batteries that contain a maximum of 160 watt-hours per battery.  Any lithium ion battery containing more than 160 watt-hours is prohibited from carriage on all passenger aircraft. Lithium-ion batteries installed in a personal electronic device can be transported as checked or carry on baggage. Lithium-ion batteries not installed in a device (spares) must be in carry-on baggage and no more than two (2) spares between 100 and 160 watt-hours are allowed.

United Airlines Drone and Lithium Battery Policies

As far as I can tell, United has no policy specific to the transport of drones but it does have the following statement pertaining to portable electronic devices and lithium battery:

Personal devices (except for e-cigarettes and personal vaporizers) installed with a lithium battery of less than 100 watt-hours are permitted in carry-on and checked baggage.

Loose lithium batteries are not permitted in checked baggage on any United flight. Each spare lithium battery in carry-on baggage must be individually protected to prevent short circuits. To do this, you can place each battery in original retail packaging, place each battery in a separate plastic bag or protective pouch, or insulate the batteries by taping over exposed terminals.

Spare batteries must not come in contact with metal objects, such as coins, keys or jewelry, and you should take steps to prevent crushing, puncturing, or putting pressure on the battery.

In most cases, up to two larger lithium batteries (more than 100 watt-hours, but not exceeding 160 watt-hours) are permitted in carry-on baggage if the terminals are properly covered or insulated.

If carry-on baggage is checked at the gate, any lithium batteries and power banks must be removed.

Southwest Airlines Drone and Lithium Battery Policies

When it comes to Southwest Airlines transporting your drone, the following policy applies:

Portable Electronic Devices containing dry cells or dry batteries (including lithium or lithium polymer cells or batteries) are allowed to be transported as long as the battery size requirements are met. Some examples of these devices include but are not limited to watches, calculating machines, cameras, cellular phones, laptop/notebook/tablet computers, camcorders, medical devices, and drones.

Effective January 15, 2018, each Customer is permitted up to a maximum of 15 PEDs and a maximum of 20 spare lithium-ion batteries per person.

Loose or spare cells or batteries (including power banks) must be protected from short circuit and transported in carry-on baggage only.

If the lithium-ion cells or batteries exceed 100 watt-hours, only 2 cells or batteries not exceeding 160 watt-hours each are permitted. Cells or batteries that exceed the 160 watt-hour limit are not allowed as checked or carry-on baggage.

Passengers are asked to transport PEDs in the carry-on baggage. When this is not possible, the device must be switched off and measures must be taken to ensure it cannot be accidentally activated when placed in checked baggage.

Air Canada Drone and Lithium Battery Policies

Air Canada will transport drones under the following conditions:

Drones are accepted in carry-on baggage on the condition that they remain turned off and safely stowed at all times. They cannot be used onboard the aircraft.

Drones are accepted in checked baggage: the lithium batteries must be removed from the drone and carried onboard in carry-on baggage. Drones must be properly packaged for shipping.

When it comes to lithium batteries, Air Canada will accept the following in carry-on baggage only*: consumer electronic devices containing accepted lithium ion cells or batteries with a rating of not more than 100 Wh each; spare lithium ion cells or batteries with a rating of not more than 100 Wh each.

A maximum of two (2) individually protected spare lithium-ion batteries with a rating of 100 Wh but not exceeding 160 Wh may be carried per passenger in carry-on baggage only*, pending approval by Air Canada airport agents.

* On smaller aircraft (e.g. Jazz Dash-8 or CRJ) with limited onboard storage space, you’re asked to deposit your carry-on items on a cart as you board the plane. Battery-powered devices and spare batteries must always be removed from the carry-on baggage that is deposited on such carts and carried into the aircraft cabin.

How to Travel Internationally with a Drone

The information covered in most of this post pertains to domestic and international flights originating from airports in U.S. and Canada and specifically with the major U.S. and Canadian airlines mentioned.

If you are traveling and/or connecting internationally outside of the U.S. and Canada be sure to check with the transportation authority at your destination or connection points for their rules and restriction.

If you are not flying with any of the carriers mentioned previously, then, by all means, check with the specific airline for their policies.

When flying internationally, it is quite common to have connecting flights on other airlines (such as codeshare partner airlines) in order to get to your destination. Don’t forget to double check their website as well for their drone and lithium battery transport policies as well as their baggage size restrictions.

One last tip! Individual countries have their own laws and regulations when it comes to the use of drones. Some may even require you to apply for a license before flying. Be sure to research to determine the restrictions before your arrival.

 

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