Can You Take Drones On Planes?

Last updated January 22nd, 2020
A man in an airport with his luggage

This is a question that is popular among those who wish to capture their journey experiences as they cross boundaries.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to give a cut and dried answer. Regulations change as you move from one place to another and what might be accepted practice at one airport could get your drone confiscated at another.

Not to worry, we compiled a guide to help you through the decision making process when you decide to travel with your drone.

Are Drones Allowed in Hand Luggage?

The answer to this will depend on where you wish to travel to with your drone. As a drone-owning traveller, you will do well to research on the rules and regulations regarding drones in the destination you wish to travel to.

In some areas, your drone will be confiscated at the airport upon arrival if you don’t notify authorities before travelling.

In other airports you can travel with your drone, provided it is part of your hand luggage.

Other areas have rules for carrying the drone batteries, while others are a little less strict.

Do your research while you are planning the trip.

Bringing Your Drone on a Plane

Assuming you are about to leave from an airport that tolerates drones to another that is equally tolerant, here is a procedure you want to follow when packing your drone into your hand baggage:

  • Make doubly sure that your drone is turned off and any buttons are covered so they don’t accidentally activate. As you bag goes through both airports, and even while on the plane, you can expect that it will be tossed left and right. The last thing you want is for all that movement to activate the rotors.
  • Think about getting a specialized drone-carrying bag. You can easily get these online or from your local drone retailer. These special backpacks are carefully designed to keep your drone from getting damaged.
  • Lastly, you will need to make sure to do your research about how your specific airliner feels about drones. Are you allowed to put your UAV into your hand luggage or would they prefer checked baggage? A few airlines will only allow drones and accessories in hand baggage, due to restrictions about lithium polymer batteries in baggage spaces of planes.

Bringing Your Batteries on a Plane

Most drones run on lithium polymer batteries, and as such it makes sense to be well informed on the existing regulations about their handling and disposal whenever you want to travel with your drone.

Lithium polymer batteries should be kept in hand luggage, although in some instances you might be able to store them in your checked baggage. Expect the latter though; instructions on how to store batteries in carry-on baggage are usually very clear and easy to follow.

Packing Lithium Polymer Batteries in Carry-On Baggage

When travelling with lithium polymer batteries in your hand luggage, it is important for you to know the Watt Hours (Wh) of the battery.

How to Determine the Watt Hours of Your Drone Batteries

The majority of small consumer drone batteries will have less than 100Wh. But it is still important to verify for yourself about your specific batteries.

To determine watt hours, simply multiply the volts by the ampere hours: Wh= V x Ah.

For example, a 12-volt battery rated to 8 amp hours is rated at 96 watt hours (12 x 8 = 96)

Drone batteries that are rated below or equal to 100Wh are classified as “small batteries”. There are usually no restrictions on travelling with them.

Drone batteries that are rated between 100Wh and 160Wh are classifies as “medium batteries”.

And drones that are rates above 160Wh are classified as “large batteries”.

Unlike small batteries, transporting medium and large batteries can come with some ifs and buts.

Organizations like the FAA have laid out rules to ensure the safe packaging of lithium polymer batteries, and rules may vary with location.

Considering you have small batteries, the following guidelines are worth keeping in mind:

  • To protect your lithium polymer batteries in your carry-on from short-circuiting, ensure to store them using the following suggested methods: leave the batteries in their original packaging, seal battery terminals with sellotape, employ a battery case if you have one, use the battery sleeve found in camera sacs, or you put slot them into a plastic wrapping or protective pocket.
  • The batteries you bring travel with must be meant for personal use (this includes professional purposes). They must not be meant for retail or redistribution by a merchant.
  • Check for any airline special instructions concerning travelling with lithium-ion in hand luggage on a plane.

When carrying medium lithium polymer batteries (with Wh between 100 and 160) you should keep the following procedures in mind:

  • To bring larger batteries with more than 100Wh onboard any aircraft, you will need to check with the airline authorities.
  • Do not come along more than 2 extra batteries that are rated at more than 100Wh.
  • Store batteries in several ways considered safe like in their retail packets, or in a separate case or pocket to keep them from short circuit.

Lithium Batteries in Checked Baggage

Lithium batteries which are rated at less than 100Wh or equal to 100Wh should go inside checked baggage ONLY when they are safely left inside the drone.

Lithium polymer batteries that are rated at more than 100Wh can only be stored in checked baggage after obtaining the nod from the airline.

You are not allowed to pack spare lithium polymer batteries of any watt hour rating into your checked luggage.

Solely the battery which your drone is carrying at that moment can go into checked baggage.

Any spare batteries should be packed in the carry-on baggage instead; and ensure they are stored in the original package, a battery case, or a separate pocket or pouch.

On the Other Side: Taking Your Drone Through Customs

There are two gateways you have to deal with when travelling, one on your side and another at your destination.

At your destination, it is likely the aviation authorities will have their own set of rules and regulations in place concerning drones and other aircraft.

One of the most crucial steps while planning to take your trip abroad consists in finding what the drone regulations at your destination are.

Generally you should only take your drones to countries where drones are allowed.

When travelling with your drone to a drone friendly country, you should:

  • Read up on the country’s drone regulations thoroughly to know about any general processes and other laws you need to comply with as a drone flyer.
  • Check for any foreigner-facing drone regulations especially those that expect foreigners to get special passes to fly a drone when citizens are not expected to. You may be shocked to realized foreigners can’t come with their own drones at all even though they may fly a drone gotten inside the country.
  • Find out whether or not you need to register your drone with the aviation services or security services.
  • Follow the destination country’s requirement for drone certification and licensing to the letter. For example, some countries might require you to take an aeronautical quiz to test your knowledge or show your flight proficiency under the country’s regulations. This could be very important if you intend to fly for professional or commercial purposes.

If you are going to countries that have made it illegal to fly drones, you had better leave your UAV behind.

You could have your drone confiscated at the customs offices of the destination airport if you bring it along for your trip.

And you have no guarantee that it will be returned to you as you return. There have been many cases of people having their drones seized and never seeing them again.

When there are no drone laws stated, you can go out on a limb and assume that you will be allowed to bring your own drone or at least fly a drone in the country.

But the lack of drone laws doesn’t imply you can operate your drone with reckless abandon wherever and whenever you like. In fact, there is a high chance that the authorities may actually not like the idea of tourists flying drones in the country.

The same caution should be applied when going through the customs of countries that don’t have explicit drone laws. Sometimes, the absence of drone laws means that jurisdiction lies completely in the hands of the custom officers.

Some of them might choose to seize your drone while others may decide not to. How things play out is pretty much a coin toss and thus hard to predict. You can only know what will happen when you show up at the gate with your drone in hand.

Conclusion

Travelling with your drone can add so many extra dimensions to your trip. Imagine all the exciting footage and photography you could capture. That’s why many people consider drones as among the best travel companions a person can have.

Things get better when you don’t have to worry about causing any legal problems or having your UAV seized at the gate, so make sure you do your homework on what you are allowed to do before you pack up your drone the right way.

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