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I want to travel with my RC quadcopter across international boundaries (Canada to USA). The RC uses LiPo batteries and I have two separate batteries for it. Are they even allowed on airlines?

I am aware that LiPo batteries are potentially hazardous.

The reason I ask is because I once ordered a product from China that included a LiPo battery and its shipment to me was delayed by it being rejected from travelling aboard the cargo plane. As an alternative, it was sent via sea.

So what are my options for travelling with my LiPo batteries?

I have seen similar questions on general purpose batteries, but I am specifically concerned with LiPo batteries, which I believe are more potentially hazardous than most.

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Travelling with LIPO's

The content of this answer is largely borrowed and quoted from my other answer on a similar topic.

The regulation regarding quadcopters and check-in luggage is fairly new. Since these devices are becoming increasingly common in industry, academia, and everyday life the legal bureaucracy is somewhat lagging behind and is slowly catching up. At the time of writing it seems that LIPO's can be carried on a plane solely as hand luggage, with a limit on their maximum power output.

This article from Drone Enthusiast contains a plethora of useful information on the topic. Of interest is the section on LIPO batteries which reads:

Checked-in or Carry-on?

First of all it is very important that LiPo batteries MUST be carried on with you on board the aircraft and CAN NOT be placed in checked in luggage! Swift change in temperature and air pressure make LiPo batteries susceptible to catching fire.

[...]

I have been reading threads of discussion online debating if you should declare that you are traveling with LiPo-s when passing through the security inspection. Some reported having no problems even when questioned about the nature of the batteries and even friendly TSA personnel asking them if it is fun to fly quadcopters.  At the same time, any Lithium based battery pack falls under IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations involving the shipment of lithium-based batteries on passenger and cargo aircraft. So if you use common sense, you must agree that not declaring things that are classified as dangerous goods is NOT a good idea. You can stretch your luck but don’t think that your LiPo-s will not be seen during screening. Also, please don’t blame me if you follow my advice and still get declined to travel with your batteries. If it happens, it will definitely not be because you declared them.

Quantities

The quantity permitted is based on watt-hours (Wh). Wh establishes the lithium content by multiplying voltage with the ampere-hours (Ah). For example, 14.40V x 5Ah battery = 72Wh.

The current IATA dangerous goods regulations and your rights as passenger to carry the LiPos with you in carry-on luggage but not in your checked luggage. There are 3 classes of LiPo batteries. Below 100Wh there are no quantity restrictions as to the amount of batteries you can carry. Between 100Wh and 160Wh you are limited to two battery packs total per passenger. Above 160Wh you are not permitted to carry the packs as carry-on.

Avoiding short circuit

As another safety precaution, though this might not be mandatory according to flight safety regulations is to avoid short circuiting the batteries thus increasing the chance of fire hazard. This is fairly simple, all you need to do is to place each battery into an individual plastic bag. This will come in handy when labeling also, see below. You can also shrink wrap the battery connectors with saran wrap. This process only takes a few seconds and reduces the possibility of electrical arcing and moisture getting to the battery connectors.

[...]

LiPo Bags

Placing your batteries in LiPo safe bags is an absolute necessity, if you don’t have them, do not even attempt to carry them on board an aircraft. This is also for your safety. Of course you do not need to have a separate LiPo safe bag for each battery as you have also placed them in separate plastic bags as suggested above. But depending on the number and size of your batteries, be sure to have a bag with enough space for them all, or use multiple bags. This one is a good option, but you can buy larger ones also:

  • I strongly disagree with Also, please don’t blame me if you follow my advice and still get declined to travel with your batteries. If it happens, it will definitely not be because you declared them. Any organization issues unusable rules that personnel just ignores. Because of ignoring, the organization feels no pressure to change the rule and it persists. It is a fact of life and no result can be achieved by pretending you don't know that. If you as about batteries, it will be a much higher chance to loose them then if you don't tell about them when nobody asks. – Barafu Albino Oct 30 '15 at 12:44
  • 1
    @BarafuAlbino How do you propose not mentioning them? Security will find them in your carry-on and if you put them in your checked in luggage you endanger the plane (which will be severely punished). Better to find out what the specific rules are for your flight and abide by them. – JamesRyan Oct 30 '15 at 14:49
  • Put them in whatever you are supposed to put them and don't say anything unless asked. – Barafu Albino Oct 31 '15 at 15:09
8

Recently, we had an incident in the cabin during boarding (I work for an airline) which lead to deplaning all the passengers. I was one of the team members who were assigned to investigate the incident.

The passenger was following the policy, which is almost the same as mentioned in the other answer by @JoErNanO. Unfortunately, the batteries just explode, causing a severe smoke and it actually ignited. Luckily the crew put it off in a matter of seconds.

Imagine if this happened after the service when all lights are off and most passengers are sleeping. It would have taken more than a few seconds to identify the source of the smoke and that could give the fire a chance to spread. What about if this happened in the cargo hold!

Even though there was no injuries caused by that incident, it really had the potential to be a serious one. Hence, many airlines including the one I work for started a campaign to educate passengers about how dangerous they are. The LiPo bags are the best solution, as they will contain the smoke/fire within.

Regarding airport security, some airports already implemented strict policies regarding this, they basically won't allow any mid-large LiPo batteries to be carried by passengers, especially power banks as they have large batteries. China in particular is very strict regarding this. China actually knows that they make bad batteries. I have heard that they allow good Chinese brands. I was told that by a salesman there while I was buying a quadcopter in China recently, I can not confirm this anyway.

One last thing, I have ordered a cheap tablet online. It was delayed for a few weeks. The shipping company called me and informed me that the battery was the reason and many operators have stopped shipping that unless batteries are wrapped in a special way and they are implementing new rules for that.

Bottom line: even though they are still widely allowed as carry-on, they are still dangerous and if you have large batteries with high capacity it is best to put them in LiPo bags. Same exact advice is applicable when you have loose ones at your home like the ones that come with all kinds of RC planes, it is better to keep them in LiPo bags while not using them, last thing you want is a battery to ignite and burn your house down.

  • 1
    Sounds like he had a short circuit problem from some stray metallic items in the same bag. Good advice about the protective bags, those are available from most of the places that sell the batteries and in general its good to store and charge LiPo batteries in those at all times. There are plenty of videos on youtube of people abusing LiPos. Invariably they catch fire and turn into bad situations very quickly. – Octopus Oct 30 '15 at 5:09
  • I took several flights domestically in China this month- in every case they identified my smallish power bank (20Wh) from the X-Ray, carefully examined the specifications label, and allowed me to proceed with it. The brand is not very famous from what I know (Genius, bought from Newegg). – Spehro Pefhany Oct 30 '15 at 12:41
  • Every mobile phone and photo contains battery that is nearly as big as many powerbanks. – Barafu Albino Oct 31 '15 at 15:13
8

For the U.S. portion of your trip, the relevant regulation will be 49 CFR 175.10 (a)(18).

Here's the passenger-friendly, non-legalese summary version of the relevant CFR from the FAA:

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. The watt hours (Wh) rating is marked on newer lithium ion batteries and is explained in #3 below. 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. This size covers the largest aftermarket extended-life laptop batteries and most lithium ion batteries for professional-grade audio/visual equipment. Most lithium ion batteries for consumer electronics are below this size.

Note that the FAA specifically states that LiPo batteries are included in this category and that the FAA limits are the same as the IATA limits mentioned in JoErNanO's answer. That is, the limits are:

  • LiPo batteries installed in a device are ok in either checked or carry-on luggage.
  • An unlimited number of spare (uninstalled) LiPo batteries with a rating of up to 100 WHr may be carried, but only in carry-on baggage.
  • With airline approval, up to 2 LiPo batteries with ratings between 100 and 160 WHr may be carried, but only in carry-on luggage.
  • LiPo batteries larger than 160 WHr are not allowed.

Packing instructions

Note also that the same FAA document states that:

Spare batteries must be protected from damage and short circuit.

Battery-powered devices must be protected from accidental activation and heat generation.


Chargers

Another important thing to note from that document is that they consider external chargers as if they were batteries and, as such, those are only allowed in carry-on luggage, not in checked luggage.

The second page of the document contains a table to help clarify what is allowed and where.

1

So, I'm in the airport right now past security :) having gotten a 220wh lipo through in my carry on. They checked my bag and tested the battery for explosives. Obviously it was not an explosive and they just let me through.

I am calling this very lucky. I did not mean to bring a huge lipo with me but an unlikely series of events forced me to.

Avoid bringing massive lipos at all costs.

  • In what country and what airport? – Pithikos Sep 14 '18 at 21:39
  • That was at Chicago O'hare, USA. – Trexter Jan 22 at 22:22

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