How exciting is it to get to have a drone on your vacation? It can remind you of beautiful memories you enjoyed while you were away from home. Yet, you could be worried about bringing a drone on a plane, especially if this is your first time carrying it along.
Thankfully, flying with a drone isn’t as hard as you might think. But, there are specific legal requirements you need to know to stay on the right side of the law, and every airline has specific policies regarding drones on the flight.
As a rule of thumb, most airlines allow passengers to carry their drones on the flight, but they must be packed in carry-on baggage.
So, if you are planning to bring a drone with you, read this guide and find out what you need to do.
Can you bring a drone on a plane?
Specific laws by the TSA and FAA can restrict passengers from bringing certain items aboard the plane. However, TSA regulations do permit passengers to carry drones on an aircraft.
Since all airlines follow the TSA guidelines in their operations, most airlines do not prohibit carrying a drone aboard. Even so, it’s vital to check with the airline services you’ll be flying on, as each airline has its own specific drone policies.
For instance, some airlines only permit passengers to have their drones stored in carry-on baggage rather than checked baggage. Other airlines permit drones whether they’re packed in carry-on or checked baggage.
Once you switch off your drone, it’ll be considered just as any other personal electronic device. You can store your drone and its accessories in a hard drone case and pack it away as a carry-on.
Before you start your journey, it’s prudent to review the laws and regulations of the destination point. You may not be allowed in a country or jurisdiction if you have a banned item on your baggage, and some countries do not permit you to bring a drone in.
The TSA and FAA regulations allow drones through their security checks domestically. Nonetheless, if your travel is foreign, the airport authorities in those countries may restrict drones. That’s why familiarizing yourself with drone laws in the country of destination matters.
How to pack your drone for air travel
If your drone is allowed on a plane, there’s a best way to carry it aboard. And each airline has specific rules pertaining to drone storage before you can board.
First of all, you must switch off your drone and remove all its batteries before packing it. This is a rule that cuts across all airlines.
Some airlines require that the drone be packed in a carry-on suitcase. So, the passenger enters with the carry-on in the cabin. This approach of carrying the drone keeps the device safely in your care, and better allows you to handle emergencies in case there’s a battery fire.
This is why most airlines prefer this method over packing the drone in the cargo hold. But other airlines still allow for both ways of carrying these devices.
It would be best to find a compact drone case that can house the drone, its batteries, and the controller. Typically, this should be a hard case that’s small enough to fit in your carry-on baggage.
The standard dimensions for the carry-on baggage are 22x14x9 inches. However, these measurements can vary from one airline to another, depending on what policies guide them.
If your drone is larger, you may need special freight services. Usually, such a drone is transported as checked luggage because that’s the only way to carry it.
So, check on the rules of the airline you’ll be flying with to determine how they want the device packed and carried.
Can a drone go through airport security?
Luckily, the TSA does not consider drones to be a security threat. Instead, drones are considered electronic devices by this agency. So the same way they would scan your laptop is what also happens with your drone.
When you’re going through the security checkpoint, you should plan to take the drone out of your carry-on case.
If the drone is packed in its own hard case within your carry-on case, you can leave the drone in its hard case, just take the whole case out of your carry-on bag and put it on the belt for scanning.
If you have a larger drone that takes up a whole carry-on size case, just place the whole case on the belt and don’t unpack it. In general, you don’t need to alert the TSA agent that you have a drone with you. Drones have become commonplace enough these days that they see a lot of them come through.
If there’s a problem with the way you’ve packed the drone or the batteries, they can alert you to that.
How to bring drone batteries on a plane?
Most drones run on lithium-polymer batteries or what’s universally called LiPo batteries. These batteries are classified as hazardous on a plane because they can ignite if handled carelessly.
LiPo batteries need to be transported carefully even though battery fire is not common. The first thing you want to do before travel is remove these batteries from the drone. Then, find a LiPo safe bag to store them separately to avoid accidental contact and short-circuiting.
Don’t fly with the batteries if they’re 100 percent full charge. You might need to discharge them back to 30 to 50 percent – the recommended charge voltage for a battery in transit.
Here are the general specifications recommended by IATA or International Air Transport Association to airlines:
- Batteries with up to 100Wh: You can carry up to 20 spare batteries in your cabin bag.
- Batteries with 101-160Wh: You can only carry up to 2 spare batteries
- Batteries with 160Wh and above: You can transport them as dangerous goods, a special freight service.
Your airline of travel may not follow these guidelines to the book. So, if you find anything outside these regulations, there’s no need to panic. Just make sure to consult the airline you’ll board to know their requirements.
Safety tips for carrying LiPo batteries in carry-on baggage
- Leave batteries in their original retail package if possible.
- Cover battery terminals to avoid contact if two or more batteries are stored in the same container.
- Put them in a battery case or fireproof pouch.
- All batteries you carry should be for personal use.
- Check with the guidelines of your airline for specific requirements.
Carrying spare batteries in checked baggage isn’t allowed. Any battery in the checked luggage must be installed in a drone.
The perfect drone bag for air travel
While there are many bags made to use with drones, not all meet the minimum requirements. A drone carry bag is designed specially to store your drone safely.
The bag should be a hardshell case to provide maximum protection. The size must be correct, just small enough to fit well in your cabin storage.
The drone case or bag comes with three compartments. The first compartment is for the drone, the second for the batteries, and the third for the remote controller device.
Meanwhile, high-capacity batteries might need a battery safe bag, which is often fireproof. When batteries are carried in such bags, the chances of coming in contact and short-circuiting are minimized.
Is a drone allowed on international flights?
Generally, TSA regulations don’t restrict passengers from carrying drones on planes. Hence, most airlines allow passengers to have drones on board with specific guidelines.
You can generally take your drone from one country to another. However, carry out due research to find out the local laws about drones in your destination country. Some countries allow for drones and others don’t, and if that’s the case, you want to be familiar with them.
For instance, you may need to register your drone with the country’s aviation authority before arrival. Sometimes, you could be required to do a test before getting certification and licensing documentation to use a drone in the intended destination.
Certain countries are a no-go zone for drones altogether. You cannot plan to have your drone if you travel there. So, you want to make sure to adhere to any laws that operate in specific places you’ll be traveling in.
Probably, you can register your drone as a Personal Effect Taken Abroad. Once you do this, your chances of facing stern tests and questions on your drone transportation might be few, and it gives you an easy time when you come back to your home country.
Tips for taking your drone through customs
In the US, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) are the agencies responsible for making and enforcing drone operation regulations. As you already have seen, these authorities have no problem with drones on airplanes.
However, that can quickly change as you enter other countries. You can get lucky with your drone in countries where drone laws are similar to the US.
Here are some vital tips to follow:
- Ensure you research the drone laws in the country you’re visiting. It’s important to know whether flying drones is legal or not. You don’t want to waste your time carrying a drone when the law prohibits such items. They could easily confiscate your drone, and as a person, you risk facing some hefty fines or worse.
- Once you’re aware of the laws about drones, strictly follow them. Make sure you get the correct licensing and certification documentation. If you’ll be required to take a test, do it well in advance of your travel date. Some jurisdictions want to be sure that you’re a good drone pilot that won’t pose safety risks to the public.
- Register your drone with the local regulating agency if need be. For example, if you go to Greece with a drone, you must register with the regulatory agency – the HCAA.
- Don’t carry a drone in drone-restricted countries. If you’ve successfully done that before, you probably haven’t met one of those bad days. So, if drones are prohibited, avoid the drama of getting caught. You might pay serious charges besides having your device confiscated and never returned.
- In countries with no established drone laws, carry your drone with caution. It’s hard to predict whether drones will be allowed or not. You may be lucky to have your drone go through and enjoy flying it. On the other hand, in some instances, you could be incriminated as a security threat even though there are no specific laws on drone operations.
- Use the ‘Personal Effect’ option to register your drone with customs before leaving the country. When coming back after your travel, you won’t have any legal issues with the airport authorities regarding the drone. If you don’t register when you’re leaving the airport, it might just come back to haunt you later, especially if the officials on duty don’t understand your position.
Different airline drone policies in the US
Notably, airline policies on drone carry aren’t the same across the different airlines in the US. You’ll want to check these rules to ensure you fulfill their requirements.
In this section, let’s go through the drone regulations of a few major airlines in the US.
1. Delta Airlines
Delta Airlines has no clear policies on drone transportation. With Delta Airlines you can reliably plan on carrying drones on board as carry-on baggage.
The drone carry-on case must not exceed the limit of 22x14x9 inches in size. Batteries can be up to 160 Wh but not more. You must not try to fly or operate the drone while onboard.
2. Alaska Airlines
Alaska Airlines also allows passengers to have drones on the flight. However, drone batteries need to be under 100 Wh. Also, it would be best if you packed your drone and its batteries in a carry-on bag that can fit well in the cabin, especially under the front seat ahead of you.
Moreover, the airline emphasizes covering battery terminals – a practice done to avoid short-circuit emergencies. In that regard, you are advised to keep the original package intact or use non-conductive tape to cover terminals.
3. American Airlines
The American Airlines policy on drones is straightforward. While you can take a drone on board, you need to pack it in a hard case that measures 22x14x9 inches and not more.
In addition, your drone’s batteries must not exceed 160 Wh, and you need to remove these batteries from the drone. You can put the batteries in the drone case for carry-on, but they cannot be packed in checked baggage.
The airline permits unlimited LiPo batteries on the plane if the wattage is under 100Wh. For batteries between 100-160Wh, you can carry only two spare batteries. Any batteries more than 160Wh require special freight assistance.
4. JetBlue Airlines
JetBlue Airlines allows for drones onboard, but the must meet the maximum size requirements of 17x13x8 inches under the seat. You can also keep your drone carry-on in the overhead cabin.
You also have the option to pack your drone in checked baggage. The policy further requires that the batteries are inside the drone if you are packing the drone and battery in the checked luggage. You must switch off the drone during travel.
If you want to carry spare batteries, there is no limit for batteries less than 100Wh. But you can have only two spare batteries for 100-160Wh batteries, carried as carry-on baggage.
Cover battery terminals with tape or carry them in separate plastic bags to avoid terminal contact.
5. Southwest Airlines
Southwest Airlines’ policy is clear about taking drones on board as carry-on luggage. Generally, the airline operator considers drones as Portable Electronic Devices or PEDs.
According to the airline, passengers can have PEDs on the plane so long as the battery inside meets the size requirements recommended by the authorities.
You can carry up to 20 spare batteries under 100Wh and two extra batteries that exceed 100Wh. You’re not allowed to take batteries over 160Wh on the airlines.
6. Allegiant Airlines
Using Allegiant Airlines, you can bring a drone in your carry-on baggage as long as the battery does not exceed 100Wh. Also, the drone’s signal transmitting capabilities must be able to be turned off.
However, on Allegiant Airlines, batteries with more than 160 watt-hours are forbidden from transport, whether in the checked luggage or carry-on. This means that if your drone has batteries that use a wattage of more than 160Wh, you won’t be able to bring it.
Any spare batteries in your carry-on must be in a protective pouch.
7. United Airlines
In United Airlines, you can carry your drone, but ensure that its battery doesn’t exceed 100Wh. The policy requires that the battery be removed from the drone. Then you’ll take the drone and batteries as carry-on and not as checked baggage.
8. Spirit Airlines
Spirit Airlines is a low-cost flight that allows drone carry-on and checked. The airline emphasizes a properly sized drone bag in the cabin and a hardshell case for checked baggage.
LiPo batteries for the drone can be carried as carry-on baggage and not as checked baggage. To protect your batteries from short-circuiting, you need to cover them with tape.
Beyond that, the policy restricts the size of batteries you can carry to not larger than 100Wh.
By and large, bringing a drone on a plane is permitted and straightforward. Depending on airline policy, you can have the drone packed as carry-on baggage or checked baggage.
While TSA and FAA provide drone regulations, including their transportation, each airline has its set of rules that they use. Before you travel, ensure you are familiar with the rules of your airline.
Most importantly, review the local laws of the destination country or place you’re traveling in to know whether drones are allowed or not. Once your drone is safely transported to your destination of choice, you can enjoy recording the best of your memories to relive them in the future.