Drones are wonderful companions when traveling or going on a vacation, as they are capable of capturing stunning photos or videos that will set your vacation memories apart. Many drone owners can’t imagine traveling without their miniature flying machines. But can you take a drone on a plane? We answer this question and more in this article.
Drones are allowed on planes as long as you follow your airline’s policy and guidelines regarding traveling with drones. If you are traveling to another country, check the regulations regarding drone use in that country.
The key to taking a drone on a plane is to properly pack the drone and follow all rules and regulations about transporting drones via air travel. The rest of this article is dedicated to helping you learn how to safely and legally take your drone on a plane.
Bringing your drone on a plane
Any drone to be taken on a plane must be turned off, and you must take proper precautions to be sure all switches are protected to prevent accidental activation. It’s also advisable to travel with a special drone case to protect your drone from damage during travel.
When taking your drone on a plane, you have two options as regards how to transport the drone. You can either pack the drone in your checked luggage or carry it on the plane (with your carry-on luggage) with you. Many airlines require that drones are packed in carry-on luggage due to the Department of Transportation’s ban on transporting lithium-ion batteries in cargo compartments (link) of passenger airplanes.
However, if you are traveling with a large drone, say the DJI Inspire 2, you may be required to check your drone because the large size of the drone will most likely exceed the airline’s maximum size requirement for carry-on luggage. Small drones like those belonging to the Mavic series can be easily taken on a plane as a carry-on without any problem.
The bottom line here is that each airline will have different rules telling you whether you have to check your drone in or put it in your carry-on. Smaller drones are more likely to be allowed as carry-on luggage while larger drones may have to be checked in. Some airlines don’t allow drones to be kept in the cargo and this may mean you’ll not be allowed to transport any drone that exceeds carry-on size.
Tip: Find out your airline’s dimensions for carry-on luggage and travel with a drone that doesn’t exceed these dimensions.
How to take a drone battery on a plane?
While there’s no federal law in the United States that prohibits taking drones through airports and on airplanes, drone batteries are a different matter altogether. Drone batteries are lithium-ion batteries and may release a large amount of heat and energy in case of a short-circuit, shock, or thermal event. Accidents linked to lithium batteries have happened on airplanes several times.
The potential hazard posed by lithium-ion batteries has made the FAA put restrictions on drone batteries. As per the FAA regulations, you can only bring a drone battery on a plane as part of the carry-on luggage, if the battery supplies 100 watts per hour or less. Usually, you’ll find the watt-hour (Wh) rating on the battery. You can also estimate the Wh rating of your battery by multiplying the voltage and the amps-hours (Ah).
Here’s the formula to calculate watts per hour: Wh = V * Ah
If your drone batteries are below 100 Wh, the FAA allows passengers to carry as many such batteries as they want. However, should the battery be between 101 and 160 Wh, the FAA regulations allow you to carry a maximum of two such batteries.
You cannot pack your LiPo or lithium-ion batteries in your checked luggage. The reason the FAA requires that batteries be kept in carry-on luggage is to prevent them from being subjected to loading and unloading damage in the cargo hold which can cause a fire.
And should there be a fire in the carry-on luggage, the crew will be able to deal with it efficiently. Compare this to a fire outbreak happening in the cargo hold which can even go unnoticed!
Spare batteries of any kind cannot be packed inside checked luggage.
The only way drone batteries can be kept inside checked luggage is if such batteries are 100 Wh or less and if they are also installed inside the drones.
Let me reiterate: Spare batteries of any kind cannot be packed inside checked luggage. All spare batteries must be in carry-on luggage and the number of spare batteries you are allowed to carry depends on the Wh rating of the batteries.
Tip: If possible, don’t travel with a fully charged battery to minimize the risk of fire or short-circuit. Travel with batteries that have about 30% charge to minimize the hazards associated with Lithium-ion batteries. This is also the best for battery health.
Use an appropriate drone travel bag or case
It’s important to transport your drone using an appropriate case or bag. If you have a DJI drone, there are several bags and cases available at the DJI online store. Check if your drone manufacturer has specially designed cases or bags for travel. It’s recommended to use a hard shell bag or case for maximum protection of your drone. There are also other bag types you can find at your manufacturer’s online store. There are also a lot of good options for travel cases for all types of drone brands and models available on Amazon.
A couple of manufacturers also design bags specifically for drone batteries and you should consider investing in this type of bag if you are carrying a high-capacity battery.
Packing tip: Make sure to pack stored media or data (on your drone SD card) separately from the actual drone. By removing your SD card and other storage media from your drone, you are protecting your data should anything happen to the drone during travel. If possible, make a copy of all your data before travel.
Taking your drone through customs
Most countries have a national or civil aviation authority that regulates the operation of drones. You are most likely familiar with the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), the agency that regulates drone operations in the United States. Canada has the Transport Canada Civil Aviation, and so on.
While many of the rules will be similar, there may be slight differences, and some countries won’t even allow you to bring a drone in at all. Before traveling to any country, do some research about the current drone laws in the country. You can check each country’s regulatory agency online and see what guidelines have been put in place regarding the use of drones.
Things to look for in your research are:
- Drone laws in the country you’re visiting and whether it’s legal to use drones or not in the country. If it’s illegal to use drones in the country, we advise you to not travel with your drone since you won’t be able to fly your drone during your visit. Also, your drone could be confiscated or you could be fined.
- If drone use is legal in the country you are going to, check for any foreigner-specific drone laws. It’s not uncommon for some countries to have laws that require foreigners to get permission from the appropriate agency before they can fly drones. Greece, for example, requires foreigners to register with their regulatory agency (HCAA) before they can use drones in the country.
- Follow any foreigner-specific drone laws that are in place and follow their regulatory agency directives for drone licensing and certification. Some countries require you to take an aeronautical knowledge test while others simply want you to demonstrate your flight proficiency. All of these are to determine whether you are a competent drone pilot and to protect the safety of the public.
- As reiterated earlier, don’t take drones to countries that outright ban them or have regulations that prevent you from flying them. We’ve all read about people flying drones illegally in countries that don’t allow the operation of drones. They may have been getting away with it but Lady Luck may decide not to shine on if you attempt to do the same. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
- If a country doesn’t have any established drone laws, you have to proceed with caution as the absence of drone laws isn’t a guarantee that you’ll be able to use drones in the country. From experience, countries that don’t have drone laws are either indifferent to the operation of drones or opposed to the use of drones despite having no established laws against it. So, tread carefully here.
Some custom officials in countries that have no established drone laws may choose to confiscate drones at times while other custom officials will allow drones to go through. Since you don’t know who’s going to be at customs, you will have to actually be at the point of entry with your drone to know what’s going to happen.
- US travelers usually have the option to register their drones with customs as a ‘Personal Effect’ before leaving the country. And we advise you to always use this option before traveling as it’ll ensure you have no issues when you are coming back through customs with the same drone. After all, you’ve already registered it with customs as a personal effect before you left the country.
It’s fun to travel with drones as you get to capture amazing videos and photos of your trip to share with your friends and family. At the same time, you don’t want to lose your drone through confiscation by customs officials or even have legal issues when you are supposed to be having fun on your trip. And the best way to prevent this is to do your assignment by carrying out research about drone laws in the country you are visiting.