You can’t take everything on a plane and the litany of prohibited or regulated items is endless. But what not everyone knows is that even within a product category there can be very slight subtleties that we don’t pay attention to until we come across a rather fussy security check. This is the case for batteries, for example! And God knows that we carry more and more of them!
- The “dry” batteries
- Devices containing a non-removable lithium battery
- Devices containing a removable lithium battery
- Spare Lithium batteries
- How do I know the capacity of my battery?
- Other cases
- Is it really controlled?
- Our travel tips
- Bottom line
The “dry” batteries
These are the batteries we commonly use at home (AAA, AA…). They are allowed on board in both checked and carry-on baggage whether or not they are rechargeable.
The most common use of these batteries today is in cameras.
Devices containing a non-removable lithium battery
These are the batteries contained in our phones, computers etc. These devices are allowed both in the cabin and in checked luggage even if I wonder who has the crazy idea to take the risk of putting his computer in his suitcase.
However, there is a limit: their capacity must be less than 100 watts/hour (100 WH).
Above 100 WH and below 160 WH they are only allowed in the cabin and with prior authorization of the airline and, in most cases, within the limit of two per person.
Specific bans may apply to certain devices temporarily or permanently such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 or today certain models of MacBook Pro.
Devices containing a removable lithium battery
These devices are only accepted in the cabin and provided that the battery capacity is less than 100 WH.
Between 100 and 160 WH an authorization from the airline is required and the number of batteries of this type is generally limited to 2.
Spare Lithium batteries
The above rule applies and the airlines may decide to limit the number of flights.
More interestingly, these provisions also apply to powerbanks, those big batteries we love to recharge our devices. As the technology evolves and they gain capacity they begin to approach and even exceed the 100 WH limit for some.
In any case their capacity must be easily verifiable (written on it).
How do I know the capacity of my battery?
Well, it’s not complicated, it’s written on it most of the time…except for the powerbanks where it’s more random.
On the other hand the problem you will face is that very often the information is mentioned in mAh (mili-ampere hour) which does not help you much.
So the magic formula to know is that mAh*V/1000 = Wh.
Concretely speaking, if I take my Anker PowerCore 20100 mAh battery that I never get rid of (it can charge more than 6 times an iphone or 2 times an iPad Air). Its output power is 4.8V so in WH it gives 96.48, which puts me just under the limit. Now that even more powerful models are available on the market, it is important to check what you are carrying before leaving for the airport.
If the capacity of your powerbank is not mentioned on it, travel with the user manual or anything that proves its capacity.
Car batteries, liquid batteries or disposable batteries are not permitted in carry-on or checked baggage unless they are used to power a scooter or wheelchair. If you need to carry a spare battery for a scooter or wheelchair, you must notify the airline so that the battery can be properly packed for air travel.
Is it really controlled?
I was going to tell you that I have never seen a thorough battery check at a security checkpoint…until my last trip to Beijing where they were more than fussy to the point that I thought they were going to retain some batteries as Olivier explained here.
In general and after exploring many traveler’s forums it is clear that China is much more fussy than other countries on the subject.
Why ? Unlike other countries, quality standards are not the same, or sometimes non-existent, and it is easy to buy poor quality material, more likely to catch fire in flight.
In my case they looked carefully at two electronic cigarette batteries on which the capacity was not very readable while they barely glanced at my Anker 96 WH on which no mention is visible. For the record a battery e-cigarette is usually 3500 mAh maximum at 3.7 volts so 13 WH : no need to worry. Generally speaking, only powerbanks can cause you problems in theory.
In practice, go and explain to a fussy Chinese that it works…I wish you good luck and besides, all the negative feedbacks that I saw on the net only concern China and it doesn’t matter the battery capacity.
Our travel tips
First of all, use only “quality” Lithium batteries and powerbanks and if their capacity is not mentioned on them, make a photocopy of any document proving its characteristics (in English of course). A battery in apparent poor condition may also be confiscated.
For batteries (not powerbanks), pack them in specific boxes so that they do not touch a metal element at the bottom of your pocket or bag. In fact, it is mandatory.
Afterwards, as you will see in this discussion, if you come across a nitpicking employee (most often because he or she can’t read English) it’s Russian roulette.
Beware, however, that an airline is completely free to have a more restrictive policy than the international standards. So I would advise you to look more specifically at what your airline says about this. For example Air France, Lufthansa, Swiss and Austrian, Air China or China Airlines.
This is only a “popularizing” article, if you want to go into details and follow the evolution of the regulation there is one and only one source: IATA and its page dedicated to the subject where you will find all the necessary documentation.
Only a few models today have a capacity that prohibits them from being transported by air. But that doesn’t mean someone won’t annoy you and nitpick. At least now you know the limits even though I doubt any stubborn employee will listen to you.