I’ve been researching how many Lithium batteries (rechargeable and non-rechargeable) one can carry on an airline (carry-on and checked in) without inviting persecution or penalty.
It’s an important subject nowadays, because larger capacity batteries in the 200 Wh+ range are quite common, and somewhat cheap. Can you safely carry these onboard an airplane? That’s what this article intends to find out.
What do the major airlines say?
Batteries in the ‘less than 100 Wh’ range are termed ‘small’. Batteries in the 100-160 Wh range are termed ‘medium’ and batteries over 160 Wh range are termed ‘large’. Large batteries are a strict no-no for air travel.
Extremely Important: The information provided here may be plain wrong or incorrect. Information if provided for informational purposes only. It does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please contact the airlines directly for legal allowances for all batteries. Do NOT use this article to make decisions. You are responsible for your own actions and safety.
|100 Wh or less||100-160 Wh||100 Wh or less||100-160 Wh||160 Wh +|
|British Airways||E (unlimited), S (4)||E (unlimited), S (2)||E only, no spares||NO!|
|Cathay Pacific||E (unlimited), S (20)|
|Qantas||E (unlimited), S (n/a)|
|Virgin||E (unlimited), S (reasonable amount)|
|Air India||E (unlimited), S (reasonable amount)|
|American Airlines||E (unlimited), S (reasonable amount)|
- *I’ve only chosen a few random airlines, please check with the airline you’re traveling with for special restrictions.
- ^ E stands for Equipment, i.e., batteries connected to the equipment they are intended for. S stands for Spare batteries.
Many airlines allow you to carry a ‘reasonable’ or ‘unlimited’ amount of lithium batteries as long as they are less than 100Wh. However, what is ‘reasonable’? Surely if I carry 20 95Wh bricks on Cathay Pacific somebody will ruin my day (and trip!).
Just to put some perspective on this, the average allowable carry-on weight is 7 kg. Each 95 Wh brick weighs about 750 g. If you have a camera or light fixture that needs this brick, it most likely weighs 1-3 kg, and then add another 1 kg for the bag (at the least). Let’s say you somehow have 3 kg left just for batteries. You can carry about 4 batteries without going over the limit.
Therefore, I think we can safely say you shouldn’t carry more than 4 bricks in your carry-on luggage.
Now let’s put a spin on this. What if you were forced to check-in your luggage? All airlines are pretty unanimous here – no spares in checked luggage. That means you’d better do your research very well on whether you’ll be forced to check in your baggage or not, because if you are caught napping, you’re going to have to leave a few batteries behind – best case scenario.
If you’re planning on flying often, I don’t think carrying any more than 2-3 bricks per person is a sound strategy. Weight is one concern, but having to explain regularly why there are four bricks in your backpack is not fun. You could carry a second piece of equipment that can also take the same batteries, just in case you are asked to ‘connect it to your equipment’. Or, you could just hire an assistant to help you carry additional batteries.
If you’re going to carry only two batteries, then it makes sense to make them count. You could definitely go for 130+ Wh batteries (up to 160 Wh) so you can work longer. However, some airlines reserve the right to let you onboard with even 2 batteries in the medium range. You might have to take special permission before you decide to show up at the check-in or security gate.
If you have a second piece of equipment that can take the same battery, you can check-in one more to make it a total of three.
So, which is a better strategy?
- Carry 3x 95 Wh (carry-on) + 1x 95 Wh (checked-in), or
- 2x 130 Wh (carry-on) + 1x 130 Wh (checked-in)?
The first strategy gives you a total of 380 Wh of juice, while the second strategy gives you 390 Wh. You could carry one more 95 Wh to give it the ‘advantage’, but then you have the disadvantage of added weight (the second strategy will save you 1.5 kg in carry-on). Here are the pros and cons of both strategies:
|95 Wh bricks||More juice, totally safe to carry||Extra weight, more charging|
|130 Wh bricks||Less weight, less charging, lighter charger||Less juice, you might need special approval sometimes|
What about price and charging?
- Price-wise, one Anton Bauer Digital 150 Wh battery costs about $477 ($3.18/Wh), while two Anton Bauer Digital 90 Wh batteries will set you back by $538 ($2.98/Wh). The price difference is hardly a factor here.
- If you have four 95 Wh batteries and you need to charge them at the same time, you need a quad charger. An AB Quad charger costs $989 and weighs 3.6 kg, while the dual charger costs $719 and weighs 3.2 kg. The quad charger is obviously bigger.
It doesn’t matter how you slice it, the decision is purely based on these three factors:
- Size – how much space you have in your luggage
- Weight – how much weight can you spare
- Airlines – Do you need special permission and will you get it?
If you’re traveling on an airline that doesn’t give you problems in the 100-160 Wh range, then I think the 130 Wh strategy is best. If you’re not sure, or you are sure the airline will give you issues, then the decision has been made for you.
What about 160+ Wh batteries? Don’t even dare to carry any such thing to the airport. You might be fined or jailed or worse. These need to be shipped as special cargo as ‘dangerous goods’ – because they are.
Some safety tips when traveling with lithium batteries
I’m no expert, so this is solely off the Internet.
Rather than go into details about the chemistry and its consequences, let’s just focus on things that we can do something about:
- Don’t buy non-branded batteries whose origin you can’t be sure about. If you do, don’t fly with them.
- Protect the contacts from short-circuit by taping them with electrical insulation tape or putting each battery in a separate plastic container.
- Protect the batteries from rupture by giving them the same protection you do for your camera gear.
- Keep them away from external heat.
- When packing batteries, try to keep them separate.
- Don’t use cheap chargers – they can actually destroy the battery’s protection circuit
- Unless specially allowed by the manufacturer, don’t charge lithium batteries when the temperature is below 0ºC.
- Declare your batteries while checking in.
- Never use a damaged or smoking battery.
- Never use a battery that emits fumes.
I don’t know, but maybe it’s because of safety concerns primarily that Anton Bauer redesigned their batteries for air travel (I could be totally wrong here, and I don’t speak for Anton Bauer):
|Feature||Digital Gold 90||Dionic HC|
|Dimensions (inch)||2.7 x 6.5 x 4.4||4.06 x 5.46 x 2.34|
|Volume (cubic Inch)||77.2||51.9|
|Weight||2.0 lb (0.9 kg)||1.8 lbs (800g)|
|Better airflow and heat dissipation||Yes||?|
|Temperature sensors and shutdown||Yes||?|
|Cushion against accidental drops||Yes||?|
Many people complain about the larger size of the G90 batteries (it’s a 50% increase in volume), but the batteries are shock-proof to a large extent and the extra space allows for better heat dissipation. The disadvantage to the shape and size is that it takes up more space in your luggage.
The bottom line
So, what’s the bottom line? When traveling with lithium batteries, you can follow this strategy (values show total Wh):
- The first option is purely for carry-on. The second option assumes you can check in one more battery attached to another piece of equipment.
- I’ve just generalized on the capacity – 90 to 100 Wh could all be 95 Wh, and so on. 160 Wh could also be 150 Wh, but never more than 160 Wh.
- Blue means this is the best option. Orange means both could be options depending on priority (see below). Green is the second best option. White is the last option. Black means there’s no point in considering these for various reasons.
- The choice between 4x 95 Wh batteries (orange box) and 2x 160 Wh batteries is dependent on size, weight and whether the airline will permit you to carry them. Assuming yes for the latter, the extra 60 Wh you gain might not be worth the doubling in size and weight. It’s your call.
- If you are able to check-in a medium battery in another piece of equipment, then 100-160 Wh batteries are your best bet. 3x 160 Wh batteries will beat any other combination every time. One example of what you could carry is a SmallHD DP7 monitor (or other monitor) with support for the Gold mount. Another example is an LED panel with a Gold mount. I’m not sure about this, but maybe you can even carry one in your charger! (Please check first! This could be illegal)
- It’s always a good idea to have both 95 Wh and 130-160 Wh batteries in your kit, preferably two each (maybe three in the case of 95 Wh). This means you’re ready for any contingency. This only makes sense for regular fliers though. Good bricks and chargers are not cheap. For most of us, it’s either-or.
My pick? Fly with two 150 Wh batteries, and a spare 150 Wh checked-in whenever you can. If the airlines permits you, a 130-160 Wh lithium ion battery strategy gives you the best bang for your buck, with considerable savings in size and weight as well.
I hope this small but important article will help you manage your battery needs while flying. What do you think? Is my thinking correct?