Traveling with a Drone: The Ultimate Guide to Bringing a Drone on a Plane
BY Isabella Lee6 March 2019
Bringing a drone on your travels can be a great way to document your experiences and record memories. Most people who own a drone wouldn’t dream of traveling without it, but not every airline or travel destination is drone-friendly.
Before you pack that drone in your suitcase, you should consider whether it will comply with TSA requirements, FAA hazardous material regulations, airline policies, and the drone laws in both your take-off location and arrival destination.
Source: US DHS, Flickr
In this guide, we’ll walk you through how you can legally take your drone on a plane. You’ll learn how to properly pack your drone and drone batteries for air travel based on TSA drone rules and FAA regulations. We’ll also alert you to when you should check with your specific airline for additional guidelines.
Note: The content on this page is meant for informational purposes only and is not meant to take the place of legal counsel. If we missed something, or if you have further questions, please send an email to support[at]uavcoach[dot]com, and we’ll do our best to help you out.
Bringing Your Drone on a Plane
When packing a drone in your carry-on or your checked baggage, follow these procedures:
- Make sure the drone is turned off and any switches are protected from accidental activation.
- Consider getting a special drone carrying case, like one of these, to protect your drone from damage.
You’ll need to check with your specific airline about whether to pack your drone in your carry-on baggage or checked baggage. Some airlines require drones to be packed in carry-on baggage only due to the DOT’s ban on transporting lithium-ion batteries in cargo compartments of passenger airplanes.
Bringing Your Drone Batteries on a Plane
Since most drones are powered by lithium-ion (LIPO) batteries, you need to follow FAA hazardous materials regulations. LIPO batteries should be stored in your carry-on baggage. In certain circumstances, you may be permitted to pack them in your checked baggage; however, we find that the rules around traveling with lithium-ion batteries are clearer and easier to follow for carry-on baggage.
LIPO Batteries in Carry-On Baggage
When packing LIPO batteries in your carry-on baggage, you’ll need to know the watt hours (Wh) of your battery. Jump to this section on how to calculate watt hours.
When packing LIPO batteries with 100 Wh or less in your carry-on baggage, follow these procedures:
- To protect LIPO batteries in your carry-on baggage from short circuit, you must pack them using any of the following methods: leave the batteries in their retail packaging, cover the battery terminals with tape, use a battery case, use a battery sleeve in a camera bag, or put them snugly in a plastic bag or protective pouch.
- The batteries you bring must be for personal use (includes professional use). Do not pack batteries for resale or for distribution by a vendor.
- Check for any airline-specific requirements for bringing LIPO batteries onboard in your carry-on bag.
When packing LIPO batteries with more than 100 Wh but less than 160 Wh in your carry-on baggage, follow these procedures:
- To bring a larger LIPO battery (more than 100 Wh) onboard in your carry-on baggage, you’ll need to obtain approval from the airline.
- Do not pack more than two spare batteries with more than 100 Wh.
- Store batteries in their original packaging, a battery case, or a separate pouch or pocket to protect them from a short circuit.
LIPO Batteries in Checked Baggage
LIPO batteries with 100 Wh or less can be packed inside checked baggage only if they’re securely installed inside the drone. LIPO batteries with more than 100 Wh packed in checked baggage require approval from the airline.
You cannot pack spare LIPO batteries of any Wh in your checked baggage. Only the battery inside your drone is allowed in checked baggage. Pack spare batteries in your carry-on instead, and make sure they are inside their original packaging, a battery case, or a separate pouch or pocket.
How to Determine the Watt Hours of Your Drone Batteries
Most small consumer drone batteries have less than 100 Wh, but it’s important to verify the Wh of your specific batteries.
To determine watt hours, multiply the volts by the ampere hours (Wh = V x Ah).
- Example: A 12-volt battery rated to 8 Amp hours is rated at 96 watt hours (12 x 8 = 96).
For more information on how to pack your LIPO batteries, view this list of TSA prohibited items and the FAA’s guidelines for batteries carried by airline passengers.
Taking Your Drone Through Customs
In most places, the country’s national or civil aviation authority sets and enforces drone regulations. For example, in the United States, drone regulations are set by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA); in Canada, they’re set by Transport Canada Civil Aviation (TCCA). Identifying the civil aviation authority in the country you’re traveling to can help you learn about the drone laws in a specific country.
When traveling to countries where it is legal to fly a drone, you should:
- Research the country’s drone laws. We suggest using our Master List of Drone Laws as a starting point for your research.
- Check for any foreigner-specific drone laws. Some countries require foreigners to obtain special permissions to fly a drone that their citizens are not subject to. In some rare cases, countries ban foreigners from bringing drones through customs at all.
- Determine whether or not you’re required to register your drone with the country’s national or civil aviation authority.
- Follow the county’s requirements for drone licensing and certification. You may need to take an aeronautical knowledge test or demonstrate flight proficiency according to the country’s laws. This is likely if you’re flying for professional/commercial purposes.
When traveling to countries where it is illegal to fly a drone, we do not recommend bringing your drone. It is possible that your drone will be confiscated at customs. It may or may not be returned to you at the end of your trip upon leaving the country on your return flight.
When traveling to countries where no drone laws are established, you should not assume that you’ll be able to bring or fly your drone in that country. The absence of drone laws doesn’t necessarily mean you can fly wherever or however you like in—in fact, it could mean that authorities will be generally opposed to the use of drones, especially by tourists.
The same cautionary note applies to bringing a drone through customs. Sometimes, when a country has no drone-specific laws, some customs officials choose to confiscate drones and some choose not to—but it’s almost impossible to know what you’ll run into until you’re actually there with your drone.
As an additional precaution for U.S. travelers, you may have the option to register your drone with Customs as a “Personal Effect Taken Abroad” prior to traveling. This will prevent any misunderstandings as to whether you are returning with the same drone you left with or are importing a new drone purchased abroad.
Traveling with a drone can provide exciting filming and photography opportunities. With a bit of planning and research, a drone can be an excellent travel companion, and you won’t have to worry about stirring up any legal issues or having your drone confiscated. If you have a drone travel story to share, we’d love to hear all about it on our community forum.