hawaii tsa drone carry-on luggage

Can I take my drone through TSA in my carry-on baggage?

Next up in our “Ask Drone Girl” series is about taking your drone through TSA in your checked baggage. If you have a question for Drone Girl, contact her here.

I’m going to Maui in three weeks, and I would love to bring my GoPro Drone.  I was wondering if you know the regulation at SFO regards to having drone in my carry-on.   Any tips in Maui? What spots are good to fly drones at? 

I’m jealous you’re heading to Maui! And yes, whether you are flying through SFO or any other airport, it is okay to take a drone through a U.S. airport. Drones are allowed through the TSA checkpoints, according to the TSA.

That said, just because you can get your drone through the airport doesn’t always mean you can bring your drone on the plane. Always check with your specific airline before traveling for their policy.

However, while it’s uncommon to find drones on the prohibited packing items list on U.S. airlines, you may find drone bans on some international airlines.

To pack your drone in checked baggage or carry-on?

Some airlines that allow drones do have specific rules around where the drone has to be packed: checked baggage vs. carry-on.

It’s not uncommon to find that drones are allowed in one particular type of baggage, but the battery is not.  Many airlines ban lithium or lithium-ion batteries in the cargo hold. So, if you want to check your drone, you might find that you have to keep the battery on you at all times.

For example, Delta Air Lines requires that, if you intend to surrender your drone at the boarding gate or at check-in to be loaded in the cargo compartment, you must remove lithium-ion batteries from the bag before it can be loaded into the cargo compartment, and you must carry the batteries with you in the cabin.

Southwest, which is a big provider of flights to Hawaii, also requires that spare batteries must be packed in your carry-on bag or be with you onboard.

Most airlines publish a prohibited items list that can clarify what the rules are. It doesn’t hurt to contact customer service to confirm.

Most fireproof Lipo battery cases cost less than $20.

Always pack Lipo batteries in fire safe bags when flying

While not a requirement, this is just good practice, considering Lipo batteries have been known to cause fires. Fireproof Lipo bags can easily cost less than $20. So, it’s a minor cost for a huge amount of risk mitigation.

While packing your drone battery in a separate, fireproof bag will take up some precious carry-on space, it’s worth it. Luckily, fireproof battery pouches for individual batteries aren’t too large and can easily tuck in an existing carry-on bag. Though, for multiple batteries, fireproof Lipo battery storage bags may count as your carry-on bag, so plan accordingly.

Tips for taking your drones through TSA

While the TSA clearly says drones are allowed, make things simple on both you and the TSA agent.

Here’s my pro-tip: while you don’t necessarily need to remove your drone from its bag at the TSA, I always at least just give the TSA agent a heads-up that there’s a drone inside the bag before I send it through the scanner.

Every time I don’t, they also see its weird shape and feel the need to inspect it! This always ends up just saving everyone time. And of course, every TSA agent is different. You may find that they ask you to remove the drone from the bag anyway.

And sometimes, even TSA agents don’t know the rules. Jonathan Atkin, who is the creator of Aerial Maritime Photography Shipshooter Productions, suggests always leaving a laminated sheet spelling out the TSA requirements about LiPo batteries inside your drone case. Then, you can show it to the agent if they try to stop you from bringing your batteries through the airport.

TSA limits on flying with drone batteries

One important thing to note, there ARE restrictions on flying with batteries. According to the FAA, all spare (uninstalled) lithium ion and lithium metal batteries — including power banks and cell phone battery charging cases — are only allowed in carry-on baggage (not okay in checked baggage).

That includes power banks, cell phone battery charging cases, rechargeable and non-rechargeable lithium batteries, cell phone batteries, laptop batteries, power banks, external batteries, portable rechargers and yes, drone batteries.

There are also some size limits on your drones. Lithium ion, rechargeable batteries (most common for drones) are limited to a rating of 100 watt hours (Wh) per battery. If they exceed that, you must receive specific airline approval. You can check your drone’s user manual to check your battery’s watt hours.

If your drone battery is larger than that (101–160 Wh), you are capped at bringing no more than two, according to FAA rules. But even some airlines place their own caps on batteries with less wattage than that. For example, Southwest only lets you travel with up to 20 spare batteries at a time.

Pro-tip: If you need to travel with more batteries, give the spare ones to your travel companion to hold onto.

How many Wh is your drone’s battery? Typically, you can find this information in your drone’s user manual. But while most consumer drones will come under the air travel limit, it’s not uncommon for industrial-grade drones to exceed that limit. For example, DJI’s TB65 Intelligent Flight Battery (found in drones including the DJI Matrice 350 RTK) is 263 Wh, so it cannot be carried onto an airplane according to airline regulations.

Flying with drones internationally

Remember that all of this applies to domestic flying in the U.S. If you were flying internationally, that would be a different story. I’ve heard everything. From drones being confiscated, to travelers being asked to leave their drone at customs and being told they could pick it up at the end of their trip. Just ask filmmaker Chafic Saad, who arrived at the customs department in Bali. When he arrived they would not let them bring a drone through despite what they though was the proper paperwork.

“They thought I was going to sell it,” he said. “I had to put down a deposit of $2,000 US dollars and it would not have been returned if I didn’t bring the money back. That was scary.”

If you ever DO take your drone internationally, UAV Coach has a really excellent master list of drone laws by country. There you can find out if you need to register, if you need a license, and if you can even bring that drone into the country. However, sometimes it seems laws change on an almost-daily basis. I would also check with each country’s aviation regulatory agency’s website as well.

As far as flying specifically in Maui, amazing spots include the drive to Hana, where you can photograph the rugged cliffs and waterfalls. Check the FAA’s B4UFly app to ensure you can legally fly at your Hawaiian spot of choice. Haleakala National Park is a restricted area (as are all U.S. National Parks) as is the airspace around Kahului Airport.

If you have personal experience flying with a drone in Hawaii, or have broader drone travel tips, please leave a comment below!

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9 Comments

  • Tulinda J Larsen says:

    I just flew with my P4P from BWI. No problems! I put my batteries in the fire proof bags in case they exploded, but that was not necessary. The TSA guy said they get a lot of drones. The consumer drones are no problem. He said they take the military drones for special inspections.

    I was so nervous! But turned out to be a breeze!

  • Mavic_is_us says:

    It’s not the drone but the battery(s) that are the concern. Visit the airlines website for handling instructions and specific rules – and PRINT them out – bring these with you in your carry on since there are numerous cases of pilots and airline staff arbitrarily banning drones on their flights in contradiction to what their airlines stated policy. Some pointers – batteries must be removed from the drone during travel, they MUST be carried on, not in checked luggage, tape over the battery contacts with painters tape to prevent any chance of shorting the contacts. ( Be sure to also not exceed the limit for total battery power you can carry on .). We travel frequently with both a Mavic and Phantom – TSA doesn’t bat an eye. Good luck and enjoy !

  • Jack says:

    I was in Maui in the pre-drone era. Maui can get very windy. That can be a problem for some drones. Like my P2+. ? Rain can be steady during certain times of the year. Have fun!

  • Ernest S. says:

    Great article! I also haven’t had any issues traveling with my drone. However, I do recommend getting a LiPo bag for batteries. It’s not required, but it’s a best practice, and in the event that you’re questioned about your batteries, you’re at least showing the intention of traveling as safe as possible.

  • Thanks for sharing your experience in carrying the drone in the flight. I have no personal experience to carry the drone in a bag. But your experience helps me a lot. Thanks again, SALLY FRENCH.

    Bruce Stein, Owner of https://www.dronesquery.com/

  • minidrone says:

    Live Streaming of Air Mini Drone
    This article discusses important considerations for live streaming from Air Mini Drone. The popularity of consumer drones is on the rise, and there is a huge demand for aerial videos taken from Air Mini Drone. In the very recent past, it was a very expensive exercise to capture the images from the sky. However, Now these little flying machines made it very convenient and cheap. Drone filming is finding new applications on a daily basis in various fields such as agriculture, industrial inspection, and real estate.

  • Steve says:

    When going through security, where you forced to remove the drone and/or the batteries from your bag, or was it fine to leave in the bag?

  • Ernestmac says:

    Great educational topic. Though always fine tune depending on your destination. Thanks guys

  • As Ernest S rightly says above “you’re at least showing the intention of traveling as safe as possible.” It’s actually more than that and has value. Whether a hobbyist or professional, we are all ambassadors to the industry. But being mindful of TSA officers jobs shows you are someone they don’t need to worry about as with the dude on a vacation with no clue. They realize you know the rules and are transparent. Bright red labels are on all of my carry-on battery “Fire Safe” bags: “Batteries Discharged to 50%.”

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