Next up in our “Ask Drone Girl” series is about taking your drone through airport security, and whether you have to remove it from the bag. If you have a question for Drone Girl, contact her here.
I had a question regarding going through airport security with a drone. I have a DJI Phantom 3 and want to know if I have to remove the drone from its bag when going through airport security?
Ah, traveling with a drone! The answers seem to change based on who, and when you ask.
First, let me make it clear: you can bring a drone through airport security if you are traveling in the U.S. Here’s the wording, directly from the TSA’s website:
“Drones are allowed through the checkpoint. Please check with your airline for their policy.”
But to answer your question more specifically about whether you have to remove it from your bag? That answer is more unclear.
The TSA does require you to remove large electronic items, such as laptops and printers from their bags, but it’s unclear whether a drone is a “large” electronic item, or if it’s more in line with a small electronic item, such as a smartphone, which you don’t have to remove. The TSA sometimes even requests that you remove books from your bag when going through screening!
Based on my experience alone, it varies not just by airport, but by who is doing the screening.
I was just traveling this summer in Canada as part of a trip to the Arctic Circle with Quark Expeditions. The airport in Edmonton, Canada specifically told me to not remove my drone (I asked the screener as I got in line!). However, the security in Calgary, Canada stopped me and had to check my bags.
My advice is this: politely ask the screener at the front of the security process what they suggest. Say, “By the way, I have a drone that weighs about 3 pounds in my bag. Do I have to take it out?”
Sine procedures seem to differ so dramatically, I find this is the best way to avoid unnecessarily slowing down the line and taking down your drone, while also avoiding needing to get your bag checked again.
Keep in mind that while you can bring your drone through the TSA, some airlines may ban drones. Check with your individual airline’s website to make sure drones are not on the prohibited packing items list.
What to know about airport security and flying with drone batteries
One important thing to note, there ARE restrictions on flying with batteries. The FAA clearly states that all spare, or otherwise uninstalled lithium ion and lithium metal batteries, such as drone batteries are only allowed in carry-on baggage. Lithium ion drone batteries are not okay in checked baggage.
Additionally, there are sometimes limits on how powerful your drone battery can be. Lithium ion, rechargeable batteries, which are 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. For drone batteries with 101–160 Wh, you’re only allowed to bring up to two, according to the TSA.
But airlines can choose to be more stringent than the FAA. 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.
And remember, 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.
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.