drone on a plane

Can you bring a drone on a plane? What to know about TSA, packing and more

Can you bring a drone on a plane? You can typically fly with drones within the U.S., and you are definitely allowed to bring drones through TSA checkpoints. However, rules around where batteries most be stored, and what happens upon arrival, can sometimes vary. Here’s everything you need to know about flying with a drone:

Can you bring a drone through TSA?

When departing within the U.S., you are allowed to bring your drone through airport security. The Transportation Security Administration specifically states that drones are allowed through TSA checkpoints, meaning you can bring a drone in your carry-on bag.

As far as whether you need to remove the drone from its bag when going through airport security, that’s a bit more vague. The TSA says that — unless you have TSA PreCheck — you are required to remove large electronic items, such as laptops and printers from their bags. However, TSA does not specific define what constitutes a “large” electronic item.

When in doubt, I either just preemptively remove the drone. Or, I give the agent a heads up that there is a drone inside my bag, and I ask them what they prefer in terms of removing versus not removing it.

drone on a plane TSA security

Packing your drone: carry-on versus checked luggage

Does it matter if your drone goes in carry-on versus checked luggage? With larger drones, you might have no choice but to check your drone. Luckily, most drones these days are fairly compact, making them easy to stay with you in carry-on. That’s my preferred method of travel, as it reduces the risk that my drone gets lost or stolen while we’re separated.

Individual airlines can set their own rules (more on that later), but typically, whether your drone goes in carry-on versus checked luggage is simply a matter of personal preference.

That said, there are strict rules about where you need to pack drone batteries. Here’s what you need to know:

What about traveling with drone batteries?

The TSA doesn’t restrict drones, but the TSA does have some rules around packing lithium ion drone batteries — which in a sense restricts how you can travel with a drone.

All spare, or otherwise uninstalled lithium ion and lithium metal batteries, such as drone batteries are only allowed in carry-on baggage, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Lithium ion drone batteries are not okay in checked baggage.

Limits on watt hours (Wh)

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 such batteries, according to the TSA.

You can typically find the Wh in your drone’s user manual. And most consumer drones will come under the air travel limit. However, it’s not uncommon for enterprise and other high-powered 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.

Drone packing tips

Just a few brief drone packing tips:

  • Remove your drone battery from the drone: In case the power button gets bumped mid-flight, you don’t have to worry about the drone actually turning on and draining your battery.
  • Pack it securely: It can be easy to get lazy and not put on all the cases and covers. Always make sure the gimbal is secured in place, especially as luggage gets thrown around.
  • Discharge your battery: While you don’t need to run down the battery, most experts agree it’s wise to discharge your drone’s battery down to 50% or less.
  • Pack batteries in fire safe bags: You can never be too cautious. And though fire safe bags mean extra space given their bulk, it’s worth it for the extra precaution. Individual, fireproof battery pouches can easily tuck in an existing carry-on bag. Though, if you have multiple batteries to carry, then fireproof Lipo battery storage bags can start to count as your carry-on bag.
  • Know the rules: You should know the rules, but also realize that TSA agents or airline employees might not know the in-the-weeds rules around every battery limit. Jonathan Atkin, who is the creator of Aerial Maritime Photography Shipshooter Productions, recommends carrying a laminated sheet in your drone case with the TSA requirements about LiPo batteries, so you can show it to them if they try to stop you from bringing your batteries through the airport.
Especially when putting a drone in a suitcase, use the gimbal cover to protect your camera and gimbal.

Airline rules versus TSA rules for bringing a drone on a plane

While the TSA regulates what can go into airports, the airlines themselves are allowed to set their own rules around what can and can’t be brought on a plane. Just as an airplane is allowed to decide whether or not it wants to allow something a bit more pedantic, like pets, it can also decide whether to allow drones.

Most U.S. airlines allow drones, but they’ll often spell out rules around how to pack them and what the battery rules are. Typically, airline rules align with the TSA, meaning that batteries must stay with you in the main cabin, but they don’t mind where the drone body goes.

For example, here are Delta’s rules: 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.

Over at Southwest, the airline spells out that spare batteries must be packed in your carry-on bag or be with you onboard, just as the TSA states.

Always check with your airline if you’re unsure. Additionally, make sure you understand both your airline’s and the TSA’s luggage size restrictions, so your carry-on bag transporting your drone isn’t too large.

Traveling with a drone: rules upon arrival

Within the U.S., you are largely free to fly drones. There are certainly restrictions around flying drones at National Parks or near airports, but by and large, drone flying is legal in the U.S. You can use the FAA’s B4UFLY website or mobile application to find out where you can legally fly a drone in the U.S.

However, flying drones internationally can be a completely different story. Some countries ban drones entirely, meaning you can board a U.S. flight with a drone, but the Customs and Border Patrol department of that country might confiscate your drone. Don’t assume that just because you successfully boarded a flight with a drone, that you’ll be able to walk on another country’s soil with it.

UAV Coach has an excellent master list of drone laws by country. However, rules can frequently change, in which case you should always check with the customs rules of the country you’re traveling to just to be sure.

Some countries including Iran, Syria, Egypt, Ethiopia and others fat out ban drones unless you have a special exemption from the government. Antarctica also bans drones.

Other countries don’t necessarily ban drones, but can have their own rules for registering your drone, being certified or license to fly, what drone insurance you may need and where you can fly. Check your country’s drone laws before flying.

And no matter where you fly, respect other vacationers, private property, wildlife and locals.

Bringing a drone on a plane: visual edition

The folks at Skydio, which is an American drone company famous for its Skydio 2 drone which is a crash-proof, follow-me drone, put together a handy infographic about how to bring a drone on a plane to share with you all. Consider this a preflight checklist — a pre airplane flight checklist, that is. Reference this ahead of your next journey on an airplane with a drone. (Click on the image for the full size version.)

One Comment

  • Great information! I fly on American Airlines (AA) with a DJI Mavic 2 Pro or Mavic 3, or Parrot Anafi quite a bit. Their policy for the batteries depends on the capacity and one battery must be installed in the aircraft. The remainder are considered spares:
    * Less than 100 Wh – 4 spares in carry-on bag
    * 100 – 160 Wh – 2 spares in carry-on bag
    * 160 – 300 Wh – Contact Special Assistance
    AA also provides maximum dimensions of the drone and/or case it is in: “Drone can be carried on if it or its box is less than 22 x 14 x 9 inches / 56 x 36 x 23 centimeters.”

    I have never had the airline check any of this. As for TSA, it really does vary depending on the airport. Before I had pre-check, they often asked me to open the case, but I have never been asked to take a drone out of the case. With TSA pre-check, I usually have the drone case separate from my other carry-on and I tell them what it is and ask if they want me to open it. So far, even the smaller airports like the one I frequently fly out of in Colorado don’t need me to do anything with it.

    A colleague who has a larger drone, a DJI M300, says he never flies with it because it is such a huge hassle. He either drives it (and the expensive lidar sensor) or ships it to the location.

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