How to transport your Drone on an Airplane
Updated: Jul 7, 2020
One of the most frequently asked questions is how to transport a drone safely and without stress by airplane.
In general it can be said: There are actually only a few rules that drone pilots have to follow. However you can make life easier if you follow some instructions increasing safety on board and showing the security staff that you know what you are doing.
This guide has no legal force – it is an independent advice based on publications, rules, personal experiences and the regulations of the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), an American authority with powers to regulate all aspects of civil aviation.
Regulations regarding the transport of lithium-ion batteries on aircrafts
For uninstalled lithium-ion batteries with < 100Wh: The battery has to be kept with the passenger in the aircraft cabin. It always has to be stowed safely, as described below. A permission of the Airline is generally not necessary.
For uninstalled lithium-ion batteries with > 100Wh: The battery has to be kept with the passenger in the aircraft cabin. It always has to be stowed safely, as described below. A permission of the airline is necessary always.
Sharp or pointed objects such as the Carbon Fiber Propellers cannot be transported in the hand luggage since they could be used as weapons on board.
"Have my batteries more or less than 100Wh (Watt Hours)?"
The formula is very easy: Volt x Amp hours = Wh
You will find all information on your batteries.
Example: 12V x 8Ah = 96Wh
How to prepare your Drone and Batteries
Due to increased fire risk, the batteries should neither be fully charged not fully discharged since they can get damaged easily. The ideal battery level is approximately 35 - 50%.
With adhesive strips or films, the terminals of the batteries must be protected from short circuit.
The batteries should be packed in so-called LiPo safe bags. These favourable but fireproof bags are not necessarily needed but I can recommend them because you will have less problems at the security check if you stow your batteries professionally and safely.
Suitcase vs Backpack vs Hard Case
Bigger drones, such as the incredible DJI Inspire 2, are too big for the hand luggage so they have to be transported as checked luggage (without the batteries of course). It is recommended to mark the suitcase with a label stating the risk of breakage.
Regarding hand luggage in the cabin there is actually no difference if you have a backpack or a suitcase, however, a backpack is more comfortable in most cases. Here you will find some of my recommended transport options for different drone models:
At the Security Check
Put all batteries into a separate box.
Laptop, smartphone and tablet must also be put into a separate box.
Inform the security personnel about your drone (they will be much friendlier if you show them that you are cooperative).
Luggage containing batteries and camera equipment is often tested for explosives. But that is nothing special and there is no need to worry. And even if the test is positive, you shouldn't worry: many drugs, for example asthma inhalers, are also positive in those tests for explosives. The personnel knows that maybe they will check your backpack or your suitcase again and a document will have to be signed, but then the security check is finished.
On board of the plane
You must follow the rules of the board personnel since they are responsible for your safety.
Last but not least: if you are friendly and cooperative, you will have less trouble.
Have a safe trip!