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Navigating Air Travel with Batteries: Your Essential Guide

The primary reason I often undergo additional scrutiny during security X-ray screenings is due to my batteries. Given my need to travel with multiple electronic devices, I routinely carry numerous spare batteries. Familiarizing myself with the regulations surrounding battery usage has proven beneficial on numerous occasions.

All of the below apply for carry-on (cabin) luggage. You should never carry batteries in checked-in bags.

What applies to your own airline?

What prompted me to write this article is the fact that in my latest flights within 2023, XRay inspectors have asked me more than once to take all spare batteries out of my bag. Then, inspectors checked the limits allowed by the airline. Though the airline itself will not check, the security inspectors seem to be becoming ever more vigilant about spare batteries, perhaps as a result of lithium battery incidents on airplanes on the rise.

Limits are not universal. They are decided by each airline following IATA’s guidelines. For example, Aegean Airlines allows the max number of batteries advised by IATA (20 batteries), while British Airways allows ONLY 4 spare batteries, and Lufthansa, only 2! You should always check with your airline.

Spare Battery limits in carry-ons

According to Revision 3 effective February 2019 of IATA’s documentation (https://www.iata.org/contentassets/6fea26dd84d24b26a7a1fd5788561d6e/passenger-lithium-battery.pdf) here is a summary of the guidelines when it comes to carry-on luggage:

  1. A limit of up to 15 personal electronic devices (PED), including battery-powered electronic items such as speedlights, cameras, phones, drones, and more. Please note that whether a drone and its remote control are considered as one device or two remains unclear, so it’s advisable to assume they count as separate items. While the maximum limit may seem modest, in my own experience, I typically carry around 8 to 10 devices per trip, considering all my equipment.
  2. Each PED can contain its own battery inside.
  3. When it comes to spare batteries, each person is limited to a maximum of 20 spare batteries of any type. This means that, whether you are carrying spare normal alkaline and rechargeable lithium batteries, all of them together should not exceed 20.
  4. You are allowed up to 20 lithium spare batteries (such as camera rechargeable batteries), as long as these are under 100Wh. Assuming you are carrying normal capacity camera batteries, these normally have a wattage of between 10-15Wh (watt-hours).

In a nutshell, these are max limits:

(though individual airlines may decide to limit the numbers even more)

  • Up to 15 PED (personal electronic devices), each containing its own battery.
  • Up to 20 spare batteries of ANY type (including any spare alkaline batteries), of which all can be Lithium batteries, as long as they are under 100Wh.
  • Power banks are considered spare battery.

Power banks

Power banks are categorized as spare batteries and must be carried exclusively in the carry-on luggage. In most cases, they do not come close to the 100Wh limit set by regulations. For instance, my trusted power bank has a capacity of 10,000mAh (with its capacity listed in watt-hours as at 37Wh), falling well within the permissible limits for air travel. I would avoid carrying a power bank over 20000mAh (20Ah).

Finding out the capacity of your batteries

Most camera batteries note specifically the watt-hours (Wh) on them. Sometimes, though the Wh is missing and their capacity is noted in a different unit, mAh.

You can use this simple formula to convert mAh to Wh:
(mAh)*(V)/1000 = (Wh)

V stands for Voltage and it is written on the battery (two voltages may be written on the battery, the charging voltage, and the output voltage, sometimes noted as “nominal voltage“. You should use the output/nominal voltage in your calculations). For example, if you have a GFX battery which is 1230mAh rated at 10.8V nominal voltage, then the capacity of the battery is:

1230mAh * 10.8V / 1000 = 13.2Wh

But, you can save yourself some time and safely assume that most (if not all) normal consumer cameras have small enough spare batteries under 100Wh. Even my large studio strobe’s battery is under 60Wh.

According to British Airways, if the watt hour (Wh) rating is not shown on the battery or cannot be determined, then the battery cannot be accepted onboard. Since I occasionally travel with British, I personally have calculated and have added a label with the Wh on batteries missing it.

Protecting contacts from shortcircuits

A shortcircuit happens when the contacts of the battery touch a piece of metal. The current flowing through causes the battery to heat up and the lithium inside can explode. This is why airlines are particularly careful with lithium batteries. According to IATA, spare batteries must be individually protected to prevent short circuits by placement in the original retail packaging or by otherwise insulating terminals, e.g. by taping over exposed terminals or placing each battery in a separate plastic bag.

Although modern camera batteries often have concealed contacts within a recess for added protection against short circuits, I take an extra precautionary step by covering these contacts with tape that leaves no residue upon removal—consider giving Gaffer tape a try for this purpose.

Here is a screenshot of IATA’s guidelines (Revision 3 effective February 2019). You can read the entire document https://www.iata.org/contentassets/6fea26dd84d24b26a7a1fd5788561d6e/passenger-lithium-battery.pdf

Always research and find your airline’s rules too.

Screenshot of IATA’s guidelines (Revision 3 effective February 2019)
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