The main types of batteries are described under the headings below, to help you decide whether you can carry your batteries with you when you travel by air. Generally, if you have lithium batteries, battery powered electronic or other small consumer items, the batteries and items are safe to take with you. There are a few things to consider however, and while there are some variations depending on airlines or jurisdictions most follow a generally common-sense approach. All airlines apply the ‘for personal use’ policy.
In addition IATA held a workshop in Canada at the end of September 2015 to discuss improvements in the carriage of lithium batteries which will be attended by representatives from airlines, battery manufacturers and shippers. This is likely to result in some minor adjustments, though probably more aimed at shippers rather than passengers.
UPDATE 22nd March 2017
Economy Traveller is monitoring the latest restrictions on the carrying of electronic devices (including cameras) larger than a average sized mobile phone. This information will be updated as the position becomes clearer.
UPDATE 17th October 2016
Most airlines are adding the Samsung Note 7 to the list of prohibited items for carriage following a number of well publicised cases of exploding batteries. The US has issued a blanket ban and other countries and airlines are generally following this advisory. We hope to have a piece up soon on the reasons for the issue and some precautions you can take to ensure your phone doesn’t have a similar problem.
UPDATE 16th December 2015
Qantas have joined a number of airlines, including American Airlines, Emirates, Malaysia Airlines, British Airways and Cathay Pacific which have recently updated their dangerous goods policy and will no longer accept carriage of self-balancing boards, also known as hover boards, in carry-on or checked baggage across its domestic and international network, with immediate effect.
This includes include devices with single wheels such as uni-wheels and air-wheels, as well as devices with two wheels, including hover boards, air boards, smart scooters and mini segways. These devices usually contain lithium ion batteries and there have been various issues reported relating to their safety. If not properly handled, they may short circuit internally, leading to overheating. Therefore, you’ll have to leave them at home.
UPDATE 27th October 2015
It is possible that carry-on battery rules may be reviewed following an incident on a Malindo Air flight from Kota Kinabalu to Kuala Lumpur a few days ago. According to news reports a passenger had an electronic cigarette in his hand carry bag which overheated during the flight, causing superficial burns to the passenger’s arms as he was holding the bag. Swift action by the crew ensured that there was no fire and a doctor on board was able to give initial first aid. It appears likely that instead of banning the devices, a set of guidelines may be prepared which will cover the proper storage of the device (it should be turned off) and proper storage of any spare batteries. They should not be packed in checked luggage.
We, the travelling public really need to know what we can and can’t carry, so….
This includes both rechargeable and non-rechargeable lithium batteries, cell phone batteries, laptop batteries, external batteries, portable rechargers (or power banks), in other words it includes the batteries used in your cameras as well as the little round ones you put in your camera remote. These are all fine and you can take them with you. There isn’t generally a limit on the number you have with you, but they must be stored correctly (the + and – terminals must not be allowed to connect) and you should put them in your hand carry baggage.
As the airport bag scanner is usually your first stop at the airport, make sure that any batteries are already removed so you don’t have to remove them at that point.
Check the rating on the battery as well. Rechargeable lithium ion batteries, such as the ones shown here are limited to a rating of 100 watt hours (Wh) per battery, this should be printed on them. Non- rechargeable lithium metal batteries are limited to 2 grams of lithium per battery. If you’re carrying spares for either type, make sure they are easy to remove to keep with you if your hand carry bag is taken at the departure gate to be stored in the hold.
Rechargeable Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries such as the ones here – maybe the batteries from your flash, or if you just happen to be taking a robot vacuum cleaner with you, they’re the ones we’re talking about here. They need to be hand carried as well. If you are taking your robot cleaner (stop laughing!), remove the battery first and you can pack the body in your checked baggage, just take the battery with you in your hand luggage. This also applies to Nickel Cadmium (NiCad) batteries. Both types must be 100Wh or less and properly packed to ensure that the terminals can’t touch. (original packing / tape the terminals or pack in individual containers)
These are your everyday AA, AAA, C, D or the rectangular 9V batteries – the ones you put in everything that takes them from clocks to children’s toys. The environmentally unfriendly ones you use and throw away. Make sure they are not more than 12volts.
Again, make sure they can’t make connections between + and – so either keep in whatever they’re being used for, or if spares, best to be in the original packaging.
Other types of batteries
If you use a mobility device, are carrying lighting for a news camera, are taking the kids’ toy vehicles or an uninterrupted power supply (UPS) for computer back-up, they use Sealed Lead Acid Batteries / Non spillable wet batteries which contain either a gel or Absorbed Glass Matt (AGM). You may take these on board with you, but this type of product is usually heavy and although they may be packed as checked baggage, they may be carried only installed in the product. Spares must be carried in hand carry bags.
A number of airlines do have specific guidelines although they don’t vary a lot and batteries are usually added into a list of ‘dangerous goods’. You can usually find this information in the Planning/Before you fly tabs on the airline website.
For further information IATA have material on Dangerous Goods Regulations (DGR). If you are unsure or need more information on quantities or type, please contact the airline directly before you fly.