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Traveling With Electronics? Check Your Batteries First!

In today’s technology-heavy world, traveling for any distance at all means bringing a few batteries with you. Batteries are used to power everything from cell phones to cameras and even smart luggage. What you may not know if you aren’t a frequent traveler, however, is that the TSA puts regulations into place what batters can and cannot be carried in an airplane. In addition, you will be limited on the number of batteries of specific types that you can bring. Knowing these regulations will protect you from lengthy stops at security checkpoints and will also ensure that you do not have to throw away any of your costly batteries just to get on the airplane. Here is a closer look at the TSA battery regulations, why they are in place and how you can travel in compliance.

Why Battery Regulations Are Needed?

Batteries, typically, are considered harmless, but recent incidents of lithium-ion batteries exploding in people’s homes has caused some to wonder whether or not they are actually safe. If a lithium battery explodes on a plane, it can cause a fire that quickly fills the cabin with smoke, putting the health and safety of passengers at risk. In addition, these batteries create a tremendous amount of heat, which makes the fire even more dangerous.

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Batteries also pose a threat because of the risk of terrorism. Terrorists are quite creative in the methods they use to hide explosives, and they can place them inside devices that look like batteries, adding another security risk. Yet banning all batteries is not logical, as so many people travel with devices that require battery power. For this reason, the TSA has worked with the Federal Aviation Administration to create guidelines that should keep everyone safe from battery-related risks.

Batteries In Your Carry-On

Most travelers are highly concerned about making sure their carry-on baggage is compliant with TSA regulations, so they can avoid delays at TSA security checkpoints. The TSA limits the types of batteries you can bring as well as the quantity you can bring. It can get a little confusing and hard to remember, so take a look at this checklist before you take your next trip:

  • Dry cell alkaline batteries, such as AA, AAA, C, D, 9-Volt and button batteries – Unlimited number.
  • Dry cell rechargeable batteries, including nickel-metal hydride and nickel-cadmium – Unlimited number.
  • Lithium-ion batteries, like rechargeable lithium batteries or lithium polymer batteries – Unlimited number.
  • Consumer-sized lithium-ion batteries, like those used in phones, cameras and handheld video games – Up to 8 grams of lithium content or 100 watt-hours per battery, but an unlimited number of batteries.
  • Lithium-ion batteries larger than 8 grams but no more than 25 grams of lithium content – Up to two per carry-on.
  • Lithium metal batteries, often used with cameras, cordless curling irons, cordless hair straighteners and other personal electronics – Unlimited number of consumer-sized batteries with up to 2 grams of lithium per battery are allowed.
  • Nonspillable wet batteries that are the absorbed electrolyte type – Up to 2 batteries that are up to 12 volts and 100 watt-hours per battery and made from a material that will not flow out if the battery case is cracked. These batteries should be installed in equipment, but passengers can bring 2 spares if needed.

Based on this list, you should be able to carry all of the batteries you need for the devices you have in your carry-on bag without a problem. Unless you are carrying a huge amount of electronics, you do not have to worry. Also, unlike the TSA rules for liquids, the rules for batteries do not require you to set batteries in a separate bag for inspection.

Batteries In Checked Bags

The rules for checked bags are the same as the rules for the carry-on, with a few exceptions. Uninstalled lithium-ion batteries that you may be carrying as a spare battery cannot be stored in your checked baggage. Also, lithium-ion batteries with more than 100 watt-hours are prohibited in checked baggage. Finally, non-rechargeable lithium metal batteries cannot be checked, unless they are installed in equipment. This particular category is a bit more tricky, because many standard battery sizes, like AAA and AA, come in lithium metal designs.

To ensure you are not in violation of these regulations, check the type of battery before tossing it into your baggage. The reason behind prohibiting these types of lithium batteries is simple. These batteries are the ones that are the most vulnerable to exploding or causing a fire. If the battery does explode, and it’s in the checked baggage, the crew will not be aware and serious problems could occur.

Though you are allowed to pack batteries and electronics in your checked baggage, with these exceptions in mind, the TSA does recommend that all electronics that contain potentially dangerous batteries are placed in carry-ons, if possible. This will allow you and the flight’s crew to keep a better eye on them, and if a problem does occur, action can be taken before the safety of the flight is at risk. If a battery fire occurs and the battery is in the cabin, the flight crew can put it out quickly and safely.

Certain Batteries Are Prohibited On Airlines

While you can carry the batteries you need to power your electronics, some types of batteries are not allowed. Car batteries cannot be carried as a carry-on or in checked baggage. Any spillable wet style of batteries are not allowed either. If the battery can spill its contents, it is prohibited.

The only exception to this is if these types of batteries are used to power an electric scooter or wheelchair that is necessary for the passenger’s mobility. If the mobility device requires a spare battery, make sure you talk to the aircraft staff to ensure it is packaged properly to prevent leakage during air travel. The changing pressures that occur on an aircraft can be dangerous for these types of batteries.

Packing Battery Chargers

There are no rules about packing battery chargers. You can pack them in both your carry-on, your checked baggage, garment bag and packing cubes. Chargers do not create any risk. However, you should avoid placing non-rechargeable batteries in the charger. While packing in this manner would keep them from rolling around, this can create a hazard, even if the charger is not plugged into the outlet. Instead, keep batteries and chargers separate to avoid unwanted risks.

Packing Batteries Safely

In addition to the regulations about what batteries can and cannot be brought on an airline, the TSA and FAA have requirements and tips on how batteries must be carried to be safe. In general, batteries need to be protected from damage and short circuit. For some battery types, this means taping or capping the ends with a non-conductive material. The batteries also need to be stored so that they cannot come in contact with metal objects, such as coins, keys, or tools. They should be protected from contacting other batteries as well and should be stored so that they cannot roll around.

If possible, spare batteries should be stored in original, unopened packaging. Another option is to pack the batteries in their own separate storage compartment or a plastic bag, so they cannot come in contact with each other. Protecting the batteries from contact with metals and each other is important because creating a short circuit is one way in which batteries can start fires.

If you are packing battery-powered items in your checked baggage, make sure to pack them in such a way that they cannot be accidentally turned on while in flight. Not only should you power the device off, but you should also take the switch so that it remains in the “off” position, if possible. Also, don’t forget to brush up on the TSA liquids rule when packing.

What Happens If You Pack Batteries Incorrectly

So what happens if, in spite of your best efforts, you bring a battery that you shouldn’t bring or have too many batteries of a certain type in your carry-on baggage? For carry-ons, if you bring a prohibited type of battery, the TSA agent will stop you for a more detailed screening. You will likely be asked to throw out or leave behind the battery, and this can be a costly mistake with the high cost of some battery types.

In checked suitcases, if you try to check something that’s prohibited, the airline’s security professionals can and will go through your baggage. The item will be confiscated, but the rest of your belongings may be searched. It’s always better to avoid this by carefully considering the batteries you put inside your suitcases.

If in Doubt, Ask!

If you have specialty electronics or medical equipment that requires a special type of battery, ask before you fly. You can reach out to the TSA customer service to get the exact requirements for your battery type. The last thing you want to face is intense security screening or lose that costly battery, so be sure you are aware of the requirements, and how you can stay compliant before you fly.

No one wants to face unwanted delays or extra screening while traveling. Also, no one wants to travel without their electronics, and batteries are a necessity to power those electronics. Protect yourself from both scenarios by being conscientious about your batteries, what you bring and how you pack them.

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