Easy Photo Tip: Keep Spare Batteries In Your Carry-on When Packing for Air Travel

I’m a walking battery holder. My iPhone, MacBook Air and Fujifilm X-T1 all contain lithium-based batteries. And I have spares. My Maglite and Casio travel alarm have alkaline cells inside. And my Tag watch has a—well, I know. It has a battery, but I have no idea what kind. Oh—and there’s a lithium DL 2025 in my car key. Add my tonnage to the other 415 similarly equipped passengers on a typical 747 and that adds up to big a pile of volatile chemicals. Little wonder that the FAA and other government agencies are rightfully concerned.

The battery that’s inside your camera, MP3 player, laptop or other electronic device is permitted in carry-on or checked baggage with very few exceptions. If the battery is installed the device, you’re good to go. However, spare batteries—those that are not inside a device—are another matter. The FAA has strict regulations regarding the transportation of spare batteries. The rules for carry-on and checked baggage are different. Likewise, different types of batteries are regulated differently.

In summary, the types of rechargeable and primary batteries photographers are likely to use are permitted in carry-on baggage, but rules require that they are protected from short circuit. The FAA’s website says this: “To prevent short circuits, keep spare batteries in their original packaging, a battery case, or a separate pouch or pocket. Make sure loose batteries can’t move around. Placing tape over the terminals of unpackaged batteries also helps to insulate them from short circuit.” [From document dated Feb. 10, 2015.]

Checked baggage is a horse of a different color. Rules are even more severe. Spare lithium metal and lithium ion/polymer batteries are prohibited in checked baggage—this includes external chargers. The FAA says “no” to packing spare copies of the following rechargeable batteries in your checked bags: “Lithium ion (rechargeable lithium, lithium polymer, LIPO) as used in small consumer electronics, such as cell phones, tablets, tools, cameras, PDAs, and laptops.” Larger lithium ion batteries are also verboten.

Likewise, spares of the following primary (not rechargeable) batteries are not permitted in checked luggage: “Lithium metal (non-rechargeable) as used in small consumer electronics such as cameras, LED flashlights, watches, etc.”

Play it safe. Pack spare batteries in appropriate cases and keep them with you in a carry-on bag. You should not get hassled about the battery that’s inside your camera. Also remember, writers can make mistakes and rules can change. Check the appropriate websites for the latest info.

For more information and for rules related to battery-powered wheelchairs or similar devices, visit http://www.faa.gov/Go/PackSafe or call the DOT Hazardous Materials Information Center at 1-800-467-4922. For TSA security restrictions go to www.tsa.gov.

—Jon Sienkiewicz