How to pack drones and drone batteries for travel on a plane

Consumer drones typically use lipo (lithium polymer) batteries, and they are unsafe if mishandled.

Lipo batteries are unsafe if mishandled. If you burn your own house down, that’s one thing – but starting a fire on a plane full of passengers is next level disaster. The fire itself is of course an issue but so is the poisonous gas. 

A detailed ‘travelling with drones’ section is included in drone photography workshops. But I’ve written this summary re taking them onto aircraft because questions repeatedly arise online and there’s a lot of misinformation around. Doing the wrong thing could result in a lipo battery fire on an airborne plane. Many drone owners discuss online what they can ‘get away with’ when in fact they should be concerned about what is safe – IE the reasons for the rules.

The following practical tips and aviation industry rules apply to most consumer drone batteries (DJI brand drones, weighing less than 2kg) and most airlines. But there are variations between airlines so you should check the ‘carriage of dangerous goods’ specifications listed on the website of the airline you’re flying with, as battery quantities and size limits will be explained there. And you definitely do need to check the airline website if you’re wanting to take more than several batteries, or some which power drones weighing more than 2kg. Large capacity lipo batteries are not permitted on passenger aircraft at all.

It is also a good idea to print out the airline specifications and carry this info with you through the baggage screening area, in case staff are uncertain. This particularly applies if you’re carrying anything other than garden-variety DJI consumer drones.

Here’s what you need to do when taking a drone and drone batteries on a plane:

  1. Lipo batteries that may have been damaged must never be taken on a plane. This includes batteries that are swollen, have had a hard knock (potentially causing internal damage), or not working properly. The best option is to take them to a battery retailer as they usually have recycle bins for old batteries. Right now airport staff checking bags do not check drone batteries for swelling – and they should be. Secondly, avoid packing batteries older than 2 years or that have had more than 200 cycles – due to the greater risk of malfunction.
  2. Reduce the drone battery charge to around 50% (the same level most sub 2kg DJI drone batteries will auto-discharge to if left unused past the default period; usually set at 4- 10 days). Of course it’s best to discharge batteries a day or two beforehand, so you don’t run short of time. This is done to help maintain battery health.
  3. Pack the drone batteries so they are protected from hard knocks and nothing will touch the terminals and cause a short. Best option? ‘Lipo’ bags. These are bags made of fire-retardant material so they have a dual purpose. They aren’t perfect and there is varying quality, but they’re better than nothing. The next best option is to carry the batteries in a hard case with individual niches in the foam to fit each battery and keep them separate. Next option (third because it is bulky) – carry them in the original box they came in. The last resort – tape over the battery terminals. Why is taping terminals a last resort? Who wants tape residue left near battery terminals? Particularly relevant in hot climates, where tape and gum part company more quickly.
  4. All lipo batteries MUST be carried in passenger hand luggage EXCEPT that it is fine to leave a battery in the drone itself, which can be packed into checked luggage. Cabin temperatures are maintained at a level which is comfortable for passengers, usually in the low 20s, which just happens to be ideal for drone batteries. Whereas even in the midst of Australia’s summer, at the typical airline cruising altitude of 35,000 feet, the air temperature is well below zero (celcius). Sometimes luggage comes out of the hold feeling very cold! The second reason for carrying batteries into the cabin is that a burning battery will be more quickly discovered and dealt with than one packed in the hold in a suitcase.
  5. Most airlines also permit the drones themselves to be in carry on luggage but there are exceptions, EG Emirates airlines. Why you should check your airline’s specific instructions re baggage limits also, as it’s not good to arrive at the departure gate to be told that what you were going to carry on has to be taken away and stashed in the hold, as it’s likely you didn’t pack it securely enough to survive busy baggage handlers.

Note: airline specifications can change overnight, in response to safety concerns.

The best drone case for transporting a drone might not be the best drone for when you’re using it at the other end. I’ve tested most options and run through the pros & cons during drone workshops. I find drone hard cases much more efficient to use when I’m working, but all my drones and batteries travel on the plane in my hand luggage (soft-sided bags).  I often fly on regional airlines with smaller and lighter carry-on luggage limits – one of the reasons why all my drones weigh less than 2kg.

Where can lipo drone battery bags be bought?

Lipo bags can be purchased from good shops that sell drones, EG camera shops as well as drone specialist retailers. Please try to buy as local as possible, because that helps ensure retailers have drone items on hand in case you need something in a hurry. It also helps keep some of your money in your own community and locals employed.

Lipo bags for drone batteries feel like unremarkable vinyl, but the material is fire resistant. It’s good practice to keep unused batteries in lipo bags at all times, or in a hard case with an airtight seal. Note that bags are not of course a perfect solution and there are varying degrees of quality/effectiveness. Ordinary fire extinguishers do not put lipo battery fires out – lack of oxygen does. Why some people keep a bucket of sand handy, where they normally charge their batteries.

The best travel cases & bags for drones:

The options are standard bags and generic packaging material or cases made specifically for drones:

  • Moulded shell cases, one for the drone & one for the controller.
  • Hard cases with foam cut-outs, which will fit all or most of your drone gear in.
  • Drone backpacks.
  • The small bags that come standard with DJI ‘fly more’ packages. (Mostly useless as they won’t fit in all the gear that most drone operators end up with. I cut the dividers out and use mine to carry cords & filters, mostly.)

I’ve used all kinds of drone bags and discuss the pros and cons of each during workshops. Having the best bag for the job really does make a big difference to the longevity and safety of your gear – plus ease of use. If it’s a hassle to get your packed gear out and use it, it’s likely that you’ll use it less – and regret what you missed capturing, later on.

Travelling with drones on planes – I travel with a lot of gear when doing commission photography work or running drone workshops. (This image was taken several years ago when recharging in a hotel). My first task on arrival at my destination is tipping everything out, charging all batteries and repacking it for work. Then before flying home, tipping it all out again and repacking for carrying safely on a passenger aircraft. Yes it is very time consuming.

Battery management & safety:

The drone workshops I run always include a battery management & safety section. The summary is:  treat lipo batteries with care, read the manufacturer’s manual for your model and the information leaflet that is packed with batteries. They are a fire hazard if mismanaged, and they’ll last a lot longer if looked after well. The probability that one of your drone batteries will burn your house down is probably low, but if it happened it would be catastrophic. Remember also that burning lipo batteries give off toxid fumes. Store them in a well ventilated area where you can keep an eye on them.

Drone information blog posts

  • I’ve written a number of posts containing information I wish I could have found at the outset. The drone topics below are either not covered by anyone else at all -or incompletely/inaccurately.
  • This is the kind of practical information that is included in Rural Drone Academy training – plus a lot more details, entertaining examples, participant Q & A’s and networking.
  1. Rural Drone Academy workshops & training – want to lift your flying up to another level, solve some drone issues, or you need a hand to gets started? These workshops are useful for all skill levels, ages and backgrounds.
  2. Next workshops plus previous events – upcoming events you can attend. Previous events are also listed, which will give you an idea of the regions covered, themes and the diversity organisations hosting them.
  3. Comments from participants – forthright opinions from people who have attended drone sessions held in four states.
  4. The principles of drone safety & laws – essential reading for every drone pilot. Accompanied by impressive ‘fail’ stories, during Rural Drone Academy training.
  5. How to set up a drone business – how to steam ahead – use time, energy & money to maximum effect – and avoid pitfalls. Included in drone workshops in detail, if applicable to participant interests.
  6. What is the best drone to buy for a beginner?  Objective information to help you decide. The internet is full of drones that have hardly been flown because they didn’t suit the buyer’s purpose. Don’t join them!
  7. What is the best drone to buy? Comprehensive information on the most common consumer models to help drone pilots upgrading or seeking a drone for a specific task.
  8. Is a Crystal Sky screen worth buying?  The pros and cons compared to using phones and tablets as screens, from an objective point of view.
  9. How to pack drones and drone batteries for plane travel. (Information on this page)

If you are interested in attending Rural Drone Academy training don’t hesitate to contact me by email or ring the business-hours phone number listed below.

PLEASE NOTE: As applies to the rest of this website – the content on this page is protected by copyright.  This post was originally written in January 2021 & last updated in April 2021.

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