Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
With the excitement of owning a drone comes the realization that you there are vast open spaces with which to fly your new toy.
While some may be near you, others, like National parks will not be, and the only way to get there will be on a plane. Which now gives the drone pilot an interesting question, can you actually take a drone on a commercial plane flight?
Yes, you can take a drone on a plane, both in the hold and hand luggage. The batteries must be separated from the drone and its components, and carried in the hand luggage due to fire risk. If possible, place the drone itself in the hold luggage.
The part of the fun of owning and flying your drone is taking it to a new place, especially if you plan on doing some aerial photography and videography.
Which, let’s be honest, is a major reason why people buy a drone with a camera.
This is all well and good, but what if we are planning on traveling slightly further than one town over? What if we want to take our drone to a different state? Or even a different country?
Chances are you will want to bring your drone with you on the plane ride over there. It’s perfectly normal, and most pilots will, ironically enough, fly with their drone.
For a start here is a great video from DownieLive.
Table of contents
- What Are TSA Drone Rules?
- What Are the Safety Regulations According to the European Cockpit Association?
- What Is the Process of Taking Your Drone Through Security and Customs?
- What About Taking a Lithium Battery on the Plane?
- What Are the Different Regulations With Different Airlines for Carrying Drones?
What Are TSA Drone Rules?
As mentioned above the TSA doesn’t have any rules that outright ban drones or even their batteries from being transported through the airport and ultimately on to the plane itself.
The TSA is there to enforce federal regulations as well as regulations that any specific airport may also enforce for one reason or another.
Airline specific rules are not enforced by the TSA nor are most TSA members of staff even aware of the specific rules for each airline.
The TSA is mostly concerned with getting you through security safely. This means they are well within their rights to inspect your drone and it’s batteries – even going so far as to confiscate them if necessary.
Unless you have made some strange modifications to your drone or are simply neglecting your duty to remove its batteries and deactivate it this isn’t going to be a problem.
The TSA has rules and regulations for everything, not just drones, can be found on their website.
Here is the link: https://www.tsa.gov/travel/security-screening/whatcanibring/items/drones
What Are the Safety Regulations According to the European Cockpit Association?
The European cockpit association has some very simple and easy to follow rules that you should be aware of if you intend to bring your drone on your flight with you. First, you have to bring the drone in the cabin with you.
If there is a problem with the drone the airline can deal with it easily this way. You must also ensure that the drone is off, and remains off, for the entire duration of both the flight and your time spent in and around the airport itself.
Not only does your drone need to be turned off but its battery must remain separate from the drone itself.
This helps avoid short circuits and is just a generally good rule to follow when transporting electronic devices. Lithium batteries are fine when traveling through European airspace but they must remain separate from the drone.
If you do have any questions it’s best to contact the airport and or airlines themselves.
European airlines are required to disclose any rules and regulations about transporting drones with you throughout your journey for each country you visit.
Feel free to message them to clarify anything that has you confused and to ensure that you don’t make any mistakes at any stage of the journey.
Ordinarily, when you purchase your airline tickets the website will have a list of prohibited items. You will often find things like knives, guns, etc. But there will also be several other seemingly non-dangerous items listed.
If drones aren’t allowed on your flight, you should find them listed there.
You should always check with the airline yourself as a good starting point. No one wants to arrive at the airport only to find they can’t bring their drone with them. Especially if that was the whole purpose of your trip in the first place!
What Is the Process of Taking Your Drone Through Security and Customs?
One of the biggest worries most drone owners face is actually getting their drone on to the plane.
Going through security and customs is tedious, to say the least. Having to do so with your drone isn’t going to be easier.
Luckily, as far as declaring your drone goes you are usually not required to make any statement or fill out any forms as you would, say, a gun, etc.
Drones Are Not a Major Issue:
However, depending on which airline and which country you are traveling to/through you may have to disclose that you are bringing batteries on to the plane. This is rare, though it should be considered.
In terms of going through security, the only real rules are that you should ensure the drone is turned off and that the battery is separate from the device. I’m going to assume you are transporting your drone in some kind of case, or at the very least a protective bag of some sort.
Just as you would be required to remove your laptop from your bag so will you be required to remove your drone.
This allows the security staff to check the drone and its batteries by eye and by X-ray with ease.
If you plan on packing your carry on luggage very densely you’ll need to make sure that your drone can be easily accessed.
If you have any questions asking the security staff is fine, they are there to help. Sure, some TSA staff can be power-tripping idiots, but most are generally pretty cool and will help you out however they can.
A big worry for people is their drone getting damaged by security or the typical chaotic bumbling of everyone trying to get their belongings onto the conveyor belt feeding into the X-ray machine.
While you do need to make sure your drone is easily accessible, it’s still advised to transport it in a safety case.
Many drone manufacturers sell corresponding cases for their drones that typically also hold some extra accessories that you may find you need.
Batteries, propellers, cleaning gear, etc. Purchasing such a case is always recommended, regardless of whether you’re flying or not. Drones are very expensive, spending a hundred bucks on a nice case is a good investment.
What About Taking a Lithium Battery on the Plane?
Taking batteries on a plane is always a bit risky. Batteries are in theory pretty safe but become a little more volatile when you throw pressurization and confined airspace into the mix.
A battery is always at risk of short-circuiting and an electrical fire starting.
This is especially problematic if it happens in the cargo hold inside your checked luggage because it’s damn near impossible to access in an emergency. This is why any batteries if they are even allowed, must be taken with you into the cabin.
Because that way if there is an issue, a member of staff can deal with it quickly and safely.
Not that there is likely to be a fire, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Lithium batteries are far more likely to have an issue called thermal runaway than regular batteries. This means the battery overheats and begins melting both itself and the surroundings.
Anything flammable, including the battery itself, can present a very real risk to the safety of everyone on board.
Most airlines allow lithium batteries so long as they are not attached, or even near, their corresponding electrical device.
This removes their ability to be accidentally activated and also takes them away from any potential opportunities for an electrical fire.
If you can keep your battery in a different bag than your drone that would be ideal. No worries if you can’t, though.
The biggest rule regarding the batteries should you choose to travel with them is that they absolutely MUST be partially depleted of any charge. In most cases you may be asked to power the device to check the battery is actually a battery. I’d advise minimal power in it, not depleted.
A full battery is a disaster waiting to happen.
If you were hoping to fly your drone the minute you leave the airport, you’re out of luck.You’ll need to head to your accommodation and recharge your batteries first.
What Are the Different Regulations With Different Airlines for Carrying Drones?
As you might expect, different airlines have different rules and regulations that you will be expected to adhere to.
The reasons their rules vary are generally to do with the country they are affiliated with and their general attitude towards drones. Some airlines also simply don’t want to assume responsibility for your drone.
If your drone is damaged during the flight they are often liable. This is a liability they’d rather avoid if possible.
Most airlines allow drones though some have some very vague guidelines so you are kind of winging it. Air China, for example, has no clear policy regarding drones on their flights.
You are probably fine to take your drone, so long as you follow the general rules about batteries, etc.
Some airlines allow drones but only up to a certain wattage. For example, Air France only allows drones up to 100wh, and American Airlines only allow up to 160wh and if the box is less than 22”x14”x9” or 56x36x23 in centimeters.
This is fine for most drones, but it’s important to be aware of the limitations regardless.
Some airlines allow drones and their batteries, up to a certain wattage, such as British Airways with their 100wh rule. But, you are only allowed a certain number of batteries. BA only allows 4 batteries per passenger.
You probably won’t need any more than that anyway, but it’s important to understand the rule or you may find some of your batteries confiscated.
Go to this great article from dronethusiast.com explaining about different American Airlines and their rules, policies and overall regulations on flying with drones.
Here Are Some Links Related To Major Airline Regulation:
Delta Air Lines:
Hopefully, this article has helped illuminate for you the rules and regulations surrounding flying with your drone.
Part of the fun of owning a drone is that you can take it anywhere and film pretty much anything. It offers unparalleled photo opportunities and is if anything, a whole lot of fun.
So long as you check with the airline first you will have no trouble when you arrive at the airport.
Pack your drone securely, yet with easy access, and you will most likely have no trouble with the TSA.
No more so than you would with a laptop a camera. Whatever you decide, remember to drain those batteries, and good luck!