A Guide to Traveling with Lithium-ion Batteries as a Photographer
I’m photographer Jay P. Morgan from The Slanted Lens. In this video and article, we’re going to take a look at batteries. What you can fly with, what you feel comfortable checking in your check bags, what you should carry on with you, and what you shouldn’t take with you. Because we have all these […]
I’m photographer Jay P. Morgan from The Slanted Lens. In this video and article, we’re going to take a look at batteries. What you can fly with, what you feel comfortable checking in your check bags, what you should carry on with you, and what you shouldn’t take with you.
Because we have all these batteries, and they’re in all of our equipment and we’re going to fly somewhere, what are the restrictions when it comes to flying with batteries?
First off, let’s go right to the really basic batteries. If you’ve got the old standard run-of-the-mill batteries like AA, AAA, C, and D – all these batteries. Can you fly with these? Can you check them? Can you carry them on? What can you do? How many can you take with you?
You can take as many of these as you want. You can check them, you can put them in your carry-on, and you can put them in devices. There is no restriction on how many of these batteries you can take with you on an airplane.
Lithium-ion Camera Batteries
Let’s move to lithium-ion. Lithium-ion batteries are in just about everything that we use and this is where the restrictions start to be a little strange. First off, any batteries that go in cameras and are in cameras can be left in the cameras and they are considered no problem whatsoever. So Canon batteries, Sony batteries, even the large one for my C200 is still under 98 watts. They can go in the camera and be left in the camera, and they can be carried on inside the camera or it can be put into the luggage.
If you want to check it you can check it as long as it’s in the camera. Those do not count as batteries that are loose. So you can set those in the camera. Definitely put those in the camera.
These are batteries I use a lot. These are Sony L batteries or NPF batteries. These batteries are seldom installed in anything. As wonderful as these L series batteries are, the problem with them is that they have contacts and they’re rarely ever in anything. Are they a 100-watt battery? No, they’re not. Generally speaking, these larger ones are going to be about a 48-watt battery and the smaller ones maybe like 25 to 30 watt. But they are part of that four battery contingency you can carry on the airplane.
You can carry eight of these and that equals 100 watts for every 2. Because they’re just under 48 watts or just around 48 watts each. So two of 48 watt equals one of the 99 watt. You know four of these equals two of these. I will often carry at least two or three of the 99-watt batteries and about four of the 48 watt. That way I have enough batteries at that point.
Technically speaking, you can’t have a whole bunch of these loose batteries without that becoming part of your lithium-ion battery restriction to carry on to the airplane.
I put all of my batteries in a small zipper case. In the zipper case I will have my Sony or Canon batteries all lined up and all zipped together. I put a label on it that says, “Sony batteries”. I’m not making any secret about what it is. I’ve never been stopped or asked about this at all because it is an enclosed container. It’s zipped. I’ve never had an issue with it.
I get asked this question all the time. I’ve got my Westcott FJ200 and I’ve got my Westcott FJ400 Can I fly with these? And the answer to this question is you can check these without any problem. I check my strobe heads, I checked them all the time.
You can check any battery for a piece of equipment into your checked-in baggage as long as the battery is installed in the device that it runs. So as long as my battery is on my Westcott FJ400 then I can check it. A lot of times I have a case that has 4 FJ400s in it and I check that bag and put it on the airplane in my SKB case. I do that all the time.
The minute I separate this, and I now have a battery in my hand, I can’t put it loose in my checked-in baggage. I now have to carry it on. So the best way to carry the batteries for your strobes is to keep them installed on the device. The reason for this is that most batteries that are installed in equipment are 99 or fewer watts. So like the FJ400 battery is about a 65 watt. And the FJ200 battery is about a 45-watt battery.
Those are under the battery restriction level and they are in the device. So there’s no possibility that this is going to accidentally fall against a piece of metal and create some kind of a short and cause a fire. As long as it’s installed in the device, you don’t have to worry about it being an issue on the airplane.
Large Lithium-ion Batteries
For production, we carry larger 99-watt batteries. They are super small V-mount batteries and super lightweight. They are an excellent battery because of their size. These are pretty revolutionary because they’re so small. How many of these can I carry on the airplane? TSA says four, and some airlines say, four to six or eight. So that is a little unclear.
I did some checking with some companies. They say that four to six of the 99 watt batteries are never going to cause a problem for you. If you have eight or ten of them, it’s probably going to start to cause a problem for you. So you definitely can carry four of these without any concern whatsoever.
For batteries that are 99 watt or under 100 watts each you can carry four. You can carry up to 160-watt batteries. And you are allowed up to two 160 watt batteries, not more than two. And you may only carry them on, you may not check them. If you have two 160 watt batteries, and then you start stacking on 99-watt batteries, you’re going to start to have a problem. They’re going to start saying you’re carrying way too much.
Some airlines will give you special permission to carry up to one 300 watt battery, not more than one, over 160 watt and up to 300 watt. But you have to check with the airline, and you have to get written permission from them. Don’t risk it unless you have that, it’ll never work.
Packing Your Batteries
How should you package your batteries when you’re going to travel? You might be wondering to yourself, “Well, why should I package my batteries when I travel?” It just avoids any questions going through TSA and avoids any questions that may come up with the airlines. If they are packaged correctly, most of the time, people are not even going to notice or care. So if you package them like one of these three ways, you’ll just make sure your batteries are going to fly right through and on the airplane with you without any problem.
1. So the number one way is to just simply put them in their original box. If you bring batteries in their original packages, AA, AAA, Cs, etc. in their original packages, you’re never going to have a problem. If you put these 99-watt batteries in the original box and close that box up. It says right on it what it is. When they open it, it is what it says it is. And there’s not going to be any question about that. And it doesn’t look as scary as a big row of batteries in your carry-on case.
2. If you can’t put them in their original packaging, then what I do is I just do something to secure them. Put them in a Ziploc bag. That means that they’re all together and they’re less likely to touch a piece of metal or something and create a short. I do this for my batteries.
3. If you’re going to travel with the battery, you just simply take your battery, take a little piece of electrical tape and tape over the contacts. I use yellow electrical tape because I want them to see it and know that I have taken the time to make sure that battery is not going to have any kind of electrical short.
The mounting bracket is not your contacts on a gold mount battery, these are not electrical contacts. So on a gold mount battery, where would I put that tape, I’d put it right there across that little section there. Now when they open up and look at your bags, your batteries all have tape on them. They’re secured and there’s not a problem.
Travel Smarter and Easier
Here are three great tips helping you travel just a little easier.
1. Number one is get a media badge. This is a great indicator of the fact that you are a professional photographer or videographer, and they’re not going to harass you about your equipment. With a media badge, you can call ahead of time and tell them that you are flying with the media rate. And what that means is that they don’t give you free bags, but they’ll allow your bag, rather than being 50 pounds, to go as high as 90 pounds.
So when you have a bag that you’re checking on the airplane with a ton of equipment in it, that media rate allows you to have that extra weight without having to pay a premium for it and that makes it much easier to fly with your equipment. You are legitimately a business just because you are a business. You don’t have to work for a large corporation. You can work for your own company.
I’ve flown with my media badge many, many times. I have a business card that matches it. So those two together become proof that you are media and if you have your stuff in something like an SKB case or some case that looks like media, it’s not going to be a problem.
2. Number two is get TSA precheck. It’s just an easy thing to do. It lasts for about five years. They are not near as uptight in that precheck line as they are on the other side. So I just think precheck is an absolutely fabulous way to fly. I’ve done that now since it came out. It’s been perfect.
3. And last of all, don’t forget there is the REAL ID and this is something that just makes it even quicker to get through the airports. It means that you’re pre-screened, that they know you’re less of a risk and so carrying the batteries and things are going to be less of an issue for them because they know that you are an individual that they have all your information.
So I think the Real ID is a great thing to have as well.
Just remember that with lithium-ion, you can carry four batteries under 100 watts on the airplane with you. You can’t check them if they’re loose. You can check them if they’re in other devices. You can also take two up to 160 watt or sometimes one 300 watt battery with special permission.
That’s the basics for all battery travel, make sure you tape them up and secure them so they’re not going to be loose. You can get everything on that airplane and go where you need to go.
P.S. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to our YouTube channel for more content like it.
About the author: Jay P. Morgan is a commercial photographer with over two decades of experience in the industry. He teaches photography through his company, The Slanted Lens, which runs a popular YouTube channel. This review was also published here.
Image credits: Airplane stock photo in featured image licensed from Depositphotos