Can You Bring Batteries on a Plane?

Batteries power the modern world and when packing for a trip or holiday there are numerous battery-powered devices we might want to bring with us including phones, tablets, laptops, wireless headphones, digital cameras (and many film cameras too!), smart watches, portable chargers or power banks, electric razors and toothbrushes – and that just scratches the surface! This list could go on and on!  The fact is that batteries are so prevalent that it would be practically impossible for airlines to ban them on flights.

Batteries typically make use of volatile or hazardous materials in their construction. If a battery is physically damaged, its contents can leak or become exposed and present a hazard. Whilst all types of batteries can be hazardous if damaged, the real issue airline and airport security have is with the lithium batteries used in most electronics. A damaged lithium battery can present a very real fire hazard. This is not just the case with batteries carried by passengers: the Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft suffered several on-board fires early in its service life due to failures in on-board lithium batteries.

Many travelers are not aware that there are regulations and restrictions related to carrying batteries on flights and whilst airport security will often turn a blind eye to these restrictions, they may also choose to enforce them. So, it makes sense to understand the restrictions and plan accordingly, not just to reduce the risk of delays at the airport, but also to minimize the chances of having your equipment or devices confiscated or worse still, destroyed by airport security. 

can you take batteries on a plane

Why Wouldn’t You Be Allowed to Take Batteries in Carry-On Luggage?

Batteries are generally very safe technology, and, by and large, airlines are happy for you to carry them. However, there are several reasons why they can present hazards or threats and why, consequently, airport security may not allow them on a flight:

  • Batteries can contain corrosive substances such as strong acids and alkalis. If a battery is damaged, these can leak and can cause serious chemical burns to skin and other materials and damage equipment on planes and in security scanners.
  • Damaged or overheating batteries can be a fire hazard. This is especially the case with the lithium batteries that power almost all modern electronics. Lithium battery fires are also notoriously difficult to extinguish.
  • Batteries can be used to smuggle explosives onto aircraft. There is evidence that terrorist groups have disguised explosives as batteries in the past to get them past airport security.

So, Can I Bring Batteries on a Plane as Carry-On Luggage?

The short answer is yes, provided you are carrying undamaged batteries suitable for use in or built into consumer devices. So, the batteries in your phone, tablet, laptop, camera are generally good to carry. Very high-capacity batteries, or older designs such as spillable wet batteries will generally not be allowed on flights. 

USA – What Does the TSA Say About Batteries?

America’s TSA has extensive guidelines on batteries – and you can read more at the links below. In brief, dry cell batteries (these are regular disposable batteries like AA, AAA, C, D and button cells) may be carried in either checked or carry-on luggage.

Smaller lithium batteries are similarly OK to carry either in checked or carry-on, however restrictions do apply to very high-capacity lithium batteries (those over 100 Watt-hour – the vast majority of batteries in consumer electronics are well below this capacity) which are limited to carry-on luggage only and also subject to a limit of two per passenger.

Wet cell batteries – provided they are a non-spillable design – are also permitted on flights, though these are not used in consumer electronics. The TSA also advises that devices that cannot be powered up at the request of security will not be permitted to fly – so make sure all your devices are charged when packing.

The UK – What Are the UK Government’s Regulations Concerning Batteries in Hand Luggage?

The UK Government does not offer guidelines on batteries – only battery powered equipment, however the UK’s CAA has broadly similar guidelines on carrying batteries to America’s TSA. The CAA publishes an extensive list of different types of batteries and the restrictions associated with them that’s well worth checking out – it even covers how to calculate the Watt-hour value of your battery if it’s not printed on it.

In short, dry cell batteries (these are typical disposable batteries like AA, AAA, C or D and button cells) are safe to carry as are non-spillable wet batteries. The lithium batteries in most consumer products are also fine to carry in either checked or hand luggage. Restrictions only come into play with very high-capacity lithium batteries – those over 100 Watt-hour – which must be carried in hand luggage and are limited to two per passenger.  As with the TSA guidelines, the CAA advises that you ensure your devices are charged and that staff may ask you to power them up at security. If the devices won’t power up, it likely won’t be allowed to travel. 

Europe – What Are the EU’s Guidelines Regarding Batteries?

The EU/EASA’s guidance focusses on lithium batteries and in this regard, their regulations are in line with those of the UK and USA: Smaller batteries are fine to carry, but very high-capacity lithium batteries – those over 100 Watt-hour – are limited to carry-on luggage only and limited to two per passenger. Batteries of 160 Watt-hour and above are not permitted on flights in the EU – such high-capacity batteries are very specialist items and are not found in consumer electronics. The EU guidance recommends that all lithium batteries, regardless of capacity should be carried in hand luggage, though this is not a legal requirement.

Australia – Does the ABF Have Laws About Batteries?

The Australian CASA’s guidelines on carrying batteries more or less follow those issued by Europe, America and the UK.  Dry cell batteries have no restrictions.  Low-capacity lithium batteries can go in hold luggage so long as they are installed in equipment, but higher capacity lithium batteries and all loose or spare lithium batteries must be packed in hand luggage.  Wet cell batteries are not explicitly mentioned, but these are items that it’s fair to say most travelers would seldom if ever carry.  CASA’s Dangerous Good web app allow you to search different types of battery to learn more about the specific restrictions on each. 

New Zealand – What Are the CAA of New Zealand’s Rules About Batteries?

New Zealand has stricter regulations on carrying batteries than other countries. Loose or spare batteries of any kind are not permitted in checked baggage and a maximum of twenty per passenger are allowed in hand luggage which must be in their original packaging or have terminal covers fitted or tape over their terminals to prevent shorting.  The New Zealand Government’s website has thorough information on the subject and this is well worth researching if you intend to travel to our through New Zealand. 

https://www.aviation.govt.nz/passenger-information/what-can-i-bring/

Canada – What Does the CBSA Say About Batteries?

Canada’s guidelines on carrying batteries fall mostly in line with those of America, Europe and the UK.  Most restrictions relate to higher-capacity (100 Watt-hour and above) lithium batteries and spare or loose lithium batteries of any capacity. The Canadian government site also clearly states that individual airlines may enforce stricter guidelines on what may be carried – so it’s always good to check on these too.

https://www.catsa-acsta.gc.ca/en/what-can-bring/guidelines-batteries

can you take batteries on a plane

The Rest of the World

The good news is that the guidelines for various international carriers on batteries tend to follow the same pattern as those listed above. You should always check with your carrier before travelling, but in general, loose, or spare batteries of any kind should be carried in hand luggage. Batteries can go in the hold if they are installed in a device, but, if in doubt, it’s best to carry them in hand luggage.  Whilst it’s beyond the scope of this article, bear in mind that some countries have restrictions on the kind of battery-powered electronic devices you are allowed to bring with you when you travel (eg. drones and satellite phones are banned or very heavily restricted in some countries)

What’s the Best Advice for Travelling on a Plane with Batteries?

The best advice is to travel with a reasonable amount of batteries that are in good physical condition and pack them in your hand luggage whenever possible.  The main reason a battery will be confiscated by security is if it appears to be damaged – this is when they pose the most risk – so inspect any batteries you plan to bring for dents, punctures and deep scratches.  Damaged batteries can damage your equipment and should be retired from use and recycled, so this is good general practice regardless of whether you are flying or not! If you are carrying a number of spare batteries, you may be asked to separate them so they can be scanned or checked separately. With this in mind, it’s smart to have your spare batteries somewhere easily accessible and all together to minimize delays at security.

What Happens If Your Battery Is Flagged by Airport Security?

Airport security have the final say on whether an item is allowed on a plane or not. They have a legal power to confiscate items they do not think are safe or permitted to fly. Remember that it is airport security’s job to investigate anything that they think looks suspicious so, if you are travelling with equipment that requires unusual or very large batteries (say, professional video equipment or a larger drone), you can expect it may get flagged. At the very minimum, if your battery is flagged, you’ll be subject to further security checks which can be very time consuming so, if you are planning on traveling with batteries that you think may cause an issue at security – even if you know for sure they are permitted – be sure to allow extra time to clear airport security.

If a battery powered item is confiscated, be sure to check with security what steps (if any) you can take to retrieve it. Airline security generally disposes of confiscated items very quickly, and often charge hefty fees to store or forward items.

How to Pack Batteries in Your Luggage

It’s important to pack your batteries appropriately to avoid falling foul of airport security and airline restrictions. These vary from region to region and by airline, so it always pays to check restrictions before you fly, however, the following is a good starting point:

Packing Batteries in Carry-On Luggage

Devices should be switched off when packed in carry-on luggage but remember that they should be charged as security staff may ask to see the device switched on before clearing it to go on board. Legally, security staff can confiscate equipment that cannot be powered up. Loose batteries should be packed away from metal (that includes small change and keys) or with covers on their terminals to eliminate the risk of short circuiting – which can lead to fires.  Airlines generally allow battery powered devices to be used during flights but be sure to check each individual airline’s restrictions to ensure you stay compliant. 

Packing Batteries in Hold Luggage

Devices packed in your hold luggage should be powered down and packed in such a way that they cannot accidentally be powered on.  Loose batteries not installed in devices should be packed away from metal or with covers over their contacts to remove the risk of them shorting – which can cause a fire hazard. Be aware that certain types of battery – specifically lithium batteries and especially so high-capacity lithium batteries – are not permitted in hold luggage in various territories. 

What Are the Different Types of Batteries?

There are several different types of battery in use in consumer electronics and each has its own restrictions:

Dry Batteries or Alkaline Batteries

These are the regular disposable batteries most of us are familiar with – such as AA, AAA, C or D batteries. These are used in a wide range of devices such as toys, torches and remote controls and there are generally no restrictions on them. This category also covers the small button cells used in non-smart wrist watches, calculators, hearing aids etc.

Wet Batteries

These are often filled with a caustic gel-like substance and are very seldom used in consumer electronics, though some equipment like uninterrupted power supplies (UPS) still make use of them.  Electric wheelchairs and mobility devices may also use wet cell batteries. Wet batteries carried on planes must be the ‘non-spillable’ type.

Lithium Batteries – including Lithium Ion (Li-ion) and Lithium Polymer (Li-po)

Lithium batteries have been the go-to choice for rechargeable batteries in consumer electronics since the 1990s and show up in devices such as phones, cameras, electric toothbrushes and laptops. Whilst generally a very safe technology, there have been some widely publicized incidents of these batteries catching fire which causes airlines to place restrictions on how they can be carried. Generally, smaller lithium batteries are fine to carry, but very high-capacity models – typically beyond what’s found in consumer electronics – are subject to restrictions and you may need advance permission from your airline to carry them.

Nickel-Cadmium (NiCad or Ni-Cd) and Nickle metal-hydride (NiMH or Ni-MH)

These are older types of rechargeable batteries. These have largely been replaced by Lithium batteries, though you might find them in older devices, and they are still sometimes used in new devices too. Whilst they don’t pose the same fire hazard as lithium batteries, expect airport security to treat them in the same way as they are often used in the same type of devices.

Conclusion

The restrictions around travelling by air with batteries can seem complex and, in the wake of several well-publicized stories of devices catching fire on aircraft, it’s understandable that airport security and airlines want to be seen to be taking their customer’s safety seriously be imposing extra safety checks.  However, the fact is that batteries are a largely very safe and well-proven technology. Restrictions are not applicable to the vast majority of batteries in consumer and even professional electronics, so most travelers have nothing to worry about here and the rules are fairly clear-cut for those who intend to travel with higher capacity batteries – It’s just a shame they are not completely standardized around the world. However an understanding of the rules along with what might cause security to check further is always helpful for all travelers, as it can help minimize delays and hassle at security.