Can You Bring Portable Chargers on a Plane?

Portable Chargers, or Power Banks are undoubtedly a useful accessory. They are a great way to keep your phone, tablet or laptop charged on a long journey, so it’s no wonder they are high on many traveler’s holiday packing lists.  Ultimately, a portable charger is a big battery with a few charging ports – usually USB ports – built in, and as such they are subject to the same restrictions airlines have regarding carrying batteries on board. 

Most portable chargers make use of lithium batteries. Whilst lithium batteries make high-capacity, relatively small and lightweight portable chargers possible, they are also subject to the strictest regulations in terms of air travel, similar to electric toothbrushes. This is because damaged or overheating lithium batteries can present a very real fire hazard and after several well publicized cases in recent years, airlines are understandably keen to impose extra safety checks.

The good news is that the overwhelming majority of consumer level portable chargers are absolutely fine to carry on aircraft, though you may be required to bring them in hand luggage and there may also be restrictions on their use during flights.  Only the very largest portable chargers exceed the limits of what’s allowable on planes. 

can you take portable chargers on a plane

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

Portable chargers and lithium batteries are usually built around mature, well-proven and safe technology. However, airlines apply restrictions to lithium batteries for a number of reasons:

  • Lithium batteries can be a fire hazard. Damaged lithium batteries can present a very real fire hazard and there have been cases of lithium battery fires causing flights to be diverted and grounded.
  • Lithium battery fires are notoriously difficult to extinguish. Lithium battery fires generate their own oxygen (one of the sides of the fire triangle that’s often targeted when fighting fires) and can flare up again even when they seem to have been safely extinguished. Battling a lithium fire in a confined aircraft is especially difficult. 
  • Terrorist groups have disguised explosives as batteries. In the past, terrorists have disguised explosives as battery packs to smuggle them onto planes.

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

This depends on the capacity of your portable charger – measured in Watt-hours (Wh) and typically printed on the case of the charger.  Chargers below 100Wh are almost always fine to carry. Chargers rated between 100-160Wh may require advanced approval from the airline and you may also be limited to the number of chargers you can carry (the limits are usually two per passenger). Chargers above 160Wh are generally not allowed on commercial flights. 

The good news is that the capacity of the vast majority of portable chargers falls well below the 100Wh threshold. Whilst it is possible to get portable chargers that exceed the airline limit of 160Wh, these tend to be physically very large and heavy units – not what you’d normally carry in your bag to keep your phone or tablet charged!

USA – What Does the TSA Say About Batteries?
America’s TSA has extensive guidelines on battery-powered devices, including portable chargers. Portable chargers containing smaller lithium batteries are OK to carry either in checked or hold luggage. Restrictions do apply to portable chargers containing very high-capacity lithium batteries (those over 100 Wh) which are limited to carry-on luggage only and also subject to a limit of two per passenger.

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

The UK’s gov.uk website has broadly similar guidelines on portable chargers to America’s TSA. The gov.uk website also usefully details how to calculate the Watt-hour value of your battery if it’s not printed on it.

The lithium batteries in most portable chargers are fine to carry in either checked or hand luggage. Restrictions come into play with chargers based on very high-capacity lithium batteries – those over 100 Watt-hour – which must be carried in hand luggage and are limited to two per passenger. 

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

The EU/EASA’s has extensive guidance on devices such as portable chargers that contain lithium batteries and their regulations are in line with those of the USA and UK. Devices built around smaller batteries are fine to carry, but devices containing very high-capacity lithium batteries – those over 100 Watt-hour – are limited to carry-on luggage only and limited to two per passenger.

Portable chargers containing lithium batteries of 160 Watt-hour and above are not permitted on flights in the EU. The EU guidance recommends that all devices powered by lithium batteries should be carried in hand luggage, though this is not legally required.

Australia – Does the ABF Have Laws About Batteries?

The Australian CASA guidelines closely follow those issued by Europe, America and the UK.  Power banks containing low-capacity lithium batteries can go in hold luggage but portable chargers containing higher-capacity lithium are required to be packed in hand luggage. CASA has a Dangerous Goods web app which allows you to search different types of equipment including portable chargers to learn about any specific restrictions that apply.

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

New Zealand has stricter regulations on carrying battery than other countries. Portable chargers are not permitted in hold luggage and there are restrictions on carrying devices with higher-capacity batteries too.  The New Zealand Government’s website has thorough information on the subject and this is well worth researching if you intend to travel to or through New Zealand. 

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

 

Canada – What Does the CBSA Say About Batteries?

Canada’s guidelines on carrying battery powered devices – including portable chargers – fall mostly in line with those of America, Europe and the UK. 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 with your carrier too.

The Rest of the World

The guidelines for portable chargers issued by other countries and global carriers broadly fall into line with what’s been discussed above.  However, the details can differ, so it’s always worth researching to see if there are any specific restrictions relevant to journey you plan to take before you travel.

taking portable chargers on a plane

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

Most small and medium portable chargers are absolutely fine to travel with. It’s generally best practice to carry them in hand luggage – though in many cases, they can also go in your hold luggage too. Before travelling, ensure your portable charger is not physically damaged and that any text on the unit that states its capacity (either in watt hours or voltage and milliamp hours) is legible – these will be the key things that security will check if your portable charger is flagged. 

Remember that whilst you are generally not permitted to used portable chargers during a flight, like all battery-powered devices, you should travel with them charged up enough to be able to switch them on and show that they are working safely and correctly if requested to do so by airport security.

If a device is deemed unfit to fly and confiscated by security, there’s little you can do – though it is worth seeing what can be done about retrieving the device – it might be possible to have it forwarded to your home address at a cost.  

What Happens If Your Portable Chargers Is Flagged by Airport Security?

Airport security has the final say on whether an item is allowed to fly or not. It’s their job to investigate any items that seem suspicious, or which appear unsafe.  Portable chargers contain batteries, and especially with larger units, security may want to take a closer look.

If security flags your charger, they may want to check its condition, capacity and correct function, so, before you travel, it’s important to check that your portable charger is undamaged – and that includes any wear that can make the printed capacity of the unit illegible – and that it has sufficient charge to power on and be seen to be working.

If you are carrying several portable chargers, or a larger than usual unit (even if you know it’s permitted to travel), be aware that security may flag your baggage. This can result in delays at security so, if you think your items may be flagged, it’s best to allow extra time to clear security when checking in. 

How to Pack Portable Chargers in Your Luggage

Whilst you’ll generally have no problems travelling with portable chargers or power banks, it’s worth remembering that airlines do have rules and restrictions about carrying lithium batteries and it’s important to follow these if you want to avoid delays at security or having your equipment confiscated. 

Even if your portable charger does not contain lithium batteries, airport security will likely assume it does as this battery type is used in many power banks.  Remember that whilst many airlines will not allow you to use portable chargers or power banks during a flight, airport security may ask you to power up a device to prove that it is functioning correctly and safely before they clear it, so always ensure that your portable charger is at least partially charged and able to power on before travelling.

Packing Portable Chargers in Carry-On Luggage

Hand luggage is generally the best way to transport portable chargers as the least number of restrictions relating to lithium batteries apply here.  Check the capacity of your portable charger – this should be printed on the device – those below 100Wh are generally subject to no restrictions whilst those between 100Wh and 160Wh will likely need permission from the airline to carry.

Portable chargers that are visibly damaged are likely to be confiscated as damaged batteries pose the highest safety risk. If the printed text stating the charger’s capacity has rubbed or worn off, this can be considered damage too – airport security may want to see this as proof of the charger’s capacity.  Be sure that the charger is switched off during transit – most airlines do not allow portable chargers to be used during flights – but it should also be sufficiently charged to be able to be switched on and demonstrated to be working correctly if requested by security.

Packing Portable Chargers in Hold Luggage

In many cases, it is possible to transport portable chargers in hold luggage, though it’s worth noting that some airlines and countries have prohibited carriage of all lithium batteries in hold luggage, which will impact portable chargers as the vast majority of these devices contain lithium batteries.  Check your airline’s restrictions to see if they will impact the devices you wish to travel with. In broad terms, power banks with capacities below 100Wh are fine to carry in hold luggage.

Devices should be powered off (but also sufficiently charged that you can show they are functioning correctly if requested by security). They should also be packed in such a way to minimize any chance of them powering on accidentally.

What Are the Different Types of Portable Chargers?

A portable charger is basically just a battery – almost always a high-capacity rechargeable lithium battery – in an enclosure with some ports for powering and charging devices – almost always USB ports, but sometimes also DC out ports or even domestic wall-sockets that provide AC current.

The different types of portable charger really just relate to the size or capacity of the battery which in turn relates directly to the physical size of the unit. At one end of the scale, a small charger might have one or two USB ports, easily fit in a coat pocket or small bag or purse and contain a battery that can recharge your phone once or twice. 

At the other end of the scale, there are much larger units intended for car or RV-based camping trips, construction site work or for providing emergency home power during blackouts. These units can be massive and heavy and aren’t really portable in the sense that they can easily be carried by a single person, but will often also feature wall sockets for powering domestic appliances or tools – these units are generally too heavy for cabin luggage and will typically also have batteries of too-high capacity (above 160Wh) to be permitted on planes. 

In between, there are mid-size units, broadly lunchbox sized and weighing under a kilo or a few pounds that can recharge a laptop or tablet several times, or keep your camera batteries charged on location. Some portable chargers can be connected to solar panels making them a great accessory for camping trips. 

Conclusion

Portable chargers are very useful devices and particularly so for travelers: whilst their use is generally not permitted during flights, they are a great way to keep your battery-powered devices running on long travel days at airport terminals or on long bus or rail transfers.  However, portable chargers are ultimately just batteries and more specifically, mostly lithium batteries.

Following a spate of well-publicized incidents with lithium batteries catching fire during flights, there are, understandably, restrictions in place on their carriage on flights. The restrictions may seem complex and it doesn’t help that they vary slightly from country to country and from airline to airline, but the good news for most travelers is that the small and medium sized consumer-level portable chargers most people use are still absolutely fine to travel with.

As always, it’s worth doing your homework on any restrictions the country you’re travelling to or the carrier you’re flying with may have, but by and large, you’re good to go with the overwhelming majority of these devices.