Traveling abroad with an FPV drone includes some inherent inconveniences, but it’s easier than it seems with a little preparation. Here are some rules I follow on how to travel with FPV drones and LiPo batteries on an airplane.
If you are not traveling on a plane, check out this spacious FPV backpack I recently reviewed which is great for hiking.
Separate Your FPV Drone Related Stuff
Avoid mixing your important stuff with your FPV stuff.
Put what you think has a higher chance of getting checked or confiscated in one single bag (such as your batteries). So even if it does happen in the most unlikely event, your more important stuff doesn’t get taken away.
All batteries must be in the carry-on, but tools should go into your checked baggage, especially if it’s sharp and pointy. Do this and it will save you from potential headaches. Use common sense and check online if in doubt.
I traveled with my drone in the carry-on before, but I have also been asked to put the drone in my checked baggage when checking in. So be prepared for that, make sure to leave enough room in the suitcase for your drone just in case. If in doubt, call the airline and check beforehand where is the best place to put your drone before traveling to the airport.
If you decide to take your quad in the carry-on, it’s best to remove the props. Not only you could bend/damage them during transportation, the blades are pretty sharp too!
Equipment that contains batteries (such as your radio) should be in the carry-on unless you take the battery out.
How Many LiPo Are Allowed On Plane?
Airlines and airports might have different regulations regarding LiPo batteries. Some limit the number of battery packs you can carry, some don’t care how many as long as no one single battery exceeds certain watt-hours.
Large and well-equipped airports seem to be fine usually, but smaller airports can be more nervous about LiPos. I strongly recommend checking their websites or calling them up to make sure before you go through. And follow the regulations of both the airport and the airline you are traveling with.
For example, the FAA rates batteries by Watt-hours. To calculate watt hours, take the nominal voltage of the battery pack and multiply it by the Amp Hours.
Watt hours (Wh) = Nominal Voltage (V) x Amp hours (Ah)
FPV drone batteries are generally measured in mAh (milli-amp hours), where 1000mAh is 1Ah. So for example, a 6S 1000mAh battery would be 3.7V x 6 x 1000mAh/1000 = 22.2 Wh (Watt hours).
According to rules by the FAA, there is no limit on the number of batteries as long as no one single battery exceeds 100Wh. Only two batteries are allowed with airline approval if they are over 100 Wh.
FPV drone LiPo batteries are usually well below this watt-hour limit, so there shouldn’t be a limit on how many batteries you can take. But security will still get nervous when there are too many showing up, so be sensible!
Preparing LiPo Batteries for Travelling
Cover the battery terminals to prevent shorting during transportation. To do this, use 3D printed caps, or simply use electrical tapes. Place batteries in as many separate bags as you see fit.
Make sure all your batteries have labels that clearly show their nominal voltage, capacity, and watt hours just in case, though in my experience the airport rarely checks the labels if they look “normal”. Still, it would help speed up clearance if security is more careful. This also helps you understand if you have any batteries larger than the limit.
Before you leave for the airport, remember to do the following:
- Put your LiPo batteries at storage voltage (3.80V – 3.85V per cell), or the level required by the airline – some require batteries not to exceed 30% of their rated capacity
- Cover up battery terminals
- Put LiPo in Lipo-safe bags
- Print out the airline’s regulation regarding LiPo batteries and put it somewhere with your batteries. If anything happens you can pull out the documentation and show them
- Batteries are only allowed as carry-on baggage
Once boarded the plane you can just leave your FPV drone and batteries in the overhead locker.
Be Transparent and Patient
Think of this tip as more of a cardinal rule for drone travel. All words have power, and the ones you use to describe your FPV drone to travel officials have the power to ruin your trip.
I personally wouldn’t call it a “5-inch”, a “quadcopter”, a “multirotor”, a “mini quad”, or anything else that sounds cool. It is, for the duration of your trip, a “camera drone”, or just a “remote-controlled toy helicopter”.
If you are using a LiPo bag, try to remove or cover the words “explosion” and “fire” to avoid causing unnecessary attention at the checkpoints 🙂
With everything you do, you want to give the impression that you have nothing to hide (after all, you don’t!). For example, if you plan to pack your mini quad as a carry-on, take it out of your bag and place it in the tray at the Airport security checkpoint.
Expect suspicion, it’s their job. Do what you can to ensure your quadcopter will be easy to take out should the agents require it.
If you find yourself in a situation where someone has the power to make the call on whether or not to confiscate your drone for good, your kind words and friendly demeanor might mean the difference between keeping or losing it. Expect and be prepared that you will likely be hassled at the airport for traveling with a drone and especially lots of LiPo batteries. And remember that those hassles serve the purpose of keeping us all safer in the skies.
And one last thing. While these tips have been serving me well personally, you always want to check with your particular airline and airport to make sure you’re aware of any specific rules they may have.