Portable batteries have completely changed the way we all travel. No longer do we have to pray that a singular charge keeps our phones alive on the go.
Hell, we can even keep our devices juiced when we’re reconnecting with nature on a long camping weekend!
Yep, these personal portable chargers are doing great things for the wandering souls among us who need some supplementary power to keep their adventures electric, but what if those adventures involve getting on a plane?
So are portable chargers allowed on planes? The sending of batteries is often regulated by couriers, so it stands to reason that there’d also be some sort of portable charger-related restrictions enforced on certain modes of public transport, right?
After all, the boarding requirements of planes can be particularly stringent.
Well, you’re right to check this out in advance, as the TSA does indeed have a few things to say about passengers boarding planes with portable power stations.
Now, before you start panicking about dwindling batteries, It’s not that portable chargers are completely banned from a trip through the clouds. The general rule is that they are welcome as long as they have a capacity of 100 watt-hours or less.
However, as I’m sure you’re aware, nothing is ever quite as simple as it seems when you take to the sky, so let’s discuss 3 TSA rules that you should know about before showing up at the airport with your portable charger.
TSA And FAA Regulations Pertaining To Portable Batteries On Flights
It’s the job of the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) and FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) to keep air travel efficient and safe for everyone flying into, out of, and across the United States.
Granted, their rules can seem a little Draconian at times (boy, if I had a nickel for every bottle of shampoo I had to throw away at the airport), but these restrictions are all in place to maintain our freedom of movement.
Let’s take a look at what these two governing bodies have to say about portable batteries.
1) Capacity Caps
As we’ve already touched upon, the standard cap for portable batteries on a plane is 100 watt-hours (27,000mAh); however, this rule doesn’t only apply to external batteries, but all batteries.
To bring any batteries rated between 101 and 160 watt-hours onboard, you will need the express permission of the airline, so always contact the appropriate offices before rocking up to the airport with a hefty power bank.
I’d hate for you to have to choose between catching your flight and your expensive battery.
Any power supplies with capacities exceeding 160Wh are forbidden on your flight, so leave your big batteries at home, folks!
2) Luggage Type
The TSA stipulates that, while you’re allowed to bring any portable battery with a capacity of 100Wh or less on your flight, it must be held in your carry-on luggage. Storing your power bank in checked luggage is strictly out of the question.
This may seem like a fairly silly rule when you first think about it — if you’re bringing the battery aboard, what does it matter where it is, right? Well, there’s actually some pretty sound reasoning behind this.
Batteries aren’t always the safest of items (lithium-ion variants are particularly unstable), as they contain hazardous material that could possibly set fire or even explode.
The theory is that if the worst does happen, and your battery combusts, it’s much easier for yourself and members of the crew to deal with the issue in the cabin, as there are plenty of fire extinguishers to hand.
If there was a fire in the cargo area, it might have time to grow out of control before anybody noticed something had gone awry.
There has been confusion in the past about the closeness of different TSA and FAA classifications regarding batteries.
For example, two classifications that have a distinct overlap are A. Lithium-Ion Battery and B. Lithium-Ion Battery within equipment.
This can be a problem, as each classification has a unique set of stowing rules that must be followed. For us and our portable power supplies, the answer is in fact A. Lithium-ion battery, which means we should keep them in our carry-ons.
I’d recommend double-checking that you haven’t accidentally packed a portable battery in your primary luggage, as it can be very dangerous, and if it’s found, you will either be called upon to remove it, or security will confiscate it for good — bye-bye battery!
You should also ensure that it’s packed securely in your carry-on bag to prevent potential short circuits.
If you still have the retail packaging, you can use that as a protective enclosure, but it’s not the end of the world if you threw it out. Just make sure that the terminals are swaddled with tape and that the battery is sufficiently shielded.
3) Battery Limit Per Passenger
No one on your flight is permitted to bring more than two 100–160Wh portable batteries on the plane, so if you were planning to bring an entire array of backup power supplies, you’re out of luck, I’m afraid.
Another finer point of this rule is that all batteries must be for personal use only. You cannot bring any batteries intended for resale onboard with you.
Portable Battery Regulations Outside The US
The important thing to remember about an international flight is that you should be considering the rules and regulations not just of your home nation, but your destination too.
Flight practices can differ greatly from one place to another. For example, certain airlines impose a strict 100Wh capacity cap on any portable batteries.
So, to stay out of trouble, I’d always recommend contacting your chosen airline and any airports you’ll be stopping at, about their battery-related rules and regulations before you purchase any tickets, or, at the very least, before your flight.
You can also dig up some valuable information pre-booking/flight by looking into industry policies of the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
Whereas the FAA is the governing body of domestic flights in the US, the IATA formulates standard airline and airport procedures the world over.
The rulings of this aviation authority are the closest thing we have to universal protocol, so they’re a great resource if you’re nervous about flying abroad with certain items.
According to a 2019 IATA document entitled “Passengers Traveling with Lithium Batteries”, portable power banks are lumped into the “Spare Batteries” category, meaning they should be packed in carry-on luggage and must be individually secured against short-circuiting.
The document goes on to state that 20 spare batteries are the absolute maximum any passenger can travel with without special permission from the operator, and each battery must have a capacity of 100Wh or below.
That said, much like US regulations, you’re only permitted to store two 100Wh batteries (160Wh with permission) in your carry-on.
If you’re carrying more than two batteries or any that exceed the capacity cap, they should be stored in the cargo hold and secured in accordance with the latest edition of the IATA’s Dangerous Goods Regulations (often abbreviated as DGR).
Remember when I mentioned that the IATA’s rules are the closest thing we have to universal protocol? Well, the operative word there is “closest”, as certain companies have their own ideas about how things should be dealt with on a flight.
British Airways, for instance, cuts that IATA limit of 20 100Wh “spare batteries” down to just 4, while Thai Airlines’ policy states that you can pack twenty 100Wh batteries or two 160Wh batteries in your carry-on.
The bottom line here is that you should always reach out to any aviation authorities whose jurisdiction you’ll pass through about their rules before you take to the skies.
The Importance Of Power Output Indicators
Power output indicators sound more complicated than they are. Any copy on your portable battery that communicates a max output is considered a power output indicator.
It’s often not stated specifically in aviation guidelines that your power bank has to have a power output indicator, but you’ll often be asked about it upon arriving at the airport.
An airline or airport will take the indicator as proof that you’re doing everything by the book.
If your battery doesn’t have an output indicator, bring the original packaging along with you to show staff that it falls within safety regulations.
Should you be unable to locate any form of power output indicator, airport staff may well confiscate your battery.
PEK airport in Beijing is known for being particularly strict when it comes to output indicators, even though there is little to no information on the subject online, so my advice is to play it safe and settle for a clearly labeled power pack.
Alternatively, drop an airline or airport a quick call or email to check rules in advance, so you don’t get separated from your beloved battery pack during security checks.
I Need To Bring A Larger Capacity Battery On My Flight. What Should I Do?
Aviation authorities understand that, sometimes, passengers will need to bend the rules a little in matters of health, business, and perhaps even recreation.
So, if you need to bring a larger battery aboard, contact the relevant offices well ahead of time to seek permission.
The Ultimate Preflight Portable Battery Checklist
Okay, so we’ve discussed most of the key information about air travel and portable batteries.
Now let’s condense it all into a handy checklist you can use to make sure you’re fully prepared before you head out on your next aerospace jaunt. Feel free to write this down or type it out and print out a few copies!
- Ensure that your portable battery has a capacity of or below 100Wh.
- Ask all relevant authorities for permission to bring a 101–160Wh battery aboard ahead of time.
- Pack no more than two 100–160Wh batteries.
- Check your device for a power output indicator. If you can’t find one on the unit, you might find one on the original packaging.
- Make sure your power pack is in your carry-on luggage rather than your checked luggage.
- Keep each spare battery in its own protective enclosure to prevent short-circuiting. If you have it, the original packaging should be sufficient.
- Ensure there is no way that the battery could be activated accidentally.
- Inquire with your airline about battery-related regulations well before your flight (or perhaps even before you purchase your tickets).
- Contact any on-route airports you’ll be stopping at and ask if they have any specific rules pertaining to the carriage of batteries.
How Do I Figure Out The Watt-Hours Of My Portable Battery?
If you’re unsure about the watt-hours of your power brick, you can easily figure it out, but I’m afraid it’s going to take… math — yuck!
Luckily, it’s a fairly easy sum. All you have to do is multiply the voltage (V) by the amp hours (Ah) of your device. Do bear in mind, though, that if you’re using milliampere hours (mAh) as a unit of measurement, you’ll have to divide the result by 1000 to get your final answer.
If you’d rather never go on holiday again than willingly engage in math (I don’t blame you), just search the make and model of your battery online.
What About Other Battery Types? Is There Anything I Should Know?
Each battery type utilizes a unique power technology, which is why air travel authorities have a distinct set of guidelines for each of them. Let’s take a quick look at the main rules pertaining to the most common forms of battery.
Lithium Battery Types
Almost all portable batteries are powered by lithium technology, so, at this point, you’re already aware of most rules, but what you may not know is just how widespread this type of battery is.
They can be found in our smartphones, our laptops, and even remote-controlled vehicles.
The overarching rule is that no battery should have an equivalent lithium content (ELC) of 25 grams. Anything beyond that will not be permitted on the aircraft.
100Wh only equates to an ELC of roughly 8 grams, but even if you’re sure your battery falls within safety regulations, it’s always best to contact airlines and airports to double-check.
Alkaline Battery Types
Most batteries used to power small electronics, such as personal fans, radios, and alarm clocks, use alkaline chemistry. These include AAA, AA, D, C, coin, and 9V formats.
Generally speaking, airlines allow you to store them in both carry-on and checked luggage, as they’re relatively harmless.
Rechargeable NiMH and NiCad batteries get the same 1st class treatment as the ones mentioned above. As long as they’re packed securely, either individually or in their respective devices, you shouldn’t run into any problems at the airport.
Spillable and Non-Spillable Wet Battery Types
Spillable wet batteries are typically found in electric scooters and bicycles. In all forms, they’re forbidden from air travel, bar one exception to the rule… those that power electric wheelchairs.
Still, the battery will have to be removed from the chair and stored in a special container during the flight, so this will have to be organized ahead of time with the airline.
The rules regarding non-spillable batteries in wheelchairs are a little different. As long as they’re rated at 100Wh and 12V, they’re permitted on the plane, and the passenger has the green light to bring two spares along with them, as well.
Batteries Within Equipment
If you plan on bringing items with internal batteries, such as your shaver, flashlight, and possibly even a few electronic toys for your kids to play with when you reach your destination, they should be stored in checked luggage. It’s up to you to make sure they’re secure and will not turn on during the flight.
The only items excluded from these rules are e-cigarettes and vape pens, both of which should be stored in your carry-on bag.
Why Exactly Are Portable Power Banks Regulated By The TSA?
The TSA isn’t acting on initiative with their battery regulations but in hindsight. The reason so many rules have cropped up seemingly out of nowhere is that there have been a number of battery-related (mostly Li-Ion) incidents on planes already; the TSA is now eager to prevent history from repeating itself.
Okay, So What Portable Battery Do You Suggest I Take on My Flight?
The following three power packs are, in my opinion, the best on the market for simplifying your flight.
Best Budget Pick — INIU Portable 10000mAh Power Bank
This sleek, slimline battery proves that big power potential doesn’t have to cost a fortune. It features dual USB ports and fast charge technology to get your devices juiced in record time.
Premium Pick — Anker PowerCore 26800mAh Portable Charger
If you’re looking for the best of the best, and you don’t mind spending a few extra bucks, I highly recommend this Anker masterpiece. It’s compact, robust, and boasts three USB ports with high-speed, voltage-boost technology for snappy charge times.
Most Elegant — Samsung 10000mAh Wireless Charger
Like your batteries with style? Then this super sleek Samsung charger is definitely for you. It doesn’t even require a cable to charge your devices!