How to Stay Compliant with FAA Regulations Regarding Lithium-ion Batteries
“Your portable electronic devices must be set to airplane mode until an announcement is made upon arrival.” I gladly comply with the flight attendant’s request as I settle in to watch a favorite movie. I can’t imagine taking this flight without my tablet! And who can survive without a smartphone these days?
Our “portable electronic devices” have become like close friends, and we can’t imagine life without them. Who could’ve imagined their source of power would be considered dangerous enough to be restricted by airline safety regulators?
What Should Travelers Know About Lithium-ion Batteries?
Here’s the bottom line of what you need to know: Lithium-ion batteries are used by many portable electronic devices, such as smartphones, tablets, cameras, laptops, watches, calculators and hearing aids. If you want to bring spare batteries for any of these devices with you on a flight, they cannot be packed in a checked bag.
They must be carefully packed in a carry-on bag. Some airlines might let you pack your portable electronic device (containing Lithium-ion batteries) in a checked bag if you pack it properly. But it is much safer to simply pack your portable electronic devices in a carry-on bag.
Batteries such as AA, AAA, or D batteries are made from alkaline and are fine to put in checked or carry-on bags.
What are Some Tips for Transporting Spare Lithium-ion Batteries?
Here are a few tips to properly transport spare Lithium-ion batteries:
- Pack spare batteries in carry-on baggage.
- Keep spare batteries in the original retail packaging to prevent unintentional activation or short-circuiting.
- If original packaging is not available, effectively insulate battery terminals by isolating spare batteries from contact with other batteries and/or metal.
- Specifically, place each battery in its own protective case, plastic bag or package, or place tape across the battery’s contacts to isolate terminals.
- Take steps to prevent crushing, puncturing, or putting a high degree of pressure on the battery, as this can cause an internal short circuit, resulting in overheating.
Why all the Fuss about Lithium-ion Batteries?
Airline regulators are concerned about traveling with lithium-ion batteries because there have been incidents where these batteries have ignited a fire. The FAA began warning that Lithium-ion batteries and airplanes don’t mix in 2015.
The following year a smartphone caught fire on a plane in India. The phone was in the bag of a traveler that was stored in an overhead compartment. Some passengers smelled smoke as the plane was landing. Fortunately, no one was injured and the crew used a fire extinguisher to douse the fire.
The Department of Transportation, which oversees the FAA, determined that Lithium-ion batteries must be banned as cargo on passenger planes. According to a Money Magazine article, at least two other deadly cargo jet crashes have been blamed on fires caused by these batteries. A Boeing 747 crashed in Dubai killing two crew members in 2010. In 2011, an Asiana Airlines 747 crashed off South Korea, also killing two crew members.
Recently there was another lithium-ion battery fire on a United Airlines flight from San Diego to Newark. The fire caused the flight to return to San Diego, where four people were hospitalized for smoke inhalation. The crew acted quickly to contain the fire from the battery pack that belonged to one of the passengers.
It is important to be sure not to bring a swollen laptop battery or any other type of swollen battery onto an airplane. If you want to see for yourself, here is a short video of a FAA test of Lithium Ion battery failure in cargo.
What are the FAA Requirements About Lithium Batteries?
The FAA prohibits spare Lithium-ion batteries from being packed in checked baggage and requires them to be with the passenger in carry-on baggage. They prefer devices containing Lithium-ion batteries also be kept in carry-on baggage, but they may allow them to be packed in checked baggage if they are packed properly.
The FAA issued a fact sheet in 2020 that explains the storage of devices containing Lithium-ion batteries and spare Lithium-ion batteries during flight. Additional information about traveling with Lithium-ion batteries and other hazardous materials can be found in the Dangerous Goods section of the FAA website.
Does the Size of my Lithium Batteries Affect the Rules?
Yes, the storage requirement of your Lithium-ion batteries is impacted by your battery size. For instance, traveling with Lithium-ion batteries with more than 100 watt hours might not even be allowed in your carry-on bag, and would require approval by the airline. More information about this requirement may be found on the TSA website.
Lithium-ion batteries with 100 watt hours or less can generally be carried in a device in either a carry-on or checked bag. More information about this requirement may be found on the TSA website.
If your Lithium-ion battery was manufactured in 2016 or later, the watt hour rating will be marked on it. If it was manufactured prior to the end of 2015, it may only be marked with Ampere hours and Voltage. If that’s the case, a simple calculation can determine the watt hour rating of the battery.
Additional information about the size and quantity limits of Lithium-ion batteries can be found in the Dangerous Goods section of the FAA website.
Here is a direct quote from the FAA on this topic: “When metal objects such as keys, coins, tools or other batteries come in contact with both terminals of a battery it can create a “circuit” or path for electricity to flow through. Electrical current flowing through this unprotected short circuit can cause extreme heat and sparks and even start a fire. To prevent short circuits, keep spare batteries in their original packaging, a battery case, or a separate pouch or pocket. Make sure loose batteries can’t move around. Placing tape over the terminals of unpackaged batteries also helps to insulate them from short circuit.”
So, the next time you are traveling with Lithium-ion batteries, be sure to pack your portable electronic devices and any spare batteries in a carry-on bag. Take extra precautions about how your spare batteries are packed. That is one way to ensure your safety and the safety of the other passengers on your flight.
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