Owning a drone is exciting. It adds adventure to any vacation, makes it possible to capture memorable moments perfectly and from the best angles.
And you get to have fun doing it. It gets more exhilarating when exploring a new country and recording new experiences with your drone.
But can you take a drone on a plane?
The short answer is Yes. But you might want to read on and find out how to do it without getting in trouble.
The experience is not always hassle-free. Flying drones for recreational purposes is more than creating the perfect flight path and getting the best wedding pictures or Instagram videos.
These are aircraft that could result in damage to property and invasion of privacy if wrongly used. In the worst-case scenario, they could earn you a jail term.
These kinds of risks are the reasons behind the drone laws and restrictions in most countries.
The rules are in place to ensure that you have fun without experiencing conflict with individuals, business owners, and other governing bodies such as wildlife management organizations.
A drone flying on airspace could result in a collision that could be fatal to the airplane’s occupants.
The same kinds of restrictions are put in place by airlines with regard to traveling with drones.
Drones operate with lithium-ion batteries that are a potential flight threat.
Numerous incidents related to lithium batteries on planes are reported every month.
According to the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), 261 air incidents have been reported since January 1, 2006.
And the only solution is enforcing strict rules regarding traveling with electrical devices that use lithium-ion batteries.
If you plan on traveling with your drone, you have to keep these three issues in mind
- The airline regulations on drones
- The law on drones in every country you will be visiting
- Personal measures to keep your drone and all its accessories safe
Can You Take a Drone on a Plane?
Some individuals are careless with drones, especially when traveling on airplanes.
It could lead to a malfunction caused by poor storage. And this could endanger other passengers’ safety.
It makes airlines quite strict about their safety requirements.
But this does not mean you should leave your drone behind and miss out on taking perfect pictures and videos during your trip.
You can take your drone with you as long as the airline allows it, and you are capable of taking proper care of the device.
Comply with the rules the airline has regarding drones such as the size and weight that is allowed.
You also need to be sure that drones are allowed in the country you are traveling to. If not, you will not get it past customs.
Pay special attention to how you carry your spare batteries.
Keep your rechargeable lithium-ion batteries in a carry-on bag.
The temperature and pressure in the passenger cabin do not fluctuate strongly, creating an ideal environment for the cells.
The battery installed in the drone can remain in the checked bag if the airline allows it, and be sure to declare it.
The spare battery terminals should be adequately covered to prevent short-circuiting.
Keep them in their original packaging or protective sleeve case to prevent them from damage.
You can have a reasonable number of batteries on the plane as long as each, installed or spare, does not exceed 100 watt-hours.
For cells between 100 and 160 watt-hours, the quantity limit for the spare batteries is two, but you will need to get the airline’s approval.
If the watt-hours are not indicated on the batteries, multiply the voltage by the Amp-hours.
Batteries above 160 watt-hours are not allowed in air transport.
Always ensure that the batteries in your drone and the spares are discharged to less than 50%.
Fires caused by lithium-ion batteries are common. Ensure that the batteries you have to meet the UN Manual of Tests and Criteria.
It is an indication that they are designed to withstand the adverse conditions of air transport.
How to Travel with a Drone Safely and Compliantly?
Here are some guidelines for traveling with your drone safely.
1) Check Drone Laws in Your Destination Country
Most countries are keen on drone operations in their country.
Their concern is the noise it causes and possible distraction to aircraft.
And in case of a malfunction or operation by an inexperienced person, it could cause harm to property.
Drones provide access to areas where individuals cannot access. And some countries view this as a threat to privacy.
Some countries, such as Barbados, restricts foreigners from bringing in drones into the country.
In the US, you are required to register with FAA before flying your drone outdoors.
You are expected to place an assigned FAA identification number on your drone. And the device should weigh less than 55 pounds.
Other laws to be on the lookout for include:
- How far up you can fly the drone
- Areas where drones are permitted
- How far away the drone should be from buildings, airports, airfields, and aircrafts
- Whether an identity tag is required for every drone
- If foreigners are required to register their drones and get a permit
- Visibility to the pilot. Most laws require that the pilot should be able to see the drone at all times
- Restriction to flying in populated areas
- If you can fly the drone at night
- If the drone’s pilot requires special training
You can find reliable internet sources containing the laws governing the use of drones in your destination country and any other state you may pass through.
Excellent resources to use when traveling with your drone include the Federal Aviation Association and Know Before You Fly websites.
If the laws regarding drones are not clear or non-existent, refrain from flying your drone within the country.
Apps are also available that can alert you on restrictions in the area that you are flying your devices, such as B4UFLY and AirMap.
Download an approved drone safety app before leaving home.
However, do not rely on the app only, use different internet resources to ensure that you do not miss any law.
2) Pack the Drone Correctly
If the airline allows it, you can check a big-sized drone stored in a hardshell case.
A quality case prevents it from damage. Ensure that all valuable parts such as batteries, memory cards, and the camera gimbal remain with you in a carry-on bag.
Confirm that the drone is off, and cover the switches with tape to prevent accidental activation.
If you are going to pack the drone and all its parts in a carry-on bag, confirm the dimensions allowed by the airline before packing your bag.
Get a hardshell backpack or bag that can fit in the overhead compartments of the plane or underneath your seat.
This, of course, will depend on the size of the plane or jet. Pack your drone in a way that you can efficiently remove it from the bag during inspection without straining and bumping it on objects.
If you are going to be traveling over long distances when shooting your videos or taking photos, you may want to pack the drone in a soft backpack.
Crashing your drone or experiencing a malfunction during your adventure is possible. Be sure to carry some repair tools.
Pack some extra propellers in their original casing as well. A car inverter for charging your drone on the go will ensure your fun is not cut short by low battery.
For the drone batteries, pack them in fire-proof safety bags designed for high-capacity batteries. And keep the electrodes covered.
3) Is the Cargo Bay Safe for Your Drone?
It is always best to carry your drone in a carry-on bag. This reduces the chances of luggage loss or damage that can occur during loading and unloading.
In case an incident results from the lithium-ion batteries, the crew can be in a better position to deal with it fast.
However, if your drone cannot fit in the overhead compartments or does not meet the carry-on dimensions, you will need to travel with your drone in the cargo bay.
The staff handling the luggage cannot be as careful as you would want them to be.
A hardshell case can provide the protection your drone requires in the cargo bay.
Disclose to the security and check-in personnel that you have a drone with a lithium-ion battery that you will be checking in the cargo compartment.
A hazard can occur if you check your spare batteries along with the drone. A malfunction of the battery in the drone could cause a short circuit.
The short circuit could then release a burst of energy that would raise the battery’s temperature to around 1,000° F.
It could destabilize the spare batteries in your luggage, causing a thermal runaway.
For added protection from theft, your hardshell case or bag should be as inconspicuous as possible.
A bag with a big brand name that makes it obvious what you are carrying could attract thieves.
In case your checked bag is lost in the airplane, filing a complaint and following the right lost bag, the procedure is sure to bring it back.
4) How to Go Through Airport Security with a Drone
For passengers’ safety, airlines are very strict on items that are allowed on the plane, especially electronic items.
You can avoid delays that occur due to non-compliance with airline rules by making a call before booking your flight.
Make clear your intention to travel with a drone. They will provide the proper guidelines on how many batteries are allowed on their planes and if you can or cannot keep your drone in the cargo bay.
Adhere to the rules provided. It will make it easier to get past the security personnel without delaying other passengers’ time.
When passing your drone through the scanner, inform the staff beforehand that you carry a drone.
Then they don’t have to consume time inspecting it. But if you are requested to take out the drone from its bag for inspection by TSA officials or any other security personnel, oblige.
And answer any questions politely and truthfully.
The security personnel will be extra keen on the batteries due to the risk of fire hazard. To prevent delays, place them in a separate bin where they can easily carry out the inspection. Be open about their use.
5) How to Go Through Customs with a Drone
Unless you are going to use the drone for commercial purposes, you are not required to declare it when passing through customs.
But be sure to follow any regulations regarding registration, acquiring special permits, and licenses.
Carry out research on the custom requirements of the country before you travel.
Failure to meet the laws of a country with regards to drones could have your device confiscated.
And it could attract a hefty fine. In the worst scenario, you could face criminal charges, especially if any damages occur when flying the drone.
The drone and batteries you carry should be for personal use and not for sale.
Obtain all the paperwork required to enter the country with a drone. Some states, such as the Bahamas, require that anyone getting into the country with a drone should obtain a certificate of registration.
When traveling back to your state, customs can question whether you are traveling with the same drone you left with or are importing another.
To prevent such confusion, register your drone with customs before traveling.
For instance, if you will be traveling from the US, you can register it as a Personal Effect Taken Abroad.
What Else Do You Need to Know to Travel With a Drone?
You may want to invest in a small-sized drone for travel purposes. It will be less cumbersome and more comfortable to carry around.
One that is less noisy means it will attract less attention.
If, for some reason, you cannot fully comply with the laws regarding traveling with drones by air, find an alternative shipping method.
You can ship the drone with a courier company in advance.
Besides being on the right side of the law, you need to use your drone responsibly to have fun without being a nuisance to the locals.
Respect people’s privacy. Avoid using it in beaches, apartments, and commercial buildings.
If you are looking get started with creating drone videos or photos, check out this post: Best Beginner Drone Photography And Video Tips
Do not take pictures or videos of government buildings, religious centers, or on police and military property.
Avoid using the drone around tourists due to the noise it causes.
Drones are still new in the market, and using it in a public setting could attract a crowd.
Be nice. Let the locals watch and offer to take their photos.
Be careful around wildlife and nature by keeping your drone within your sight at all times.
You wouldn’t want to destroy endangered species or cause anxiety in wild animals.
Some national parks and tourist sites prohibit unmanned aircraft in the vicinity, comply. Failure to adhere to the rules could see you land in jail.
Your drone should not be a distraction to air traffic. Keep it under 400 feet above the ground and over 5 miles away from airports.
What else to be totally safe with your drone?
Being a new environment, fly the drone at a reasonable speed of about 87 knots and in open space areas.
Avoid high voltage wires, telecommunication base stations, and tall buildings.
It would be best if you never drove your drone under the influence of drugs or alcohol, spending time in jail in a foreign country is not something you would want to experience.
You can find a drone community of the country you are visiting. Connecting with other drone lovers provides an excellent platform to learn about the rules of the country and the best places to fly.
Check with your insurance company if the drone is covered for accidents and damages that occur when traveling.
If it’s covered, stick to all the state laws to ensure any claim you make is not declared void.
Traveling with a drone on a plane and using it in a new country requires proper planning and research.
You need to understand and observe every relevant law while in transit and during your visit.
Do your research before you take a drone on a plane
Before booking your flight, visit the airline’s website and check the requirements on traveling with drones.
Call customer support and clarify any questions you may have. Know what to expect during security screening.
Google will be your best friend. Take advantage of all the legitimate websites offering free advice.
Read about the laws governing drones used for recreational, educational, or commercial purposes in your country of interest.
Prepare for any fees and paperwork that you may require to get through customs.
It is always best to take your drone and all accessories in a high-quality carry-bag.
But if it cannot fit, pack the drone in a hardshell case in the cargo bay. And keep the valuables in a carry bag.
Be careful about carrying lithium-ion batteries. They should be covered for safety and put in a carry-bag. And if they exceed 100 watt-hours, do not exceed two spare batteries.
Traveling with your drone will be easy if you stick to all the applicable laws and fly your drone responsibly.
Written by Frank Stovall:
Frank Stovall is an avid traveler, rock climber, and adventurer. As the active public relations manager for XO where one can book a flight on private jets in an instant, he is able to travel far and wide with Joshua Tree National Park being one of his favorite recent destinations.
Cristian Stanciu is a freelance video editor, owner, and post-production coordinator of Veedyou Media – a company offering video editing services to videographers, marketing agencies, video production studios, or brands all over the globe.