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The Truth About Flying with Lithium Ion Batteries

Much like the age-old question on whether putting your phone in airplane mode actually affects anything on an aircraft, I’ve often wondered about lithium ion batteries and what impact they have on flying.


Here’s a few facts everyone should know and understand about lithium ion batteries before traveling by plane, not only for safety but for the health of your devices too.


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Colorful tops of regular AA batteries

If My Device Has a Lithium Ion Battery, Can I Bring it on an Airplane?


Yes, but it is mandatory to bring it on your person, i.e. in your carry-on or personal item.


For any device using a lithium ion battery, this must be hand carried (not checked or gate checked) and in the airplane with you. It must not go in the cargo hold.


Devices with lithium ion batteries are inspected at TSA security checkpoints, a common reason why you always have to take your electronics out of your bag. In fact, lithium ion or not, the battery in your electronic device is typically too dense for the x-ray scanners to pick up if they are buried in your laptop sleeve or carry on under piles of clothes and personal items, making it necessary to remove the device and put it separately into the scanner. It's a bit of a hassle, but allows the TSA agents to take a closer look at what's going on inside those electronics.




What Type of Devices Use Lithium Ion Batteries?


If you charge it, it likely uses a lithium ion battery. It’s a type of rechargeable battery used for things like:

  • iPhones

  • Cameras

  • Laptops

  • E-cigarettes and Vapes

  • Electric toothbrushes

  • Power banks

And much more!



Why Are Lithium Ion Batteries So Dangerous in Checked Baggage?


In short, a faulty or damaged battery can cause a fire. If battery terminals are short-circuited, this is also a fire hazard.


In general, laptop batteries can often overheat, and in a worst-case scenario condition, could potentially cause a fire. It’s hard to believe that a laptop battery could do that, but have you ever owned a Lenovo Surface tablet? The batteries on that thing would get so hot that I literally would have to have a table fan running on my desk behind it to cool that sucker off.


It may seem like an extreme measure to consider our electronics getting THAT hot, but I’ve even experienced this with several cell phones, especially ones close to end of life or ones that are constantly seeking cell connection. They overexert themselves and get so hot to the touch that you’d think yes, it is possible that this little thing could spontaneously combust in my hand.




Considerations When Flying with Lithium Ion Batteries


Be safe and always pack your electronic devices in your hand held luggage.


If you think about it, most of the devices on this list are expensive, valuable gadgets that shouldn’t leave your sight anyway. Do you really want to submit your device to rummaging in a cargo shaft or bouncing around on a tarmac trolley?


Pack the important stuff on you, always.


If you have to check your bag at the gate unexpectedly (perhaps the overhead bins are full) or you put something in a stroller or wheelchair that is being gate checked, ALWAYS remove the devices with lithium ion batteries before the crew puts them on the plane.



Are There Exceptions?


Yes, depending on the size and type of the battery some lithium ion powered devices can be checked, but it is best to check online in advance. You can check the details of the battery type for your product on the seller or manufacturer website, and cross-check with local airline and airport regulations if you just HAVE to check it.


If you do check lithium ion powered devices, they have to be completely shut off and packed with care. There are numerous products on the internet to safeguard your device batteries in checked baggage or even in your carry on. Ranging in size, these fireproof bags are a good option for worrisome batteries.




Learn more at the websites below:


FAA Lithium Ion Battery Information


TSA Lithium Ion Battery Information


IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations



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