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October 2014    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 29, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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What to Do with Camera Batteries on Flights

from the October, 2014 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Subscriber A.B. Alexander (Newport Beach, CA) wrote us, "Last year I had all my batteries taken out of my checked bag by the TSA without a note. This year, all airlines say that transporting lithium ion batteries is forbidden. But more and more divers are taking their cameras and lights with them on dive trips. How do you suggest this be handled? Without batteries, no pictures can be taken."

Jeff Janak (Dallas, TX) got his lithium batteries taken out of his checked baggage for an American Airlines flight from Cozumel back home. "Its new checked bag requirements say spare lithium batteries must be removed from checked or gate-checked baggage and carried onboard." Like Alexander, he too never got his batteries back.

It has been in the Department of Transportation's rule books since 2008 that rechargable lithium ion batteries commonly used by divers to power their camera gear are prohibited from checked luggage. But Joseph Tepper, associate editor of DivePhotoGuide.com, says you can still store them in your carry-ons. "The reason is simple: If a fire does occur (albeit unlikely), flight attendants will be able to see it and react. This wouldn't be the case if the fire occurred in your checked bags in the airplane's hold."

You can have lithium ion batteries installed in equipment (ie. laptop, cell phone) packed in either carry-on or checked luggage. However, spare batteries must be kept in your carry-on--they will likely be found and removed from checked luggage. Tepper says he keeps all his lithium batteries in his carry-on photo backpack to avoid the risk that security will nab them. "Also, once you arrive on location, they are more easily accessed and can be charged right away." If there's not enough space to keep both batteries and their charges in your carry-on, move the chargers to your checked luggage.

Also keep in mind that there's a limit to how many lithium ion batteries you can bring on board, depending on their size. For the "small" ones that most cameras use, you can carry on as many as you wish. But for "large" lithium ion batteries (100-160 watt hours), there is a limit of just two spares in most cases, and some airlines require prior approval. Consult your battery user's guide for the watt hours information, and for more specific baggage rules, check your airline's policy page.

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