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Flying With Lithium Batteries
By Jason Heller, December 30, 2007 @ 02:00 AM (EST)

I'll start by saying...it's ok, it seems as if most of us can breathe. The new rules shouldn't be more than a minor inconvenience for the vast majority of underwater photographers or videographers (prepare for heavier carry-on baggage). But make no mistake about it, this new rule affects just about each and every one of us.Flying with Lithium Batteries

Lithium batteries can be found in our digital cameras, video cameras, lighting systems, laptops, cell phones and other peripheral devices. The lithium content of these batteries all fall well below the new allowances, which are more of a guideline to the distribution of how you back your spare lithium batteries more than anything else.

Thankfully, most strobe batteries are Ni-Mh (however some video lights use Lithium based batteries). Others take standard AA's (Alkaline or Lithium). If strobes were primarily Lithium based, we'd all be screwed at this point. Strobes are not directly affected, although those using AA's may impact your battery packing strategy.

Here's a nice digestible, "Cliff Notes" version of the new rule:

CHECKED BAGGAGE

  • You can pack in your checked baggage any device with a lithium-based battery installed, however you can not pack any spare lithium based batteries in checked baggage, period
  • The DOT actually recommends carrying all lithium batteries in carry-on for safety purposes (keep reading for guidelines)
  • Lithium-Ion batteries are limited to 8 grams of lithium content per cell, and Lithium Metal batteries are limited to 2 grams. (a threshold far above the lithium content of 99% of your photo or video gear, laptops, cell phones and other devices we normally carry on a typical dive or photo trip)

CARRY-ON BAGGAGE

  • You can also bring up to two spare batteries with an aggregate equivalent lithium content of up to 25 grams, in addition to any batteries that fall below the 8-gram threshold

So prepare for heavy carry on bags, and long discussions with TSA about why you have a 50 lb backpack with what seems to be an "arsenal" of Lithium based spare batteries. Make sure to pack and secure them well, taping the contacts if not properly covered in its own case or original packaging. Of course there are other ramifications...

 

OTHER RAMIFICATIONS

  • US-originated and non-US country-to-country flights will require a different packing strategy, as many international airlines have carry-on baggage weight restrictions (what this means if these airlines adopt similar lithium battery rules would be chaos for photographers)
  • If you were predominantly using Lithium AA's for your strobes, lights or other devices, you'll have to decide on packing regular Alkaline AA's in checked luggage, carrying the longer lasting Lithium batteries as carry-on, or balancing some combination of the two

 

WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?

There have been cases of lithium batteries catching fire in plane cargo holds, and the TSA's logic is that if the fire occurs in the cabin it will be noticed and taken care of before it gets out of control. I guess that makes sense...but oh the TSA screening headaches this may cause. I'm actually less concerned about TSA screening as much as I am about the liberties the TSA may now have man-handling inspecting our valuable equipment to check for proper installation of batteries and preventative measures to ensure that our cameras don't accidentally turn on mid-flight.

 

WHAT IF I NEED TO TRANSPORT MORE THAN ALLOWED?

You have limited options for air-shipping extra Lithium based power sources as well. Here is a link to the Fed-Ex guidelines, whereby you must label you shipment hazardous materials. UPS only ships from contracted haz-mat shippers, and DHL will not ship at all.

 

The new rules can severely impact commercial photographers and therefore the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) will be seeking further clarification of the new rules and, if possible, an exemption for working photographers.

 

Other  Useful Information 

Safe Travel, provided by the Department of Transportation

Tips and how-to sections to find out how to pack spare batteries safely!

 


 

We're hoping not to hear about any problems or mishaps between underwater photographers and videographers and the TSA. We should all be able to tolerate a little inconvenience in the name of our own security. However, our valuable gear should be treated respectfully and carefully, a promise I can't imagine the TSA is ready to make.  Thus far they have failed on that promise.

 

Somehow it's inevitable that we will hear of problems, so do take the new guidelines seriously. Particularly in the beginning when these FAA guidelines require the TSA to establish training for a large group of screeners who we all know and love, we expect to hear the odd horror story, although we expect very few problems. Most instances will be the equivalent of "user error" - a photographer forgetting to take spares in his or her carry-on.

 

Forget that you can't bring liquids on board? Toss your water at the security gate. Forget that you can't pack spare camera batteries  in your checked in luggage? Your spares will be confiscated by TSA. But have no fear - you can always buy them back on eBay or in bulk through other auctions. Yes seriously, items confiscated at airports are considered surplus property and sold at auction.

 

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Nestor Bettencourt
Jan 1, 2008 11:02 AM
Nestor Bettencourt wrote:
Thanks for posting this. Happy New Year with this one! We had an issue in the San Juan airport last year with gear getting stolen from checked luggage by TSA. I hope this doesn't make it happen again!
Matt J. Weiss
Jan 1, 2008 6:21 PM
Matt J. Weiss wrote:
I just flew back to the states and found out the new rule. I think, as stated, it should just be another inconvenience. Also, by the way, you are not the only person to have stolen gear in San Juan. Its a real problem there and thieves do their research. They target the top brands. Dont bring your pelican to San Juan. Happy New Year
Nestor Bettencourt
Jan 6, 2008 6:07 PM
Nestor Bettencourt wrote:
I'm flying to Miami tomorrow with a laptop, a spare battery, and my D200 and an extra battery, and a copy of the new rules just in case. I will let you know what happens
Nestor Bettencourt
Jan 8, 2008 11:56 AM
Nestor Bettencourt wrote:
I'm in my hotel in Miami. Not even a glance or comment from security. Maybe they haven't been trained yet? Flying back on Wed afternoon and hopefully it will be the same. Maybe we have nothing to worry about?
Jason Heller
Jan 8, 2008 10:08 PM
Jason Heller wrote:
Thanks for chiming in guys. I have heard from a few others that TSA is really not doing anything. But the key here is A) keep your spare lithium batteries out of checked baggage abd B) proect the contacts of the batteries so they do not accidentally short and start a fire. Prepare for heavier carry on's...
Matt J. Weiss
Jan 12, 2008 2:55 AM
Matt J. Weiss wrote:
interesting that you didnt get checked. One would assume they would keep a special eye out since its a new regulation. I guess thats airlines for you..
Jason Heller
Jan 21, 2008 1:30 PM
Jason Heller wrote:
I just took two flights over the last few days from JFK. Brought some spare lithiums with me and no questions. I decided to talk to one of the TSA agents to find out about how they have been trained on this issue. Apparently the training is solowly rolling out. Most TSA agents know that the regulation was passed, but don't know what it specifies yes. I don't forsee the lithium rule being an issue for us underwater photographers. I would however keep the spare lithiums in your carry on as the regulation specifies. The last thing you want is to arrive at your destination and find that TSA confiscated your checked spares.
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