Imagine the scene, you are seven miles up in the sky inside a commercial aircraft cruising along at over 500 miles per hour.
Inside the cargo hold there is a suitcase owned by a photographer.
Within that suitcase, there is a loose lithium-ion camera battery with exposed terminal connectors.
The plane hits a little turbulence, nothing to worry about turbulence is normal it’s just pockets of air.
But the turbulence causes the lithium-ion battery to move and now the exposed battery terminals have bumped up against a conductive metal tool causing a short circuit.
The tremendous amount of energy used to keep a DSLR camera running for hours is now being released inside the suitcase.
The battery heats up, then explodes and a fire starts in the cargo hold where there is nobody around to put it out.
This video shows what can happen when lithium metal batteries catch fire.
Sorry if you are a nervous flier but a single lithium battery that catches fire could potentially bring down your flight.
This is why there are strict rules about flying with camera batteries that you need to know about when packing your suitcase.
Let’s dig a little deeper.
FAA & TSA Camera Batteries Rules
It’s the job of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to set the rules on flight safety.
And it’s the job of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to police what can and can’t be brought onto planes.
These days, camera batteries are almost always lithium-ion batteries and there are FAA regulations about lithium batteries because they are a designated hazardous material (hazmat).
Can You Pack Camera Batteries In Checked Luggage?
Let’s look at some quotes from the FAA.
They say this about spare batteries:
They [lithium-ion camera batteries] must be carried with the passenger in carry-on baggage. Smoke and fire incidents involving lithium batteries can be mitigated by the cabin crew and passengers inside the aircraft cabin.FAA
And they also say this about installed batteries:
Devices containing lithium metal batteries or lithium-ion batteries, including – but not limited to – smartphones, tablets, cameras and laptops, should be kept in carry-on baggage. If these devices are packed in checked baggage, they should be turned completely off, protected from accidental activation and packed so they are protected from damage.FAA
So take note. You are prevented from packing spare uninstalled lithium batteries in checked luggage.
If you pack camera batteries in your checked bag, when the TSA screen your bag they will confiscate the loose batteries for your own safety and the safety of the other passengers.
You are not prohibited from packing cameras with installed batteries in checked baggage but they “should be kept in carry-on baggage”.
That is to say….
The FAA would really prefer it if you don’t pack any lithium-ion batteries in checked bags. They don’t forbid it outright when the batteries are installed but they would like you to pack them in carry-on luggage.
So now we can answer the question clearly.
Can You Bring Camera Batteries In Carry-On Luggage?
Yes, when they are spare, loose, and uninstalled, you can and must pack camera batteries in carry-on luggage.
Be wary. If your carry-on is gate-checked because of a lack of space in the overhead bins you must remember to remove any camera batteries and take them with you into the cabin.
Any lithium batteries brought into the cabin should be under 100 watt hours (wh). Most camera batteries are well under 100 watts hours capacity. There is no limit to the number of spare batteries that you can bring in your carry on bags if they are under 100 wh.
Battery charging equipment is not regulated. Unless you are talking about a portable battery charger that has a larger lithium ion battery inside it.
If you are bringing a battery larger than 100 wh then you need to check with your airline. You can bring two larger lithium-ion batteries that are between 100 and 160 wh.
Any lithium battery that is over 160 watt hours can’t be brought in carry on luggage or checked luggage.
Why You Should Always Pack Camera Equipment In Carry On Only
Aside from being potentially explosive cameras and camera batteries are valuable!
Checked suitcases often get lost.
And items from within checked bags are frequently stolen.
Sounds far fetched? Let’s look at some comments from passengers on the popular airlines in the United States.
Samuel’s camera was stolen from a checked bag on an Alaska flight:
Carrie had to take American Airlines to the small claims court to be compensated when her camera lenses were stolen from her checked bag.
Clarinice’s luggage was lost on a Delta flight. When it turned up the camera was missing. Again showing why you should pack all camera equipment including batteries in carry on luggage.
Cameras sometimes go missing from checked bags with Frontier
And they go missing on JetBlue flights:
And on Southwest flights:
And Adam lost a camera from a checked bag on a United flight.
So It All Adds Up To This
Aside from the risk of fire only a fool would pack valuable camera equipment in checked luggage.
My advice is to pack all your valuable electronics laptops, tablets, and cameras in your carry on bag.
That way if the lithium battery catches fire someone will be around to put the fire out.
If you don’t care much about safety and theft here is the enforced rules in a single sentence:
Spare uninstalled lithium batteries are prohibited in checked baggage and batteries brought into the cabin in carry on luggage should be under 100 watt hours capacity.
That’s it. Have a great flight. The chances of camera batteries exploding are slim so don’t be to anxious about it.
The rules are simply about taking sensible precautions.