Last Updated on February 15, 2021
It’s always a good idea to carry a power bank when traveling. Never trust the airlines or airports to provide the power that you need.
This leads to the question. Are portable chargers allowed on flights? How should you pack a battery pack when traveling on a plane?
This post will help you stay on the right side of the rules. Let’s jump in.
The TSA Battery Pack Rules (a.k.a. Power Bank, Portable Charger)
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sets the rules about portable chargers.
At the airport, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) enforces those rules by either scanning your carry-on luggage in the x-ray machine at the security checkpoint or by scanning your checked luggage behind the scenes.
If you search on the TSA website for the regulations on battery packs you might not find anything.
That’s because they use different terminology. These types of chargers go by many names.
The TSA does say this about power banks:
So according to the TSA “portable chargers or power banks containing a lithium ion battery must be packed in carry-on bags.”
Power banks packed in checked luggage will be confiscated by the TSA.
This doesn’t mean that all devices containing lithium batteries can’t go in checked luggage.
If you have an electronic device with an installed battery like a laptop you can pack that in checked luggage. Although you’d be a fool to do so, expensive electronics are often stolen from checked baggage.
What you can’t do is pack a lithium-ion battery that is not installed in a device in checked luggage. For example a spare camera battery.
Here’s the key point you need to understand…
Portable chargers, battery packs, power banks, cell phone battery case chargers, etc., are treated just like spare batteries are. You must pack these in carry-on luggage.
Also, when packing these chargers in carry-on luggage there are some rules about battery capacity that you must adhere to.
Lithium Battery Capacity & Carry-On Luggage
Here is what the TSA say about lithium-ion batteries under 100 watt hours:
According to the FAA and TSA you can bring as many power banks under 100 watts hours as you like in carry-on luggage. Individual airlines sometimes impose limits on the number of battery packs allowed on planes (see below).
For lithium-ion chargers, 100 watt hours is equivalent to 26,800 mAh (milliamp hours). So if your power bank is under 26,800 mAh you are free to pack it in your carry-on.
Make sure you protect your batteries from short-circuit by covering battery terminals with tape or packing the batteries in a battery case or bag.
Your power bank can remain in your bag during screening.
And this is what the TSA say about lithium batteries over 100 watt hours:
If your power bank has a capacity greater than 100 watt hours but under 160 watt hours you should still be able to bring it on to the plane but only with “airline approval”.
Lithium-ion batteries over 160 watt hours are not permitted to be brought on the plane unless they are wheelchair batteries.
So pack your power banks in carry-on luggage. If while you are at the boarding gate the agent tells you that there is no room in the overhead bin you must remove your power banks from your carry-on before it is gate checked.
It’s a good idea to pack a packable daypack so that you can take valuables into the cabin. Put any electrical devices including batteries into this small bag.
How To Calculate Watt Hours
Newer portable chargers will have the watt hours printed on them.
However if your battery pack doesn’t have the wh on the label you can calculate it.
Watt Hours (wh) = voltage x (mAh/1000)
Let’s look at an example.
The capacity of the above iPhone power bank is listed as 30,000 mAh.
We divide that by 1000 to get 30 amp hours.
Ignore the listed 5V output voltage. Lithium-ion batteries have an internal voltage of 3.6 volts so always use this figure for the voltage.
Watt hours (wh) = 3.6 x 30 = 108 wh
So in this example, the 30,000 mAh capacity is equivalent to 108 wh and the passenger would need permission from the airline to bring this power bank on their flight.
What The Airlines Say
The FAA states that “with airline approval, passengers may also carry up to two spare larger lithium-ion batteries (101-160 Wh) or Lithium metal batteries (2-8 grams). This size covers the larger after-market extended-life laptop computer batteries and some larger batteries used in professional audio/visual equipment.”
But if you have a larger power bank do you actually need to call up the airline and ask for permission?
Probably not. Let’s take a look at the major airlines in the United States and see what they actually say about portable chargers between 101 and 160 watt hours.
Alaska’s policies around portable chargers mirror the FAA guidelines:
So you don’t need to call them up you can bring 2 larger battery banks it’s written on their website that you can.
It’s written on the AA website that you can bring 2 larger portable chargers. You only need to contact special assistance for batteries between 160 and 300 wh.
Delta mention a maximum of 20 spare batteries. They also follow the FAA rule about 2 spares between 100 and 160 watt hours.
To reiterate. Power banks, portable charger, external battery banks, or whatever you want to call them are considered to be spare (uninstalled) lithium ion batteries.
Frontier don’t mention size but they say you can only bring 2 batteries.
“A limit of two loose lithium batteries may be transported in carry-on baggage when stored in zip top plastic bags, original retail packing, or when the terminals are protected with nonconductive tape”
Jetblue don’t mention battery capacity on their website by they refer to the FAA guidelines.
Southwest limit spare batteries to 20 per person.
They also mention the rule about 2 batteries between 100 and 160 wh:
United mention that “in most cases” you can pack up to two larger batteries. They don’t mention the cases where you can’t.
Here’s the thing. No matter what the airlines write it’s the job of the TSA to screen luggage and they follow the guidelines set by the FAA.
So you will be able to pack 2 larger battery banks between 101 and 160 watt-hours without the security agent batting an eye.
To Sum Up
You can bring your portable charger, external battery pack, or power bank on a plane. You must pack it in carry-on luggage. They are treated like a spare uninstalled lithium-ion battery.
The capacity of the power bank must not be more than 160 wh (44,444 mAh).
You can bring two batteries sized between 101 and 160 watt hours.
You can bring many batteries under 100 watt hours although some airlines specify a limit.
Hopefully that’s cleared things up and you’ll be able to charge your devices wherever you are flying to in the world.