No More Lithium-Ion Batteries in Passenger Plane Cargo Holds


The United States of America’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) just banned lithium-ion batteries in the cargo holds of passenger flights.

For those of us in the photography world, that means you’re gonna need to lug around all of those batteries as checked in luggage. Sounds fun, of course, but this restriction was long in the making.

two people sitting near window inside plane
Image by Alexander Isreb

Citing safety concerns, the FAA and US Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao called on stronger restrictions following 2018 guidance that “suggested” that lithium-ion batteries be stored as carry-on luggage rather than in the plane’s cargo hold.

Referencing the relevant passage, PetaPixel writes: “Devices containing lithium metal or lithium-ion batteries, including – but not limited to – smartphones, tablets, 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.”

There are also some changes coming to how lithium-ion batteries are shipped in cargo planes. From now on they can only have a 30% charge. Again, safety was the main consideration in making these rules.

In rare instances, lithium-ion batteries can explode and case a fire. That’d be a tough situation to deal with way up in the sky and, if the explosion were large enough, it’s really bad news.

You may recall Samsung’s issue with batteries some years back. As one of the more prominent examples of what could wrong, that also serves as a reminder of just how rare that kind of thing is.

Of course, it’s not hard to see why this is going to be a pain for a lot of passengers. Most modern electronic equipment is powered by a lithium-ion battery, and photography equipment can use some especially hefty batteries.

Traveling by air was already miserable enough, but it’s about to get a whole lot harder for photographers flying in the United States.

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You can expect this rule to go worldwide in very short order. It’s about time, as a Lithium-ion battery fire in a cargo hold in impossible to extinguish. Most fire suppression systems in modern planes work by displacing the oxygen in the compartment, but this is ineffective on Li-ion fires. Some cargo aircraft are fitted with foam suppression systems, which work on Li-ion fires, but that is relatively rare. This is a necessary step to safeguard passengers and crew.

“For those of us in the photography world, that means you’re gonna need to lug around all of those batteries as checked in luggage.” Checked in luggage means it goes under the plane. You mean and state later. For those of us in the photography world, that means you’re gonna need to lug around all of those batteries in your carry on.

“…lug around all of those batteries as checked in luggage” is confusing. Took me a bit to realize that I can’t check them, but rather I have to carry them on.

Those things are way too hazardous to have in a cargo hold as evidenced by the crash of the UPS 747 cargo flight brought down by just such a fire.

The article has completely missed the point… if you’re travelling with lithium ion batteries they can only be taken as carry-on. The change is that companies shipping batteries can’t use passenger flights, only dedicated cargo flights. The implication of this (interim) ban is if you’re ordering a battery or phone charging case on-line, delivery may take longer (or you’ll find it harder to buy from overseas)

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