Recently I was filming for a research project in Laos (more about that soon) and needed to take my drone to Laos. I didn’t find much information about what to watch out when travelling with a drone, especially as I was passing through countries supposedly not very drone friendly. So I wanted to write down how I flew with my Mavic Pro and how it all went. (spoilers: I didn’t have any problems). There is some controversy about some of the points below especially about discharging batteries, but I’m a believer of “better safe than sorry”. If you have travelled with your drone, let me know how it went and what your checklist is.
Technical things to know and to prepare before travelling with a drone
- Check how many Wh (Watt hours) your batteries have.
Drone batteries are Lithium-ion batteries, and there is a maximum Wh that you are allowed to take on planes. For the FAA (the USA’s airlines regulation) the limit is maximum 100Wh not to need any special approval from the airline and can’t take as many batteries as you would like. See this document. As far as I know for other countries, the limits are similar. The batteries for the Mavic are 43.6 Wh so well below the limit.
- Drain your batteries to below 50%.
Batteries that are fully charged or fully discharges are less chemically stable, so I discharge my batteries to somewhere between 30 to 50%. Some people will argue about the utility of doing this to no end…
- Get something to cover the contacts of your batteries
Covering the terminals of your batteries will avoid them touching something metallic and possibly short circuit. You could use thick tape; I got 3D printed covers from this shop, they are pretty simple but also pretty cheap and work well.
- Get a LiPo safe bag
A LiPo bag is quite cheap and will slow down an eventual fire if batteries short circuit. They won’t stop a fire but should allow you or the flight crew to get to the batteries quicker and put out the fire before it gets out of hand. I managed to put 3 Mavic batteries in one bag and used a second bag for all my other batteries.
- Put the batteries in your carry-on.
The drone could probably go in your suitcase, but I took it in my carry-on as well to keep it safe.
Going through customs with a drone
Before going to Laos, I went to India for two weeks. India is considered a not very drone friendly country and flying a drone in India is extremely complicated (I didn’t use my drone in India).
I travel through Delhi Airport which can be a bit of a nightmare if you have a lot of electronics as the customs staff need you to remove all electronics from your bag, which is a bit stressful if you have something like 40 items. But they had no problem with me taking the drone through customs. So after collecting and putting all my lose electronics back in my bags, I was very relieved and moved on to my connecting flight. (Then my credit card got cloned in an ATM inside the terminal, but that’s another story 🙂 )
Similarly, when leaving India, I didn’t have any problems at Varanasi, Delhi Airports nor in Bangkok or when arriving in Laos.
If you have had trouble travelling with a drone in your hand luggage, don’t hesitate to comment on this post so that next time I can prepare even better for my trip.
Here is a very quick drone flight I did in Laos.