TSA Cracks Down on Batteries

Back in March we passed on some advice on safe air travel with batteries, courtesy of the Department of Transportation. Apparently not enough people have been listening to the advice, because as of January 1, there are formal rules dealing with lithium batteries on airplanes. If you’re planning air travel in the new year with electronics, here’s what you need to know:

  • You may not pack spare lithium batteries in checked luggage
  • You may pack devices with installed lithium batteries in checked luggage
  • You may carry spare lithium batteries in carry-on luggage
  • You may bring lithium batteries installed in a device
  • You can bring lithium ion batteries installed in a device that are up to 8 grams of “equivalent lithium content”
  • You can bring up to two spare lithium ion batteries with an aggregate of 25 grams of equivalent lithium content.
  • Lithium metal batteries, whether installed or carried as spares, are limited to 2 grams of lithium each.

Clear as mud, huh? For additional guidance, the TSA says all cel phone batteries are below the 8 gram equivalent threshold, as are most laptop computer batteries (but apparently not all). Even an external 130 watt-hour laptop battery is below the 25-gram limit on spare batteries. They also say “Almost all consumer-type lithium metal batteries are below 2 grams of lithium metal. But if you are unsure, contact the manufacturer!”

More to the point, if you’re unsure about how much lithium is in the batteries you’re bringing along, do you think you’ll get consistent answers from the TSA screeners across the country? Will they even be able to distinguish lithium ion, lithium metal, and other types of batteries from each other, let alone know how much lithium metal is in each one? While this is shaking out, the best advice is, alas, the simplest: travel with as few batteries in your carry-on luggage as you possibly can and, as always, allow extra time in the airport.

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