Photographer Travel Alert: New Limit to Batteries in 2008

Here’s a tip we didn’t see coming when we posted our Chase Jarvis TECH: Packing Photography Gear post a few weeks ago: It seems that the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Transportation–effective January 1, 2008–are limiting the number, size, and location of spare lithium batteries we can travel with…

Chances are that if you’re a traveling photographer, you fly with spare lithium-ion batteries for laptops, cameras, flashes, etc. They’re the juice behind darn near everything. I know that we normally travel with boatloads of these things. I mean LOTS of ‘em. But no longer can we:

Here’s the official press release for the new rule. By my understanding, this is an FAA/DOT regulation that has to do with the air/flight safety of these batteries and is not a TSA regulation. Quick research has it that lithium batteries are volatile and that if/when they catch fire, they burn HOT. (You heard about those laptop fires and this cargo plane fire…) Reportedly, if they catch fire in the belly of the plane, the mechanism for extinguishing such a blaze down there is insufficient. That explains why they want you to carry just a couple of them on board into the cabin – allowing use of a more effective fire extinguisher in the passenger portion of the plane to put them out quickly.

Experts say this should “not inconvenience the general traveling public” but will most likely affect “photography and video professionals”. That’s us.

[Video: Chase Jarvis TECH: Packing Photography Gear.]
[The DOT's "extra battery" travel tips.]

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35 Responses to Photographer Travel Alert: New Limit to Batteries in 2008

  1. Chase Jarvis December 29, 2007 at 9:09 pm #

    How are you planning to work with/around this new rule?

  2. Duane December 29, 2007 at 9:52 pm #

    Wow that blows… But I guess dying in a firey plan crash would not be good either… I suppose you could ship out batteries to where you are going. At least on the Nikon side the D300 seems to last FOREVER on the Nikon battery and even AA NiMH last a long time. Maybe the D3 is the same???

  3. brian faini December 29, 2007 at 9:54 pm #

    I wonder what is next.
    In reading other blogs I found a nice solution, which I will also do. Many of the TSA are too busy looking for unchecked lip balm than knowing one battery from another.

    Steven Frischling’s blog
    http://flyingwithfish.blogspot.com/2007/12/29-december-2007-new-question-can-i.html

  4. Mat December 29, 2007 at 10:47 pm #

    Wonder when we’ll cop this rule change in Australia, doubt it will be long..

    Maybe I should start a business where I rent out batteries at multiple locations around the globe where photogs can pickup batteries for their location shoots..haha

  5. carlos benjamin - benjphoto.com December 29, 2007 at 11:09 pm #

    According to the Fish:

    http://flyingwithfish.blogspot.com/2007/12/29-december-2007-new-question-can-i.html

    The 8 grams thing weighs in our favor. Most if not all of my batteries will be allowable in my carry-on bags as spares. AA batteries, for instance, don’t count and neither do the batteries for many (most?) DSLRs.

  6. Nick AKA Marzy December 29, 2007 at 11:30 pm #

    I know this has nothing to do with what you are talking about, but Chase you ever thought of making a online forum?

    It is kinda like what your doing here but in a bigger way.

    I dunno just putting it out there.

  7. Chase Jarvis December 30, 2007 at 12:09 am #

    @ Carlos and @ Brian: I’m not quite sure I concur entirely with your friend Fish across the board… Although I’ve long been an advocate of printing regs and such as he notes, the government sites call out specifically “spare” batteries, and limits ‘em to 2 extra in carry on luggage (them ‘r my D3 and my H3DII batteries) – either by weight OR number up to 2 extra. The 8 grams and 25 gram cumulative thing hammers on some of us. I’m also not counting that it’s up to the manufacturer to call out the “extended life” item – that’ll get whitewashed in screening, even if it is true. Gov’t, again, says “spare”, and the screeners might not take the time to read Nikon’s website ;)

    All told, I’m banking that this will vary widely in enforcement. I’m by no means pulling my hair out on this. (it’s actually been a rule since i think 1999 that you weren’t supposed to check LI bats…) I do think that, although it might be a pain for lots of us and I hate to admit it, it’s probably a reasonable rule. Keeping potential Lithium battery fires to a minimum is something I can’t really hate on…

    We’ll probably have no worries since we can just divide up the Lithiums into our crew’s carry ons. For the solo photog, however, it could suck.

  8. photoportunity December 30, 2007 at 2:30 am #

    I’ve no doubt that this will soon go global.

    As this is just plain dumb, illogical, unnecessary, etc – why don’t we just say so? Collectively.

    I am very pro aviation security but how exactly does this prevent terrorism?

    It’s like the 100ml liquid limit – as if 101ml of toothpaste is more hazardous than 100ml. Sheesh! Heavens to murgatroyd.

    Let’s all shout “Enough!”.

    Know hope.

  9. Hugo December 30, 2007 at 2:47 am #

    This only mentions lithium metal and lithium ion batteries. How do lithium polymer (LiPo) batteries fit in?

  10. fhfoto December 30, 2007 at 3:49 am #

    @Steve: I don’t think this rule has anything to do with terrorism.

    As Chase said it’s probably just reducing the risk of a potential fire in the cargo area.

    If you have a camera like a D300 or an Eos 40D maybe you can take two grips… technically it’s installed in a device: that adds up to 1 battery in the camera, 4 batteries or more in the grips. Just an idea I’ve thought about. Maby it works.

  11. photoportunity December 30, 2007 at 4:21 am #

    @fhfoto
    thanks for setting me straight.

  12. Brian Garson December 30, 2007 at 7:32 am #

    This link from the associated press states that:

    “The ban affects shipments of non-rechargeable lithium batteries, such as those made by Energizer Holdings Inc. and Procter & Gamble Co.’s Duracell brand.”

    http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5h74l-BiD30YO0rsScUm-HdpKRTuAD8TQK0CO0

  13. GZ December 30, 2007 at 7:34 am #

    I may be in the minority here, but this appears to be yet another TSA solution in search of a problem.

    I think it is safe to say that 99% of air disasters are caused by weather, equipment failure and pilot error rather than items brought aboard by passengers.

    The TSA has provided us with another bogeyman under the bed.

  14. kurt torr December 30, 2007 at 3:41 pm #

    Helooooooooooooow???
    Who the fuck is comming up to this stupit idea?

    kurt

  15. brian faini December 30, 2007 at 5:12 pm #

    Let us all take a moment to take the countless morons who have filled a ziploc with assorted batteries of different voltage and size. Which causes a fire hazard.

    Just put a NiMh sticker on them will be my thinking…

    I have just gotten to where I fly with sweatpants and sandals to make my day easier but they keep making it tougher on us.

    Consumer level cameras with battery grips could be an issue, you have two batteries inside, but only one spare?

  16. Trapp_m_Photo December 30, 2007 at 5:20 pm #

    Chase,

    Along with some creative packing, if you were to give everyone that goes on location with you two batteries to carry on, you could probably get quite a few Li-Ions to the location.

    I’m shooting with a D300 and a D80 as backup (both cameras used the same battery) and I think fhfoto’s idea about extra grips will work nicely for the D300 given the more compact size of the grip. Good call fhfoto! The only issue becomes making space for the extra grips in your bag cause it will probably mean removing something.

    I’m looking at my jam packed Tamrac CyberPack 8 (legal US carry on SLR and laptop bag) right now. This bags main compartment normally carries:
    D300 with lens (24-70mm f/2.8)
    D80
    10.5mm fisheye
    18-200VR
    50 f/1.4
    70-200 f/2.8
    2- SB800s
    AA battery clips for both cameras
    2-chargers
    4-6 EN-EL3e batteries

    If I removed one SB-800 from the kit, and checked it with my tripod in my suitcase or larger lighting kit, I should have room for 2 extra D300 grips with tripod plates and then 2 loose spare EN-EL3e batteries. That makes for a total of 8 EN-EL3e batteries carried on and the AA clips for alternate power sources. Plug in the chargers on site and shoot away or just charge up back at the hotel.

    I think this would allow me to carry on enough batteries and gear to get through 1 day of just about any shooting situation (for me anyway). I’m sure if I really tried I could make room for another D300 grip in there too. I think this is how I would work with this new rule.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/21414394@N08/2149848699/

    Hope this helps!

    Mike

  17. Anonymous January 1, 2008 at 3:21 pm #

    Interesting info here (http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/assistant/batteries.shtm) seems to indicate that you may still carry lithium-based batteries in your checked bags, as long as they aren’t “loose.”

    Standby for confusion…

  18. Anonymous January 1, 2008 at 3:22 pm #

    http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/assistant/batteries.shtm

    That’s the address that should have made it into the last post…

  19. Tim Soderholm January 1, 2008 at 3:58 pm #

    Where does it say you’re limited to 2 spare batteries? All I have seen in the matrix is a maximum amount of equivalent lithium content… Did I miss something?

  20. Ryan January 1, 2008 at 9:01 pm #

    My 2 cents is coming up with a sleek looking device that I don’t know does something stupid…like tell you how much your battery is charged. Then, since its installed they can’t cry. Right?

    I am thinking just something that embodies the battery and gives you a percent only when you turn it on.

    Just a though.

  21. flyingfish January 1, 2008 at 9:41 pm #

    Chase

    Good read. There are a few things with the UPS DC-8 fire. One is that there are many factors to a plane taking a long time to put out, packages are generally packed in flammable packaging (card board, etc). There were also initial reports of some delay in using the “harpoon” to directly inject the fire-foam through the skin of the aircraft which can often help stifle a fire quickly, however I am not sure if that was slopping 5:00 sensational journalism or not.

    Additionally should a fire break out on a commercial flight in the cargo hold, the bigger factor to the rapid spreading of the flames would be items such as compressed gas in someone’s hairspray.

    I just posted a “first day” update on my blog. Today I have spoken directly with two photogs who and a very frequent flyer. All had excess batteries, all have Li-Ion batteries, none were stopped or received extra screening.

    I have also had correspondence with a TSA Agent-Screener who informed me that neither they nor any of their colleagues were doing any additional screening at their security check point for carry on bags in regard to batteries. They were focusing on loose batteries in checked bags.

    You can read the full report from day one if you’d like at:
    http://flyingwithfish.blogspot.com/2008/01/follow-up-new-dot-tsa-battery.html

    I am going to stay in contact with photogs flying all week and follow up with the TSA Agent (as well as another TSA agent I have been in contact with).

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  22. flyingfish January 1, 2008 at 9:47 pm #

    “GZ said…

    I may be in the minority here, but this appears to be yet another TSA solution in search of a problem.”

    GZ:

    This new ruling comes from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

    The ruling is endorsed by the the Federal Aviation Administration

    The ruling is enforced by the US Dept of Homeland Security’s Transportation Safety Administration.

    The TSA simply enforces the rule, it did not create the rule. In fact the biggest objector to the new ruling at the moment (from what I can find) is the TSA as they are totally unable to determine battery types on-site unless the battery is clearly labeled. They cannot test a battery without opening, which would destroy the battery and cause them a lot of problems.

    You can read the 200 page report of the new regulations here
    http://www.labsafety.com/refinfo/fedreg/FRPDF/080907.pdf

    yo can also search the new regulations by popping open Google and searching the regulations that are being enforced as a result of 49 CFR Parts 171, 172, 173, 175.

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

    PS: The TSA Agent’s really do have a hard job. I’d say in my experience probably 90% are just doing the right thing day in and day out. It’s the 10% that make it difficult to travel at times.

  23. Chase Jarvis January 2, 2008 at 1:54 am #

    Fish et al: wonderful dialogue here. The best part about all this is the ambiguity of it. Airline safety isn’t supposed to be funny, but I can’t help but chuckle–LOL even– at the online mess their new rule has sent a rippling…

    As I predicted in my earlier comment – all this will blow over after everyone has huffed and puffed. The real measure of the affect of this ruling will be how it all goes down in the real world.

    I’ll take appropriate measures for safety, not to cause any lithium fires, but, like the rest of us, I’ll probably only be mildly inconvenienced, even after all the dust settles. The government needs to get its act together–and we’ll all have reasonable arguments, er, “discussions” with the TSA agents on the front lines in the meantime.

    The best bet IMHO is for all of us to continue to report back here and perhaps to fish’s post about your experiences. Like plenty of times before, we’re creating a resource for our fellow photographer friends…

    I’m flying another international leg in a few days and will surely post my findings shortly thereafter.

  24. Chucko January 2, 2008 at 12:56 pm #

    AA’s and 123′s (about the only liths I carry, along with those 1/3N batts for my M6) aren’t subject to the regs. AA’s have just under 1gm of Li per batt, and the 123′s about half that, according to the data sheets on the Energizer Web site. The regs refer to the mass of Li in the batt, not the weight of the batt itself. Keep them in their store-bought packaging, and out of your checked luggage, and you should be OK. The DOT Web page shows some examples of the Li-ion and Li metal batts that will be restricted, and they’re mostly the honking big portable power packs.

    As someone else pointed out, though, it’s a DOT reg, but it will be enforced by TSA, so there’s no telling what will happen. The “guidance” given in the DOT announcement isn’t a model of clarity.

  25. Ian Paterson January 2, 2008 at 9:45 pm #

    Hey Chase,

    [somewhat off topic]

    I’m headed to Churchill, Manitoba to photography polar bears this coming November. I’m trying to come up with ideas for extending my battery life while shooting, since it looks like I won’t be taking all the spare batteries I’d planned.

    You mentioned in your location laptop vid that you used the Little Hotties to extend your laptop life. I’m wondering if, when temperatures are sub-zero, you use the “Little Hotties” on your camera batteries as well? Are battery grips insulated enough for it to be ineffective? Do you have other tricks that you use? Maybe rotate sets of batteries that are warmed up under layers of clothes?

    As always, your underage (in the ‘States) fan from the Seattle Strobist Seminar

  26. Chase Jarvis January 3, 2008 at 10:34 am #

    @ ian:

    I don’t use the little hotties on the camera batts because of the camera body obstruction… We do exactly what you suspected however, in that we keep the spare camera batts on our person, inside our warm clothes close to our body when they’re not in use.

  27. Chase Jarvis January 3, 2008 at 2:03 pm #

    UPDATE: The US Department of Transportation has clarified its rules on taking spare batteries on board an aircraft. The new guidelines are posted at http://safetravel.dot.gov/whats_new_batteries.html.

    Small lithium-ion batteries for consumer electronics — the ones that are built into laptops, cell phones and so on — are exempt. These batteries contain less than 8 grams of “equivalent lithium content” and hold up to 100 watt-hours of charge.

    Medium-size lithium-ion batteries — batteries that contain between 8 and 25 grams of lithium, up to 300 watt-hours — are the real target of the rule. You cannot put them into checked baggage at all, and you can pack only two of them in your carry-on. There is one exception: if the battery is installed in a device, it can go into checked baggage.

    Industrial batteries over the 25-gram mark are not allowed at all.

    A separate limit applies to lithium-metal (also called primary lithium) batteries. Again, small consumer products are not the target. But batteries with more than 2 grams of metal are forbidden.

  28. Anonymous January 3, 2008 at 3:17 pm #

    Just FYI, I am traveling via airlines and I didn’t have any questions about the batteries I was carrying (1-3-08). Perhaps it might have been due to flying out of Missoula, MT, a small/medium airport, but never the less they left me alone. Just thought that I would share that with you. It’s not to say that they won’t be kicking up the heat on that rule. Take care!

  29. Chase Jarvis January 4, 2008 at 7:11 am #

    I’m flying internationally Sunday with minimal gear – but I’ll test a few boundaries. Real test is we’re flying a bunch of gear down to LA on Tuesday for a job – plan is to seat spare batteries in their chargers and declare them “in their device”. Update soon ;)

  30. Karen February 2, 2008 at 9:25 pm #

    Now that all the batteries are being looked over, how are you doing with your 7b batteries?

  31. Chase Jarvis February 7, 2008 at 8:45 pm #

    Friends: I’ve been traveling with batteries ever since the announcement, without worry. Sure, I’m seating all “spare” batteries in their own chargers (we have lots of those), but so far, little to no new stress.

  32. Chase Jarvis February 7, 2008 at 8:46 pm #

    @ Karen: Profoto 7b batteries aren’t lithium. We’ve had no issues.

  33. Camera Batteries December 4, 2008 at 1:15 am #

    You may also find more details on Camera Battery!

  34. Claudia Hung March 4, 2011 at 8:55 am #

    I know this thread is old but wondered if Chase you’ve had problems checking-in your Broncolor battery packs since then. I’ve called up the Canadian TSA and they’re saying that lead acid is considered dangerous-goods now. Any thoughts? Thanks!

  35. Fredric Melara April 17, 2014 at 6:31 am #

    Lumsing Power Bank has a great quality. It feels very solid has the power that you need when you need it. If the price was just a bit lower, I would have given it a full 5 stars.

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