With numerous aircraft safety and baggage policies in place, it’s easy to slip up and make a mistake when traveling.
However, some missteps, like accidentally leaving lithium batteries in checked luggage, can be potentially dangerous.
Travelers who accidentally leave lithium batteries in their checked baggage can notify their airline or the TSA. Typically, security scans all checked luggage and removes lithium batteries (and other potentially dangerous items) before take-off. If the TSA flags prohibited items in your checked bags, it could lead to delays, fines, legal ramifications, and/or confiscation of your stuff.
This article explains which batteries are safe to pack in checked luggage, the dangers of packing lithium batteries in checked cargo, and how to pack batteries safely for air travel.
What Types of Batteries Are Safe in Checked Luggage?
While lithium batteries should not be packed in checked baggage, other types of batteries should be safe.
The TSA helpfully lists which batteries are permitted in checked luggage, including:
- Dry cell alkaline batteries (i.e., AA, AAA, C, D, 9-volt, and button-sized cells)
- Dry cell rechargeable batteries (i.e., Nickel Metal Hydride and Nickel Cadmium)
These batteries, including lithium batteries, are also allowed in carry-on luggage.
Because lithium batteries are considered hazardous, travelers should never leave uninstalled or loose lithium batteries in their checked bags.
Travelers are also prohibited from packing wet cell batteries, spillable batteries, or car batteries in carry-on and checked luggage.
If any prohibited batteries are essential for mobility devices such as wheelchairs or scooters, passengers must inform the airline so the battery is safely stored before take-off.
The TSA recommends packing all batteries in carry-on luggage when possible (luckily, batteries are relatively small and shouldn’t take up too much space.)
This way, the crew is readily available to handle the situation on the off-chance that any batteries catch fire.
Are Installed Lithium Batteries Safe in Checked Luggage?
Lithium batteries permanently installed in a device (e.g., a laptop) should be safe in checked luggage, but it’s highly recommended to consult the airline beforehand.
As per the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), lithium battery-powered devices in checked baggage must be completely powered off and packed to prevent damage or accidental activation.
Typically, passengers prefer to have their electronics with them anyways, so installed lithium batteries tend to end up in most carry-ons.
Which Lithium Batteries Are Allowed in Carry-On Luggage?
The TSA conveniently highlights the types of lithium batteries allowed in carry-on bags.
These types include:
- Lithium-ion batteries (i.e., rechargeable lithium, lithium polymer, LIPO, secondary lithium)
- Consumer-sized lithium-ion batteries that are no more than 8 grams (0.2 oz) equivalent lithium content or 100 watt hours (Wh) per battery (includes AA, AAA, 9-volt, PDA, camera, camcorder, Gameboy, and standard laptop batteries)
- A maximum of two larger lithium-ion batteries that are no more than 8 grams (0.2 oz) and up to 25 grams (0.8 oz) of equivalent lithium content per battery (i.e., larger extended-life laptop batteries)
- Lithium metal batteries (i.e., non-rechargeable lithium, primary lithium)
Larger lithium-ion batteries consisting of 100.1 Wh to 160 Wh are only allowed aboard if travelers receive permission from their airline.
Remember: spare lithium batteries of any type should not be packed in checked luggage.
Does the TSA Scan Checked Luggage for Lithium Batteries?
While the TSA doesn’t explicitly scan for lithium batteries, they often catch prohibited items during a thorough security check of the luggage.
Travelers who accidentally leave lithium batteries inside their luggage can rest assured that security will likely find and remove them.
The downside is that the TSA may flag the luggage to the airline and/or issue a legal notice or fine.
(Make a note to always double-check your suitcase to avoid this headache).
If you realize there’s a hazardous battery in your checked luggage, see if there’s a TSA office in the airport and inform the agent on duty of the situation.
The officer may give you a form to fill out describing your bag, and if you have a photo of your luggage, even better.
Once the TSA is aware of the issue, they can potentially locate your suitcase and remove the battery; however, any fine or legal notices will likely stand if the luggage has already been screened.
Why Are Lithium Batteries Dangerous in Checked Bags?
Although rare, lithium batteries can overheat and catch fire.
Because the cargo hold is usually unmonitored, pressurized, and contains other flammable items, a fire can grow and spread unnoticed.
Fires are much easier to spot and put out if they occur inside the aircraft cabin.
For these reasons, if travelers are asked to gate-check their carry-on, they must report and remove any spare lithium batteries from their bag.
How to Safely Pack Batteries for Air Travel
Before heading for the airport, travelers should pack batteries safely and avoid putting them where they shouldn’t be.
The first step before packing is to check airline policies on traveling with batteries – reviewing this information is key to avoiding delays, hassles, or fines at the airport.
Next, list all the external batteries needed for the trip and be mindful of which devices have permanently installed batteries.
If possible, keep spare batteries stored in the retail packaging or slip them inside a protective case or pouch.
Batteries that get wet or damaged are especially dangerous, so it’s helpful if the case or pouch is waterproof and durable.
To keep things nice and organized, travelers may want to label these bags with the battery type and power capacity.
Passengers should also cover spare battery terminals with tape to keep them from interacting with other metals.
Any batteries pre-approved by the TSA should be fine if left in checked luggage.
However, lithium batteries, specifically, are potentially flammable and should not be packed in checked bags.
If a lithium battery overheats and catches fire inside the cargo hold, the fire can often get out of control.
Luckily, the TSA usually catches any prohibited batteries when screening checked baggage.
The unlucky part is they may issue the offending party a legal notice or a fine.
The best way to avoid attracting unwanted attention from the TSA is to pack batteries properly according to current safety and airline policies.
Passengers with questions about what’s permitted on their flights should contact their airline before packing their bags.
Table of Contents
- What Types of Batteries Are Safe in Checked Luggage?
- Does the TSA Scan Checked Luggage for Lithium Batteries?
- Why Are Lithium Batteries Dangerous in Checked Bags?
- How to Safely Pack Batteries for Air Travel