Having some extra juice for your phone is always handy, especially when you’re about to land in a new city or country. However, if you’re planning on bringing some extra batteries or a power bank on the plane, you should check the specs first: not everything flies.
Carrying extra-large power banks or many smaller ones may be a bit risky for the plane, especially if the batteries are in the cargo hold area where fires can’t be managed as easily. If you are curious to know whether a portable charger is allowed on a plane, the answer is yes, though it is not so straightforward.
Carry-On or Check-In: Where Should a Power Bank Go on a Plane?
The rule here is simple: if you have a power bank, laptop battery, iOS or Android smartphone battery, or anything else that uses a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, it goes in your carry-on luggage. It may seem strange, but it’s actually safer to keep these potentially explosive devices where they can be monitored. Having a phone catch fire in the cabin is a little frightening, but it could be far worse in a cargo hold where no one can readily notice and stop the fire before it spreads.
Can You Take a 20,000 mAh Power Bank on a Plane?
Putting your batteries in your carry-on is easy enough, but that might not be enough to get you past security if you’re packing an energy source that could power a small village. Most power packs are generally under the 100 Watt-hour (Wh) limit set by most airlines, but it’s a good idea to check anyway.
You may have noticed that your power pack doesn’t measure its output in Watt-hours – it probably uses milliamp hours or mAh. Many power packs also have the Watt-hours listed somewhere, but in case yours doesn’t, here’s the formula to convert between units:
- Find your battery’s mAh number.
- Find the voltage (usually 3.6V/3.7V).
- Divide the mAh number by 1,000, converting it to Amp hours (Ah).
- Multiply the Ah number by the voltage to get the Watt-hours.
The whole formula:
For example, a 20,000 mAh power pack with a 3.6V rating would be:
(20,000 / 1,000 ) * 3.6 = 72 Watt-hours (Wh)
Conclusion: while power packs come in a variety of power ratings and voltages, an average 3.6V power pack would have to be around 28,000 mAh before it went over the 100 Wh limit. As long as you see “3.6V” or “3.7V” and a number lower than 28,000 mAh, odds are good that your battery is plane-friendly.
Are Larger Power Banks Allowed?
If you do happen to have a bigger power bank, there’s still a good chance you can bring it with you. Batteries that are rated from 100.1 – 160 Wh just require airline approval to be brought on board a plane.
There isn’t really an established procedure for flying with these batteries, so you probably won’t see it as a luggage option, but calling your airline and asking a representative will get you the answer you need.
Note: 160 Wh is roughly equal to 44,000 mAh at 3.6 volts.
Anything bigger than 160 Wh could cause you some problems, as it has to follow the guidelines for dangerous cargo. Luckily, it’s pretty difficult to find a power bank over that limit, and if you have one, you would probably know it.
Bringing Multiple Power Banks
While you can’t bring a single power bank over 100Wh on a plane without getting permission, you can bring more than one power bank that adds up to or exceeds that number. Once again, how many power banks you are allowed to bring with you will depend on the specific airline and its rules. If you are traveling with someone who doesn’t have a power bank, you could also have them hold your additional bank for the flight.
If you just need a quick reference, here’s a flowchart to help you check whether your power bank will be allowed on board:
How Dangerous Are Portable Chargers on Planes?
If you accidentally took an oversized battery on a flight or left one in your checked luggage, it isn’t likely to cause a catastrophe, but there is a non-zero chance of disaster. A quick search for “exploding battery on plane” will bring up plenty of cases, though generally these fires have been quickly extinguished.
The only confirmed battery-related disaster was a UPS plane in 2010 that crashed at Dubai International Airport after a fire caused by a cargo of lithium batteries. This crash is a major reason that restrictions on passengers carrying lithium batteries exist, and UPS now carries this kind of cargo in special fiberglass containers.
There is even an (unsubstantiated) hypothesis that a cargo of lithium-ion batteries was responsible for the disappearance of MH370 in 2014. While there’s not much to worry about for the average passenger, you may as well do your part to ensure that your plane makes it safely to its destination.
Safety Checklist for Carrying a Power Bank on a Plane
Make sure you check this table before you fly to eliminate the possibility of any inconveniences at the airport and beyond. Basically, to avoid any power mishaps while flying:
- Keep your batteries in the cabin.
- Don’t take batteries over 100Wh (usually about 27-28,000 mAh) without consulting the airline.
Armed with those two pieces of information, you should be able to have a relaxing flight in your high-speed metal tube flying several kilometers above the ground.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why do lithium batteries "explode"?
Lithium-ion batteries are relatively volatile. They can suffer a “thermal runaway” event where the battery releases all its densely-packed energy in a violent flameout. There is no single reason why these batteries might ignite in this way. Impacts, piercing, high pressure, faulty safety circuits, or any adverse events can cause a lithium battery to burn out violently.
Can I fly with batteries in other devices?
Yes, you can. However, the common 100Wh limit applies to all lithium batteries you have with you, even inside devices that are not power banks. It’s highly unlikely that your devices are close to that limit, but some high-end gaming laptops now have 99.9Wh batteries, and if a given airline decides to lower their limit, this may be an issue.
Are lithium batteries getting better?
Several very promising research projects are underway that are making new battery types that can be abused without exploding or flaming out. Some of these are next-generation lithium batteries, and others are based on different chemistries. In a few years, our gadgets may have perfectly safe batteries, and you won’t need to worry about airline rules for batteries.
Image credit: ArtHouse Studio via Pexels
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