Travel with the DJI Phantom
When you travel to new places you’ll probably want to bring your drone with you to get those gorgeous shots. And now that summer is getting closer more people are starting to ask what the best practices are for travel with a drone. Should the drone be in carry on luggage or should you put your quadcopter in checked luggage? And what if we’re traveling by car? Or internationally?
Let’s first address the basics of traveling with a drone.
When you travel with a drone, always discharge your batteries first. Make sure they are at a maximum charge of 30%, preferably less.
Although it’s not 100% sure if this is mandatory for air travel, it’s a good safety precaution anyway. Besides, why would you run the risk of having to leave your batteries at the security check? Not a nice idea given the price of a DJI Phantom 4 battery.
Second, always store your batteries in separate LiPo bags.
Why separate ones?
Yes, you can get a LiPo bag that is big enough to hold all your batteries. But, if you pack them separately, only one battery will be lost in the unlikely event something goes wrong.
If you keep more batteries in the same LiPo bag then more of them will be ruined. Sure, it’s only a tiny chance that anything will happen at all. But LiPo bags are relatively inexpensive so why run the risk? You can buy a lot of LiPo bags for the price of a single DJI Phantom 4 battery.
With that said, let’s focus on air travel in particular. LiPo batteries are not allowed in checked luggage. Or as stated in IATA documentation:
“With effect 1 April 2016 all lithium ion cells and batteries shipped by themselves (UN 3480) are forbidden for transport as cargo on passenger aircraft. Also included within the category of lithium-ion batteries are lithium polymer batteries. Lithium-ion batteries are generally found in mobile telephones, laptop computers, etc.”.
This means that when we fly we have to take all LiPo batteries in carry on luggage.
Ok, but are there any restrictions on how we pack LiPo batteries?
Not really, but for some tips on how to best transport LiPo batteries we can just follow the guidelines for packing LiPo batteries from the same documentation:
- Packing each battery or each battery-powered device when practicable, in fully
enclosed inner packagings made of non-conductive material (ed: as already said, we suggest LiPo
bag for packing LiPo batteries);
- Separating or packing batteries in a manner to prevent contact with other batteries, devices or conductive materials (e.g., metal) in the packagings; and
- Ensuring exposed terminals or connectors are protected with non-conductive caps, non-conductive tape, or by other appropriate means.
In short, pack your Lipo batteries separately (like we already suggested), away from metal and cover the contacts. If we follow those guidelines we should encounter no problems at all when we’re going through the security check.
There is an advisory that says we can only carry a reasonable number of spare LiPo batteries. But, unfortunately, there is no indication as to what “reasonable” is. So if you’re planning to bring a large number of LiPo batteries (we have had no problems with 4) it’s probably best to check with the airline first. And when you check make sure you get an answer from a senior airline employee as a lot of regular airline employees still don’t seem to be aware of the exact regulations either.
Can I carry on my drone when flying?
You can choose to either carry your drone in checked luggage (without the battery of course) or you can carry on your drone instead. If you decide to check your drone in with your luggage we suggest you get a hard shell case like the Pelican case. Your Phantom is a sensitive piece of technology and, as you can see from the video below, baggage handlers aren’t always too careful with your luggage.
Unfortunately, baggage workers operate under tight time constrictions so that video is not an exception but just one of many examples you can find online. So if you decide to have your Phantom in checked luggage, take some extra precautions. Use a case that protects your drone. And remember to ask the agent to mark your case “fragile” when you drop it off.
And remember, your RC has a LiPo battery as well. So don’t forget to discharge that one and have it in your carry-on luggage as well. Although not mandatory when it’s an integrated battery it’s a good practice anyway. Batteries are not to fond of air pressure changes.
If however you decide to take your Phantom as carry-on luggage, make sure you have a case/backpack that meets the carry-on restrictions for the airline you’re flying with. In North America, and Australia, that generally seems to be a bit easier as the restrictions aren’t as tight as they are in Europe and Asia. If you live int the US or Australia we recommend the Manfrotto D1. The Manfrotto D1 is a great backpack that has space for your Phantom and accessories ,as well as some additional items, like a DSLR (you can find our Manfrotto D1 review here).
With the more strict carry-on restrictions in Europe and Asia, we haven’t been able to find a suitable backpack that we like for those regions yet. This is also something to keep in mind if you travel intercontinental. Your case/backpack that’s fine in the US may be too big for European airlines. As soon as we find one we’ll update this article.
Although, if you are braver than we are, you could try the Manfrotto D1 with European airlines as well. It’s only marginally outside of the carry-on restrictions (excluding low-cost carriers who have ridiculous size restrictions) as you can see from our review. Just keep in mind there is the risk you’ll end up gate checking it so you may have to take out your batteries and remote at that point. (ed: we have since flown with the D1 in Europe and haven’t had any problems yet. That said, if you choose to do so, do so at your own risk and be aware that they may make you check your backpack at check in or at the gate)
Obviously, this is the same for any time you have to gate check (f.i. no space in the overhead bins). Just tell the flight attendant “One sec please, let me get something out” and take out the batteries and RC before handing over your case/backpack.
So what if you travel with your drone by car, bus, train or boat?
Easy, follow the same guidelines. The reason for the guidelines is safety. And we assume that you want everything, both yourself and your equipment, to be safe.
Hard shell cases are, again, a great choice.
They offer more protection and when you don’t travel by air you generally have no size restrictions to worry about. If the boat you’re traveling on happens to be a cruise ship then you’ll want to check with your cruise company first. A lot of cruise ships don’t allow drones on board at all or they do have restrictions in place. The restrictions for drones on cruise ships can vary from not being allowed to use it on the ship to, as mentioned, not even being allowed to bring it on board.
Ok, so we have covered the transportation part. Anything else?
If you haven’t already done so, read our article on “making better video with your Phantom 4/3 /Inspire” first. After all, you want to capture your memories in the best way possible.
Next, familiarize yourself with local regulations.
Especially when traveling to other countries with your drone, the rules can vary a lot.
Google is your friend here. A simple “drone regulations <destination>” search will often return all the information you need.
Aside from that you can try asking about local regulations in one of the many Facebook groups (like this one and this one that we spend a lot of time in). They usually have members from all over the world so chances are somebody will be able to help you with your question about drone regulations in other countries.
Now that you know where you are allowed to fly is a good time to start having some fun and to start location scouting.
Google is your friend once again. If you’re not sure how to use Google (and the internet in general) for location scouting, don’t worry. We’ve published an article about “location scouting online” as well. So you can just click here to see how we scout location online before we set off and arrive at a new destination.
Finally, if you’re traveling internationally, make sure you have the right travel adapter to charge your batteries. Electrical outlets around the world come in different shapes and sizes. And it would be such a letdown if you can’t fly because your batteries are flat and the shops around you don’t sell travel adapters.
Now that you have the information to prepare for your trip, feel free to let us know what your travel plans are in the comments. If you have any travel tips or travel videos you can share those there as well. While you’re here don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter so we can let you know when we create new content. And last but not least, have fun flying!
And don’t forget to share the article with your friends so you can help them as well and they can have fun while travelling with their drones.
Oh, and before you leave check out our “10 must have accessories for your drone” article to make sure you have all the accessories you may need for your trip.
Finally, just subscribe to our newsletter and we will let you know when new content comes online. That way you don’t have to check back here all the time.
If you’re in the US you can find the products referenced in this article here: