These days, air travel comes with a number of restrictions, some of which are still not very well understood by the general public. For electronic devices powered by lithium-ion batteries, which includes most handheld devices such as your phone, tablet or power bank, there are certain restrictions when it comes to bringing them on planes.
To avoid problems on your next flight, a little familiarity with the rules surrounding electronic devices will go a long way.
For example, these restrictions only apply to either large numbers of these batteries or those with very large capacities. In almost all cases, people are allowed to fly with devices that are powered by lithium-ion batteries.
This means that most power banks, phones, tablets and other devices can be brought along on your next flight without issue.
Are Power Banks Allowed on Planes?
The short answer is yes, with certain conditions.
Any device that uses lithium-ion batteries can only be brought on a flight if it is in your carry-on baggage. They cannot be transported in checked luggage. Whether or not a lithium ion battery powered device can be brought on a flight depends on the size and capacity of the battery itself.
According to the guidelines set forth by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), any device with a Watt-hour rating greater than 160 cannot be carried in checked baggage or carry-on luggage; they must be prepared and carried as cargo in accordance with their Dangerous Goods Regulations.
Power Bank Capacities
Rather than using watt-hours, most portable chargers are marketed using their milliampere hours (mAh) rating instead. Stated simply, the higher the mAh rating, the more capacity the power bank has. Greater energy storage means a longer battery life.
But this rating is only useful for comparing devices that use the same type of battery. Organizations such as the IATA use Watt-hours as a measurement because it provides a consistent way of comparing different kinds of batteries and devices.
Most power banks and portable chargers are generally under the 160 Watt-hour limit, but it’s a good idea to check anyway. There's a chance your power bank does not display its output in Watt-hours, so here's how to make the conversion to see if your power bank will be allowed to fly in your carry on.
- Find the mAh number
- Find the voltage (3.6V/3.7V is standard for power banks)
- To convert to Amp hours, divide the mAh number by 1000
- Multiply the Amp hours by the voltage to get Watt-hours
Here's an example: Power banks with a 10,000 mAh capacity and a 3.6V rating would have a power rating of 36 Watt-hours. For formula fans, (10,000 / 1000) * 3.6 = 36. Judging from this baseline, most power banks fall far below the 160 Wh threshold so the majority of people have nothing to worry about when it comes to boarding their flight with backup power on hand.
For reference, a power bank with a 3.6V rating would have to have a capacity of 44,450 mAh to exceed the 160 Wh limit.
American Air Carriers
The rules in the United States regarding lithium batteries are nearly identical to those of the IATA, with one notable exception. The Federal Aviation Association (FAA) requires airline operator approval for certain batteries.
According to the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations:
For a lithium ion battery, the Watt-hour rating must not exceed 100 Wh. With the approval of the operator, portable electronic devices may contain lithium ion batteries exceeding 100 Wh, but not exceeding 160 Wh and no more than two individually protected lithium ion batteries each exceeding 100 Wh, but not exceeding 160 Wh, may be carried per person as spare batteries in carry-on baggage.
So, if you are flying with an American airline, it's a good idea to check with them prior to arrival to make sure your portable charger is permitted and avoid any unwelcome surprises.
Power Banks and Travel
Power banks are the perfect travel accessory, so it probably comes as a relief to know that most power banks are permitted on commercial flights because you will want to have one with you for that long flight or layover.
If your power bank has a relatively small capacity then you can just throw it in your carry-on without worrying. If you are a power user with one of the most powerful power banks available, you should check to make sure that its battery capacity falls below the cutoff threshold. Also, if you are flying with an American airline, it's wise to check with them to make sure your power bank is allowed.