Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Batteries: False Alarm???

The photo-related blogosphere and photographers are buzzing with various interpretations of the recent US Department of Transportation's advising that passengers will no longer be able to pack loose lithium batteries in checked luggage beginning January 1, 2008.

According to the DOT, the new regulation will continue to allow lithium batteries in checked baggage if they are installed in electronic devices, or in carry-on baggage if stored in plastic bags.

Common consumer electronics such as travel cameras, cell phones, and most laptop computers are still allowed in carry-on and checked luggage. However, the rule limits individuals to bringing only two extended-life spare rechargeable lithium batteries , such as laptop and professional audio/video/camera equipment lithium batteries in carry-on baggage.

It appears from what I read and heard (and I stress "appears") that this will only affect audio/visual professionals. However, the TSA screeners may have a different interpretation than yours or mine. Most of them are inadequately trained, overworked (sometimes) and have no people-skills to speak of (generally). If and when they see "Lithium" printed on a battery of any shape in your hand-luggage, they'll probably ask you to dispose of it. That's a no-brainer way out for them: when in doubt, dispose.

So I'm apprehensive as many of you are. There are a couple of good suggestions on Steven Frischling's Flying With Fish blog. One is to make a copy of the DOT regulation and carry it with you, and the other is this gem:

To avoid any problems or confusion at security check points, I will be removing all the hard to decipher OEM stickers from my camera batteries (currently NP-E3 Ni-MH batteries), much like how the 3rd party Black Diamond batteries are shipped. In the place of the OEM stickers I will be placing on a printed label that simply reads this "NiMH - FAA/DOT Compliant For Air Travel." This should cut down on the problems you may face flying with batteries as of 1-January-2008."

I would also suggest that you keep your spare batteries separated in small ziplocks, and their terminals (if loose) covered with electrician tape. Then cross your fingers.

Here are the various links (thanks to David for the Flying Fish link):

New York Times' Bits Article

Schneier On Security

Flying With Fish