As educators nationwide prepare for a busy ed-tech conference season over the next few months, new airline restrictions on lithium batteries–such as those commonly found in laptop computers–could affect the way many travel.

As of Jan. 1, airline passengers are no longer permitted to pack loose lithium batteries in their checked baggage. The new rule aims to reduce the risk of lithium battery fires.

Lithium batteries are considered hazardous because, in certain conditions, they can overheat and ignite. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) found during safety testing that a fire brought on by non-rechargeable lithium batteries would pose a difficult, if not impossible, challenge to an aircraft’s fire system if they ignited during the flight.

“Safety testing conducted by the FAA found that current aircraft cargo fire suppression system would not be capable of suppressing a fire if a shipment of non-rechargeable lithium batteries were ignited in flight,” the FAA said in a statement.

The National Transportation Safety Board earlier this month said it could not rule out lithium batteries as the source of a cargo plane fire at Philadelphia International Airport last year.

Travelers can still pack rechargeable lithium batteries in their checked baggage if the batteries are already installed in electronic devices. Spare lithium batteries are permitted in carry-on luggage only, but they should be stored in plastic zip-lock bags or their original packaging to reduce their chance of short circuiting.

The new regulations also place restrictions on how many, and what kinds of, lithium batteries are allowed in carry-on bags. These restrictions are based on how many grams of “equivalent lithium content” appear in each battery.

To put this measurement in a context that most technology users are more familiar with, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) says eight grams of lithium content are equivalent to a rating of about 100 watt-hours, while 25 grams equate to about 300 watt-hours.

Any number of spare batteries are allowed in carry-on baggage if they are properly protected from short circuiting and do not exceed eight grams of equivalent lithium content (100 watt-hours). Most lithium-ion cell phone and standard laptop computer batteries fall below eight grams; Dell’s XPS m1330 laptop computer, for example, uses several different batteries, the largest of which–the 9-cell version–is rated at 85 watt-hours.

If you have larger spare batteries that contain more than eight grams of equivalent lithium content, you may only bring two of these in your carry-on bags, and they cannot exceed 25 grams of equivalent lithium content (or 300 watt-hours) altogether.

Examples of extended-life rechargeable lithium batteries that fall into this category include 130 watt-hour “universal” lithium ion batteries and 160 watt-hour lithium ion batteries for professional audiovisual equipment. Applying the new rules, you could bring one of each of these types of batteries in your carry-on luggage (for a total of 290 watt-hours), but not two 160 watt-hour AV batteries.

Batteries with more than 25 grams of equivalent lithium content are no longer allowed on passenger flights at all.

For a lithium metal battery, whether installed in a device or carried as a spare, the limit on lithium content is only two grams per battery. Lithium metal batteries are commonly found in cameras.

Almost all consumer-type lithium metal batteries contain less than two grams of lithium metal, according to DOT. But if you are unsure, the agency recommends that you contact the manufacturer.

Storing a spare battery in its original packaging or in a plastic bag can prevent unintentional short-circuiting and fires, said Krista Edwards, deputy administrator for DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Placing tape across the battery’s contacts also can prevent short-circuits.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) suggests that travelers buy batteries from reputable sources and use only those batteries approved for their device. The TSA also recommends charging only those batteries that are truly rechargeable, because non-rechargeable batteries become hazardous if placed in a battery charger and can overheat or cause other damage.

Battery terminals can be insulated by isolating batteries from contact with other batteries, as well as from contact with metal objects such as coins, keys, or jewelry. Placing each battery in its protective case will isolate the terminals and prevent short-circuiting.


U.S. Department of Transportation: Traveling Safely with Batteries and Battery-Powered Devices