Traveling with a drone / UAV / quadcoper on a plane

Ever since I posted a photo of my Phantom 2 quadcoper / drone in my awesome Go professional case, the one question I have been asked more than any other is “can you take your drone on a plane?”

Simple answer is Yes you can. To date, I have flown with my drone on four separate flights.

Two have been domestic within the U.S, two have been international between America and England. I have had different experiences with all, but over all positive.

Every time I have flown, I have flown with my drone in the goprofessional hard case, and I have brought it on as hand luggage.

While you can use the lighter backpack style cases, these are far from solid, and there is always a small risk that the airline might ask you to check it, and the last thing you would want is for your drone to be thrown around with all the other suitcases. Where as if there were to happen when you have the solid case, I wouldn’t be too worried at all.

Please not, this post has been written based on the DJI Phantom 2 drone, which is the most popular drone at time or writing, the follow will apply to all drones, but of course if you have a larger drone / case, bringing it on as hand luggage might be an issue.

Domestic Flights

The first two times I flew were between San Diego, and Washington, both domestic flights. This was very simple, I simply brought it on as hand luggage and it went through the xray scanner no problems, and carried it on and off of the plane myself.

I then drove over the boarder to Canada with the drone in the car, no checks.

International flights

I have flown twice internationally, once from San Diego (US) airport to London (Heathrow) England, and then from Gatwick, London to LA (LAX) USA.

Once again I brought it on as hand luggage. This time my passing through security was different.

San Diego to London

At the San Diego airport I went through the x-ray / scanner, and then I was patted down / searched, and then they swabbed my hands. I believe this shows up drug / explosive residue. The staff were friendly.

I then noticed my drone case has come through the x-ray scanner, and then went to the other side, waiting for inspection. I was then called over and the TSA officer / security said “It’s a drone yeah?”

I confirmed that it was. He then asked me to unlock the case, and take it out. He was more curious than anything, and proceeded to swab around the drone. This took only 30 seconds or so, everything was fine, and he thanked me, and I packed it away and was on without any issue.

Once I was on the plane, there was no over head space. A helpful British airways attendant found me some space a few rows ahead. She saw the locks and assumed it was something valuable so walked me to where it was placed.

Upon landing I the collected my drone case, and walked off, no more scans etc.

London to LA

On my flight back to LA from London Gatwick it was a similar experience, minus the hand swap and pat down.

The security guard seemed to be pretty proud that he reconised the shape of the drone, and also said “It’s a drone yeah?”.

Same thing again, I unlocked it, took the drone out and they did the same swab test. While he was doing this, he asked me a few questions about it as he was very curious and interested. How far does it go, how high etc. Another guard came over to take a look, wondered how heavy it was etc, and said it was the first drone he has seen. Both were friendly and polite. One even jokingly asked for a quick demo inside.

Security

As mentioned above, I would recommend a solid made to fit case, such as the Goprofessional one I have. For the risk of having to check it, and also due to the fact that you can lock it. I would highly recommend the TSA approved wire padlocks, in case it has to be checked and later inspected. Also if you can’t store it above your head on the plane, it will stop curious passengers taking a look or worse.

Conclusion

  • Yes you can travel with a drone on an airplane.
  • I’d recommend bringing it on as hand luggage if it fits.
  • Use a sold case such as the Go professional, in case of having to check it.
  • Use TSA approved padlocks.
  • Give some extra time at the departure security for inspection of the quadcopter / drone.

Finally, check the weight limit of the hand luggage, BA / U.S airways never weighed my hand luggage, but interestingly Norwegian air, asked me to weight it, it came in at 8.8kg with 3 batteries and FPV etc. The limit was 10kg. Once again, this is here a solid case comes in very useful and gives me confidence if it has to be checked.

Posted on March 3, 2015 in News

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