Power banks are awesome, aren’t they? With the global usage of smartphones increasing day by day, power banks are here to stay. After all, who likes to be caught in the middle of the day with a smartphone running low on battery? Nobody. And that is why we always have a backup with us, the ever-popular power bank or power bank.
Naturally, you would want to keep a power bank handy no matter where you are. And that includes flying. With so many restrictions in place regarding what you can and cannot carry, having one or more power banks in your luggage can sometimes raise an alarm. There are, of course, some rules put in place regarding carrying power banks in flights by all the airlines.
Most power banks are allowed in planes. But you should always carry them with you in your hand baggage. Power banks are not allowed in your checked baggage. Also, the rated power of the power bank should be within 100Wh. This is almost equivalent to 27000mAh. For higher capacities, special permission is required from the airline.
Why are Power Banks not allowed in checked luggage?
The reason, like everything else in air travel, is safety. But why are power banks considered unsafe?
The majority of power banks utilize lithium cells. Lithium cells under certain situations can heat up and reach temperatures of more than 1000F. At those temperatures, it can very easily catch fire, or even explode. This is the main reason why power banks are not allowed in checked luggage in the plane.
Checked luggage is kept in the flight cargo. In the eventuality of a fire in the cargo area, it might be too late before it gets detected. This can lead to disaster.
You might think flight accidents because of a power bank catching fire is a very rare scenario. But this has happened once. In 2010, A cargo flight operated by UPS Airlines caught fire and crashed killing its crew members. The root cause of the fire, later identified, was a large container of Lithium batteries. Wikipedia has a whole page on this incident.
This incident might be the reason for the introduction of the current restrictions on power banks during air travel.
These restrictions in Lithium batteries are also the reason why laptops and many other electronics are not allowed in checked baggage.
Why are Power Banks allowed in hand luggage?
Ok, so now you might be wondering if power banks are risky, why are they allowed in your hand luggage? They should be completely banned. Right? Well, the reason is, catching fire and exploding is a very rare phenomenon.
In the remote case, if a power bank does catch fire, the situation can be easily handled. First of all, it will not remain undetected for long in the cabin. Secondly, fire extinguishers are always at hand in the cabin.
Power banks are not risky in general. With the advancement in technology, the risks of fire and explosion have become almost negligible. After all, we are always carrying them in our bags or even in our pockets. There is no statutory warning that power banks are hazardous, is there?
But at the same time you cannot deny the fact that in the rarest of situations, things can go wrong. Airlines just do not want to take any chances. So they allow power banks in the cabin, making sure that they can handle the situation in case of fire. They just don’t want any fire to remain undetected in the flight, which will be the case in the cargo area.
Limitations on the size of Power Banks in the flight cabin
Just because power banks are allowed in hand luggage, it doesn’t mean you can carry any power bank with you during air travel. Most airlines have put in restrictions in place where large power banks are not allowed to be carried along.
How large? Well, the restriction is not on the actual size, but on the rated energy of the power bank. Currently, this number is 100Wh(Watt-hour). So any power bank below 100Wh can be carried along without issues. Also, you can carry at most two power banks with you.
How to calculate Watt-hour (Wh)?
You might be thinking when the standard way of measuring the capacity of a power bank is in mAh (milli-Ampere-hour), why airlines are using an obscure unit of measurement? I also have this complaint. Why make things more complex and increase the confusion?
It turns out, finding the Wh from mAh is not very complex. You just have to know the nominal voltage of your power bank.
(mAh)/ 1000 x (V) = (Wh)
Where V = nominal output voltage of the power bank.
The nominal output voltage of Lithium cells is usually 3.7V.
Considering nominal voltage as 3.7V, by reverse calculation, 100Wh is equivalent to 27000mAh. That means any power bank within 27000mAh is allowed in carry-on baggage. If you are carrying more than one (officially, a maximum of two are allowed), make sure that you pack them separately in your carry-on luggage.
How strictly is the ‘Wh’ rule followed?
This is interesting. When it comes to airport security, a lot depends on the security staff. They may allow taking something which is actually prohibited if you go by the book. And they may also restrict certain items which should be allowed as per the rule book. I haven’t seen anyone being stopped for carrying power banks in hand luggage. I have even seen people taking 4-5 power banks with them.
However, the best advice will be to stay within the guideline published by the airline. In most cases, you may get away with a high capacity power bank if it does not ‘look’ big. I am talking about the physical appearance of the power bank. Some high capacity power banks do not look that big as they use very high-density cells inside.
If the size appears ok to the security staff, they might not even check the specifications of the power bank.
If you want to be absolutely sure, just stay within the 20000mAh limit. For larger power banks, make sure the specs on the body of the power bank can be read. You may also carry the original packaging where the specs are clearly written. Note that if the security staff get suspicious of your power bank or its rated capacity, you may not be allowed to carry it in the plane.
What about bigger Power Banks?
Some airlines allow to carry power banks up to 160Wh (around 43000mAh) in a plane. However, you will need special approval from the airline.
Anything higher than 160Wh is usually not allowed to be carried along in the cabin. You will need special permission from the airline so that it can be safely packed in a special area of the cargo. Such items in the cargo come under the IATA’s Dangerous Goods Regulations, similar to firearms.
Power banks have almost become the lifeline of our digital life. so make sure that you do not lose yours during air travel. The restrictions put in place are not very stringent. You should nevertheless be careful while packing your luggage, and not put it in the checked luggage. If you think you can get away with it, you may be wrong.
Nowadays, checked luggage is not scanned in front of you. But they do get scanned at various stages afterward. If a power bank is found in your checked luggage, the security staff can open your luggage and confiscate it.
In most cases, the staff will inform you about it. But by that time, it will be too late to collect it and carry it along with you in your cabin luggage.
While choosing a power bank, apart from the other criteria like quality, performance, efficiency, etc. also make sure that you keep the restrictions imposed by the airlines in mind. You don’t want your power bank to be confiscated by the security staff during air travel.
One of my office colleagues told me how he lost a power bank which he had accidentally put in his checked luggage. When the security staff informed him about it, only 15-20 minutes were left for the flight’s departure. There was no way he could have gone through the security check again to bring the power bank back with him in his carry-on luggage. The only options left were to let it go or miss the flight.
I hope the information provided in this article helps you in increasing awareness about traveling with power banks.