If you're traveling with your cameras and other battery-operated equipment to, from or within the USA - and perhaps elsewhere around the world - the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) recent pronouncements about the rules governing the transport of batteries containing Lithium means you may have to plan a bit more carefully how many rechargeable battery packs you carry with you, and how you carry them. But it's equally important to understand that the coverage of the so-called Lithium battery ban in the mainstream media has been riddled with misinformation. The reality is that the changes most photographers will have to make when readying to fly are less onerous than the coverage might have led you to believe.
Through the links at the end of this article, you can read in detail the Lithium battery transport requirements for passenger aircraft. Distilling them down, the main and perhaps only change we'll need to make when preparing to fly is to consistently place spare camera and laptop Lithium-Ion packs into see-through, sealable bags, so as to not give airport screeners a reason to delay the passage of carry-ons through security. Otherwise, our interpretation of information published by the U.S. DOT in the last week is that the real impact on the traveling public - including working photographers - will be minor.
This is in part because the "new" regulations that took effect on January 1, 2008 in the USA are very similar to or the same as those in existence for some time worldwide, as part of the International Air Transport Association's (IATA)
dangerous goods regulations (which in turn mirror dangerous goods regulations by other global agencies).
Kevin McAuley, Safety Services Advisor for Canadian carrier WestJet
, says that his airline's procedures for the transport of both rechargeable Lithium-Ion and non-rechargeable Lithium Metal batteries have been in step with IATA regulations for a year-and-a-half or more. He suggested that other IATA members - which include most of the major carriers globally, including U.S. carriers - would have looked to those same regulations when crafting their dangerous goods policy. McAuley applauds the U.S. DOT for raising awareness about the risks involved with Lithium batteries, but said it would be business as usual at Westjet when flying into the USA, since his airline's policy on carriage of this type of battery was already in line with the U.S. DOT.
In a National Geographic blog entry
, Ken Geiger, Senior Editor for Technology at the magazine, says that in his conversations with both U.S. DOT and U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) representatives, he has learned that the U.S. DOT is planning to restate the wording of the ban on Lithium batteries in checked bags, to make it clear that only larger packs are affected (much larger than typical digital SLR or notebook batteries), and that the TSA won't exactly be pouncing on each instance of loose AA Lithium batteries they find rolling around in someone's carry-on. See his blog posting
Add it all up and what you have is probably much ado about not very much: it's important to be smart about how you transport Lithium-Ion and other batteries, but there's good reason to believe that it won't be that much harder in January 2008 than it was in December 2007 to bring aboard an airplane the batteries you require to shoot the pictures you need.
Here are links to various sources of additional information.
January 3, 2008: Article revised throughout