29 December 2007

29-December-2007 : The New Question - Can I Bring This Battery On Board?

Web: www.fishfotoworldwide.com -- E-Mail: fish@flyingwithfish.com

29-December-2007 : The New Question - Can I Bring This Battery On Board?

Yesterday, the 28th of December 2007, a simple press release was sent out by the the U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. On most days none of us know who the the US DOT PHMSA is, and most days we don't care. Yesterday however photographers all over the United States were reading the new rules set down by the US DOT PHMSA on www.safetravel.dot.gov and on news sites.

Why does the US DOT PHMSA now affect us? Because they released a new set of rules that may directly our ability to carry spare batteries on-board aircraft while traveling with our camera equipment. On the surface the rules that go into affect on 1-January-2008 look like this

---START---
From: http://safetravel.dot.gov/whats_new_batteries.html
- Spare batteries are the batteries you carry separately from the devices they power. When batteries are installed in a device, they are not considered spare batteries.
- You may not pack a spare lithium battery in your checked baggage
- You may bring spare lithium batteries with you in carry-on baggage
- Even though we recommend carrying your devices with you in carry-on baggage as well, if you must bring one in checked baggage, you may check it with the batteries installed.

The following quantity limits apply to both your spare and installed batteries. The limits are expressed in grams of “equivalent lithium content.” 8 grams of equivalent lithium content is approximately 100 watt-hours. 25 grams is approximately 300 watt-hours:

- Under the new rules, you can bring batteries with up to 8-gram equivalent lithium content. All lithium ion batteries in cell phones are below 8 gram equivalent lithium content. Nearly all laptop computers also are below this quantity threshold.
- You can also bring up to two spare batteries with an aggregate equivalent lithium content of up to 25 grams, in addition to any batteries that fall below the 8-gram threshold. Examples of two types of lithium ion batteries with equivalent lithium content over 8 grams but below 25 are shown below.
- For a lithium metal battery, whether installed in a device or carried as a spare, the - Almost all consumer-type lithium metal batteries are below 2 grams of lithium metal. But if you are unsure, contact the manufacturer!
---END---

The full text of details from the US DOT PHMSA can be found here : http://www.USDOTPHMSA.notlong.com

OK, there are some huge loop holes in this new rule and there is potential for a huge problem for TSA Agent-Screeners at check points who are not trained to differentiate battery types or "gram weights" of Lithium in batteries. The TSA Agents get knocked all the time, but they really do have a hard job and this just makes the job harder and potentially more confusing for the regulations they must enforce.

The ban only technically applies to "extended life" lithium batteries, such as those for "professional" audio/video/photo equipment. The batteries sited are between 8 grams and 25 grams of lithium. If you look at he 3rd party PB511A 1800 Mah batteries they have only 0.98 grams of Lithium, well under the allowed amounts of Lithium in weight allowed on board for spare batteries.

For those with the Canon 20D/30D/40D/5D or Nikon D200/D300 bodies, these are considered consumer and prosumer bodies, and would not qualify as "professional photo equipment" with the US DOT PHMSA's new ruling for flying with spare batteries.

A spare EN-L4 or PB511A is also not considered to be an "extended life" battery by the manufacturer, this should also, in theory, exempt it from the US DOT rules.

Of course the problem , as always, is dealing with under trained TSA Agent-Screeners at the check points. These people are not qualified to make the decisions they are forced to make at the check points in regard to what is 'extended life" vs "standard equipment", what is "professional" vs "consumer" (your Canon 5D and PowerShot G6 use the same battery, remember that). How will a TSA Agent-Screener determine what is a Li-Ion vs NiMH onsite? If they determine Li-Ion how will they determine the amount of grams of Lithium in the battery on-site?

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 also strongly suggest printing out the info from the DOT and bringing it with you. Why? Yo may need to remind over zealous screeners that this new rule ONLY affects Lithium Batteries and that it should only affect (in theory) Extended Life Spare Batteries.

Your NiMH rechargeable AA batteries for your flash? They are not affected at all, pack 100 if you want. If you use Energizer Lithium batteries, ditch them and pick up some NiMH batteries instead.


Happy Flying


10 comments:

Trapp_m_Photo said...

Fish,

Thanks for sharing the "loop holes" with us. Any ideas on why they are enacting this change so suddenly? Have there been incidents on planes with checked Li-Ion batteries before?

Thanks again for sharing your expertise. I have really learned a lot. The abbreviated around the world with no jet lag trip sounds awesome. I'll be saving up to attend one of those in the near future.

Mike

flyingfish said...

Mike:

What caused the U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to place a restriction on Lithium Batteries being packed in checked and carry on baggage? There are quite a few potential answers floating around. There are "official" answers and then there are "unofficial" answers.

After doing some significant looking around for an answer yesterday, most reports seem to stem from an series of incidents that were isolated and handled a 1.5 years ago. The new ruling on batteries was created in reaction to a problem with some Li-ion laptop batteries that had been manufactured by Sony for use in Sony Vaio and other non-Sony brand laptops (including Mac PowerBooks and a variety of Dell laptops) back in July-August of 2006. The batteries were recalled , the problems fixed and now here we are 1.5 years later and the U.S. Government as finally reacted to this problem.

I think the US DOT PHMSA is a little behind the curve on dealing a problem that was dealt with, and fixed by , the technology industry a year-and-a-half ago.


Happy Flying!

-Fish

flyingfish said...

I just got an e-mail that asks the following
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems like a simple solution to help avoid problems is to pack any spare batteries in Ziplock baggies when traveling. Am I mistaken about this? Assuming that you're not flying with cases of batteries this seems like it would help to derail any potential conflicts with the screeners before they happen."

Even if you place you Li-Ion batteries in ZipLock bags, you are still limited to only two Li-Ion batteries under the new rules (although there is still the whole issue of the DOT needing to clarify Extended Life and how they will measure the grams of lithium in batteries).

When I travel with two 1D bodies I generally also fly with five spare batteries. When I travel to cover sports (which is rare these days) I fly with at least four bodies and 12 spare batteries.

Now that I am switching to the 5D series bodies I'll probably fly with 4-or-6 spare batteries if I travel with two bodies.

So using a ZipLock that limits me to two spare batteries and not being able to check any batteries (and I often don't check bags at all) is not a viable option.

Happy Flying

-Fish

bmillios said...

Fish - thanks for doing all this. I had a conversation with a guy today, he's telling me "Oh, you're in trouble, you can't take your camera batteries on planes anymore! The TSA passed some new rules."

Imagine my blank look, followed quickly by astounded incredulity.

I thought to myself, "I'm going to have to ask Fish if he knows about this."

Lo and behold, here it is. How timely, how informative.

...and how grateful I am.

flyingfish said...

Bill

As a video guy you may encounter a more difficult obstacle due to the batteries you may use.

If you use the Canon cameras you might be able to get the compact BP950 or BP-970G batteries past the check points. The video cameras that use the BP511A may have an easier chance. I am not familiar with the Sony or Panasonic cameras, so I can't speak to the possibility of trying to travel with more than three of those batteries (one on attached to the body and two spares.)

The argument can be made that these batteries, while Li-Ion are not extended life batteries and are then not specifically being targeted by the DOT ruling. But this is all very grey and the rules are so hazy on this issue that is can be a severe problem. The rulings on this need to be made by a TSA Screener-Agent on-site , making determinations on a subject that they are most likely qualified to make a judgment on. In the end we all lose (both traveler and TSA screener)

As more info comes about I'l be posting. I am considering taking a trip to no where in late January just to test out the battery rules and enforcement. If I do this I'll make sure I cross the security check points at least four times at three airports to see what's going on.

Happy Flying

-Fish

Trapp_m_Photo said...

Taking a "trip to no where..." just to test out the new rules. You sir, are too much! Thanks again for sharing all of this with us. What a resource.

flyingfish said...

Mike

Well I need to see if I can fit it into my schedule. I have a somewhat packed non-shooting/non-traveling schedule in January, then head off to Hong Kong for 3 days at the start of February , so I need to see if I can sort out the trip to no where.

Sometimes the only way to really find the rules out is to test out the rules by choosing a route that involves airports that are known to be difficult in regard to dealing with the TSA at screening check points (and I have my detailed list in a Moleskine notebook).

Happy Flying!

-Fish

Trapp_m_Photo said...

Hey Fish,

A guy at another blog hit on a good idea for those of us that have Li-Ion batts for our cameras. Extra battery grips. Technically the battery is installed in a "device".

I'm shooting with a D300 and a D80 as backup (both cameras used the same battery) and I think fhfoto's idea about extra grips will work nicely for the D300 given the more compact size of the grip. Good call fhfoto! The only issue becomes making space for the extra grips in your bag cause it will probably mean removing something.

I'm looking at my jam packed Tamrac CyberPack 8 (legal US carry on SLR and laptop bag) right now. This bags main compartment normally carries:
D300 with lens (24-70mm f/2.8)
D80
10.5mm fisheye
18-200VR
50 f/1.4
70-200 f/2.8
2- SB800s
AA battery clips for both cameras
2-chargers
4-6 EN-EL3e batteries

If I removed one SB-800 from the kit, and checked it with my tripod in my suitcase or larger lighting kit, I should have room for 2 extra D300 grips with tripod plates and then 2 loose spare EN-EL3e batteries. That makes for a total of 8 EN-EL3e batteries carried on and the AA clips for alternate power sources.

2 in the D300
1 each in the extra grips = 4
2 loose = 6
2 in the D80 = 8

Plug in the chargers on site and shoot away or just charge up back at the hotel.

I think this would allow me to carry on enough batteries and gear to get through 1 day of just about any shooting situation (for me anyway). I'm sure if I really tried I could make room for another D300 grip in there too. I think this is how I would work with this new rule.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/21414394@N08/2149848699/

Hope this helps!

Mike

flyingfish said...

Mike

In short , I think hauling extra grips is to expensive and takes up to much space. For overall use it seems like a costly way to over pack your bag.

I am going to try labels and see what happens.

Happy Flying!

-Fish

Ron said...

Fish - thanks for sharing this info. I think your idea to make "approved" labels is a great idea. As sad as it sounds, this is the kind of thing that helps a TSA agent give us the benefit of a doubt. Of course, if that is all it takes, then that is a little scary, too.

Keep us posted on your experiences with flying to "no where". :-)

- Ron