Traveling with the Trident

Heading to the west coast and would like to bring the Trident. For those of you who have flown with the trident, what works and what doesn’t with TSA traveling in the USA? Should I carry on on pack it in my luggage?

Jim

I’m thinking of trying for a carry on option. Who has done this?

Jim

Seriously, who has taken the Trident as carry on? I am scared to check it in my luggage. What if the airlines loose my bag? I’d be one very very sad person.

Hey Jim, here’s everything I’ve learned summed up:

The Airline’s Policies Overrule Any Regulations

Regardless of anyone’s past experiences or existing regulations, it’s up to the airline what to allow on the plane. Make sure to check the airline’s official policies before you go.

Here are links to a few:

The Rules and Regulations Change Frequently

The rules and regulations around lithium batteries, size restrictions, and many other things in this guide change frequently. We will try to keep this guide up-to-date, but be sure to check the regulations for yourself as part of your trip planning.

[link FAA regulations]

Can You Take Your Underwater Drone on a Plane?

Size

Different airlines have different size restrictions on carry-on luggage and checked baggage. Things can also vary depending on whether you are flying domestically or internationally. Most of the mini-observation-class ROVs out there won’t fit in carry-on but will fit in checked baggage. Compact units like the Trident Underwater Drone will fit in carry-on for most airlines.

The standard carry-on luggage size is 22” x 14” x 9” including any handles or wheels for storage under the seat in front of you or in the overhead bin.

Weight

Most major airlines don’t have a weight requirement for carry-on baggage but if you pack a heavy ROV with a lot of ballast weight you may want to consider checking it so you don’t hurt yourself or anyone else lifting it into the overhead compartment and shuffling through the aisle.

Standard checked baggage needs to be 50lbs or less. Some airlines will allow up to 70lbs with additional fees. A few airlines out there, especially discount airlines, will charge by weight. These airlines often charge for carry-on luggage as well, so watch out.

Batteries

The main concern when flying with drones in general, and underwater ones are no exception, is that they are powered by lithium batteries. Lithium batteries have a pretty poor reputation and are still heavily regulated as a result. The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 was once banned from air travel because of faulty Li-Ion battery packs. There’s also a great YouTube video from CNET on how to buy a hoverboard that will not burst into flames. The high instability of components in a lithium battery can be offset by a well engineered protection circuit and safe handling, but airlines don’t like to take chances.

Because of these concerns the FAA has issued the following battery-specific regulations on what type of batteries you can bring and how you can pack them:

  • Lithium batteries are allowed in both checked and carry-on baggage when installed in equipment.
  • Loose spares cannot be packed in checked (or gate-checked) bags.
  • Each battery as a spare or combination of batteries installed in equipment must be less than 100 watt-hours.

Some airlines require that batteries be removed from any equipment in checked baggage and kept in carry-on. Check with your airline prior to travel to make sure you’re not on one of these airlines.

All batteries carried on flights must be protected from damage and short circuiting. When they are installed in the drone, you can be reasonably sure that they are protected. Make sure to close any compartments and secure any loose metal items. Your underwater drone manufacturer can provide you with guidance for this.

Larger lithium batteries that are greater than 100 watt-hours are allowed, but only with airline approval. They must be below 160 watt-hours, and you can only bring two spares in carry-on.

The Crew’s Word is Final

It helps to be prepared and know the rules and regulations because sometimes the airport staff, customs officers, or airline employees aren’t up to date or may not know what an underwater drone is. That said, airport staff ultimately have the power to turn you or your drone away, so it is important to listen to them even if you believe the regulations state otherwise.

Explaining how your underwater drone meets regulation (politely–can’t stress this enough–politely) may be necessary. To help out with this we’ve brought printed documents from the airline’s website or FAA regulations website. We’ve never had to pull these out. A lot of folks are curious about the drone and we’ve found that explaining what we’ve got in our bag and what we’re planning to do with has been enough. On one occasion we had a security agent recognize the Trident from the news. “Man I gotta get one of those…” he said as he handed it back to us.

Getting Through Security

Surprisingly, this is one of the more straightforward and easy parts of traveling with an underwater drone. You need to pass the drone through the x-ray just like any baggage, but TSA guidelines are fairly clear about drones of any type being permissible.

Most of the time we go through security, the staff pulls the case with Trident, gives it a quick look over and swipe for the chemical detector, and sends us on our way.

Keeping Your Drone Safe

Air travel can be rough on your stuff. Keeping your equipment safe and secure is pretty common-sense but we’ve learned an important lesson. Always pack your underwater drone as if you are going to check it. This means that if you get stuck on a different flight or need to make a last-minute decision to check it (if allowable – see above) you aren’t worried about it getting bounced around.

Pressure differential is also something to contend with. Changes in external pressure can unseat o-rings or degrade seals of pressure vessels in some underwater vehicles. Trident’s main cavity is in a constant vacuum, which maintains its seal even when changing altitudes or experiencing nominal temperature changes. If you are travelling with another remotely operated vehicle or drone make sure to contact the manufacturer and see if there are any best practices in place for air travel.

And Zack for the save, thank you!