Up to Speed: flying with batteries


If there’s one battery that gets all the wrong attention, it’s the Lithium-Ion.

For us film technicians, Lithium-Ion and its cousin Lithium-Polymer batteries are as essential as the gear itself. They are the V-Locks which the big cameras and LED panel lights use and the NP-style batteries or Sony L-series which Audio mixers use.

While there are many flavours, the Lithium-Ion batteries offer the most promising chemistry of all types; giving both high capacity and the high voltage output that professional gear needs.

Filming would come to a standstill without a set of ‘fresh’ Lithium batteries to get through the day for camera, lighting, audio and other departments.

Type: Li-Ion (Lithium Ion) 
Includes V-Lock and NP-style batteries
100 Watt Hour: No Limit
160 Watt Hour: Two Only (plus batteries in equipment)

Type: Lithium Metal
Disposable: includes
Energizer Lithium Ultimate
AA or 9V
flat batteries used in
calculators and watches. 
2 grams Limit

Type: Non-Spillable Batteries
AKA sealed lead acid, gel cell, dry cell
Maximum 12V and 100Wh

When we’re shooting on location, we rely on our batteries all the more given our remoteness from backups. We need absolute certainty that they will clear airport security no matter where we are. The problem is, not every officer works off the same rule book. Some let us through easily while some make us wait as they confusedly check protocols.

So why all the fuss over Lithium-Ions and what are the rules for Lithium content in batteries?

The Russell Crowe ‘hoverboard’ incident and the subsequent Amazon.com advice reminded us how dangerous Lithium Ion batteries can be.

In truth, other battery types are more dangerous, but the sheer volume of Lithium Ion batteries transported by air annually – over five billion in 2014 – considerably increases the odds of malfunction.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) compiled data showing that 68% of batteries failed due to external and internal short circuits, 15% during charging and discharging and 7% by unintentional activation of devices – all leading to smoke, extreme heat, fire or explosion.

What we need, as film and TV crews, is the assurance that we get our batteries through security without any hassles no matter which carrier we fly with.

Benjamin Franklin said there were two certainties in life: death and taxes. We may have discovered a third: that no two airlines, airports or security officers will treat your batteries in the same way. For most it’s straightforward but a few are ignorant and may even insist you have to leave your rule-abiding batteries behind.

That’s why we have to smooth the path before us with this 1-2-3 Method:

  1. Buy: Buy Li-Ion batteries that are under 160Wh – or under 100Wh for the easiest passage.
  2. Label: Ensure the Volts, Amps or Watt Hour label is visible on the battery.
  3. Print: Print out the relevant page from the airline you’ll be traveling with so to reassure the officers you are meeting their airline’s requirements.

If higher capacities are required, they must travel as separate cargo with all the right hazard forms.