Vacations prove to be a great opportunity to use your electronics away from home. But just this year, the US government banned lithium-ion batteries from checked bags. So, just how are you supposed to pack that laptop?
This isn’t just a question of TSA compliance; this is a question of convenience. If you plan to bring a bunch of large electronics on your next vacation, you need to be able to organize them in your carry-on bag. Otherwise, your flight will be an even bigger annoyance.
You Have to Pack Electronics in a Carry-On Bag
Lithium-ion batteries are a relatively stable source of power. But, if you manage to puncture or overheat a Li-ion battery, it will burst into flames. The US DOT knows that this poses a safety risk for airplanes, and has banned lithium-ion batteries from the cargo area of all passenger flights.
This isn’t just a precaution against bombs and premeditated Li-ion fires. Remember when Samsung phones were blowing up in peoples’ pockets? Yeah, turns out that a malfunctioning or damaged Li-ion battery can accidentally ignite. And the dark, messy cargo area of an airplane is probably the last place where you want to start a fire.
What does this mean for you? Well, you’re going to have to bring all of your Li-ion electronics in a carry-on bag (or in your pocket). With phones or tablets, this isn’t a very big deal. But it can be a major inconvenience if you’re trying to bring a laptop, a Bluetooth speaker, portable batteries, or other large Li-ion electronics on your flight.
Generally, you can bring as many lithium-ion batteries in your carry-on bag as you’d like. Some airlines have their own restrictions, but if you’re only bringing a handful of devices, then you probably don’t have too much to worry about.
Respect the Ban, Even if it Isn’t Enforced
Remember how I told you that lithium-ion batteries are banned from the cargo area of passenger flights? I didn’t lie, but the Federal Aviation Administration isn’t heavily enforcing this ban just yet.
According to the FAA, devices containing lithium-ion batteries “should be kept in carry-on baggage.” But if you ignore the ban and pack these electronics in checked baggage, then “they should be turned completely off, protected from accidental activation and packed, so they are protected from damage.”
A young couple taking a selfie on an airplane
So, you can technically pack your bags however you’d like. But I’d strongly suggest that you treat the ban as if it’s law. The government is a messy, bureaucratic business. Just because the FAA is treating this ban like it’s a suggestion doesn’t mean your local TSA agents feel the same way. Plus, your electronics are safer in carry-on baggage anyway.
How to Pack for the TSA Checkpoint
Whether you like it or not, the TSA is your biggest pre-flight lithium ion obstacle. Do you know how the TSA requires you to place your shoes and carry-on bags in a plastic bin? Well, you’re also supposed to remove all electronics that are larger than a cellphone from your bag. You then place these electronics in separate bins, because they can’t be stacked on top of one another.
This isn’t the biggest hassle on the planet, so long as your bag is neatly organized. If you’re using a backpack or a small suitcase, then try to pack your clothes toward the bottom, and your electronics toward the top. Or, you could dedicate an attaché to your electronics. That way, you can quickly remove and replace your electronics as you go through the TSA checkpoint.
If you’re bringing a bunch of small electronics, like cables and batteries on your flight, then I’d suggest packing them in a BAGSMART or Amazon Basics cable case. These cases make it easier to locate your stuff, and they can help mitigate any unusual TSA encounters.
How to Make the Most of Carry-On
You’ll have to bring all of your electronics through carry-on, but there’s a chance that you don’t need to use all of them mid-flight. Since you obviously can’t reach electronics that are in the overhead compartment, may want to keep useful electronics, like tablets and portable game consoles, in a smaller bag that can fit under your seat or in your lap. A backpack, under seat bag, attaché, or electronics organizer should work just fine. Or, you could just take the necessities out of your luggage before the flight starts.
Ideally, your carry-on luggage will be as light as possible. You might bring just a few articles of clothing, hygienic products, a book, some snacks, and your electronics in your carry-on bag. But if you’re a cheapskate (like me), then there’s a good chance that you like to torture yourself by bringing everything in a backpack, and completely opting out of the expensive and annoying checked-bag experience.
There are some problems with the sadistic carry-on method. If your bag is disorganized, then it’s difficult to find things that you need in a rush. If it’s too big to fit under your seat, then you have to throw it in the overhead compartment. Again, under seat bags, attaches, and electronics organizers make the difference here. You can dedicate a backpack or a suitcase to clothing, and use a small extra bag or organizer for your electronics.
Consider Signing up for TSA Pre-Check
Packing your electronics is fairly easy, so long as you stay organized. But if you hate organizing bags, and you hate taking out your electronics for the TSA, then the DOT’s lithium-ion rules can be super annoying. Luckily, you can sign up for the TSA Pre-Check program, and skip the usual screening process.
Enrolling in TSA Pre-Check can be time-consuming, but it’s well worth the trouble. You have to conduct a face-to-face interview, provide fingerprints, and allow the TSA to perform a federal background check. If you’ve ever applied for a government job, it’s practically the same process. Once you’re vetted by the TSA, you pay $85 for a five-year enrollment, and that’s it.
Once you’re enrolled in TSA Pre-Check, you get to go down the TSA Pre-Check lane instead of the regular, plebeian TSA lane. The experience is comparable to a Disney Fast Pass. The line isn’t as long, you don’t have to take your electronics out of your bag, and you don’t have to take your shoes off.