Can I bring my drone on United Airlines? It’s a question we often hear from drone enthusiasts seeking clarity on drone policies for both the TSA and their chosen airline. In this article we highlight the United Airlines Drone Policy (better stated: their lack of a policy). We highlight what you need to know to travel with a drone on United.
This article is part of our series on Airline Drone Policies. Be sure to check out all of our posts and stop back in often as we expand our coverage.
United Airlines drone policy
United Airlines is one of the largest and popular airlines in the world. With international and domestic coverage that rivals few it’s a guarantee that some of our readers will be flying United with their favorite drone.
But, as we find out below, the United Airlines Drone Policy is pretty much non-existent. In other words, there isn’t a formal written policy on United and Drones published on their website, yet (unlike, say American Airlines). However, that doesn’t mean that travelers cannot bring their drone with them on a United flight (they can!), but it means we have to leverage other policies that United employs (like their batteries policy) to understand the rules of the game. Let’s dig in.
Lithium Batteries and United Airlines
Like all airlines United has detailed policies regarding the transport of Lithium (LiPo) batteries which are the type of batteries used in almost all drones and therefore apply to drone travelers bringing their drone on United. First, let’s review the current United Airlines policy on LiPo batteries, below with emphasis added by us:
Personal devices (except for e-cigarettes and personal vaporizers) installed with a lithium battery of less than 100 watt hours are permitted in carry-on and checked baggage. Loose lithium batteries are not permitted in checked baggage on any United flight. Each spare lithium battery in carry-on baggage must be individually protected to prevent short circuits. To do this, you can place each battery in original retail packaging, place each battery in a separate plastic bag or protective pouch, or insulate the batteries by taping over exposed terminals. Spare batteries must not come in contact with metal objects, such as coins, keys or jewelry, and you should take steps to prevent crushing, puncturing, or putting pressure on the battery.
In most cases, up to two larger lithium batteries (more than 100 watt hours, but not exceeding 160 watt hours) are permitted in carry-on baggage if the terminals are properly covered or insulated. If you are traveling with a battery-operated mobility device, please see our Special Travel Needs section.
If carry-on baggage is checked at the gate, any lithium batteries and power banks must be removed.
Let’s translate this into something easier to digest. United’s battery policy essentially notes this:
- Since drones use LiPo batteries, they count as a “personal device” and as long as they have a LiPo battery LESS than 100 watt hours you can both check them and carry them on a United flight.
- Spare drone batteries require special treatment, however, because United does not allow loose drone batteries. This means if you are bringing spare drone batteries on a United flight you have to individually package them. You could simply leave them in their original packaging or you could bring a special drone battery container.
- United will allow you to bring two spare batteries as long as they don’t exceed 160 watt hours.
The policy, at first read, can be a little confusing. Is it less than a 100 watt hours? Or less than 160? I am confused. Here’s how we interpret that policy. If you drone has batteries that CANNOT BE REMOVED, they need to be less than 100 watt hours. If your batteries CAN BE REMOVED they cannot exceed 160 watt hours.
How do you know what your battery wattage is? Check your battery itself (it will be labeled) or bring the manufacturer’s information with you. In fact, we recommend you bring proof of your drone and battery specifications with you when traveling on United to help avoid any unnecessary confusion. I’d even bring a copy of their policy in the event a United representative doesn’t know.
It’s also important to note that United employees are not actually going to be checking your bags for compliance. TSA is really the only entity that’s checking bags unless there’s something special that causes a United agent to get involved. So, in other words, it’s up to you to comply with the policy.
Curious about the TSA’s Policy on Drones? We’ve covered it all here.
United’s Policy on Checked and Carry on Bags and how that impacts drone travel
The second set of policies we have to examine to understand how to bring a drone on a United flight is their basic policies on checked bags and carry on bags. These are well established policies that are largely the same on most airlines.
United allows passengers to bring one piece of luggage and a personal item on a plane as your carry on items. Specifically, their policies note:
- Carry on luggage: Size must not exceed 22″ (H) x 14″ (W) x 9″ (D)
- Carry on personal item: Size must not exceed 17 (H) x 10″ (W) x 9″ (D)
If you are traveling with your drone on a United flight we recommend you carry it on. Assuming you comply with the battery regulations noted above, many (although not all) drone backpacks will meet these requirements. For example, the Lowepro DroneGuard BP 200 (which fits the best overall travel drone, DJI Mavic Pro) dimensions are as follows: 9.45″ x 6.69″ x 15.75″ and can count as your personal item.
If you intend to check your drone, you will need to comply with United’s checked bag policies regarding size and weight and we highly recommend you get a hard case and TSA approved lock for it. In fact, we do NOT recommend checking your drone. Why take the risk of damage or theft when you can easily carry it on the plane.
Final Thoughts on the United Drone Policy
As you can see, it IS possible to travel with a drone a United flight and while the United Drone Policy may be a bit scant on details (er…I mean it doesn’t exist at all!) you CAN still bring your drone as long as you adhere to their other well defined policies.
As a quick summary, here’s our final thoughts on United Airlines’ Drone Policy:
- There isn’t one
- But you CAN bring a drone on a United flight
- But your batteries need to be individually stored, you can only bring 2 and they need to be less than 160 watt hours
- Just treat it like any other piece of luggage (checked or carry-on)
- Don’t check it (that’s not a rule…just our advice).
Thanks for stopping in and we hope you enjoyed this overview of the United Drone Policy. Happy traveling and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter.
If you are still in the market for the perfect drone for you trip, be sure to check out our detailed analysis of different and popular drones for travel and see what we recommend!
Lastly, please check out all of our great travel drone related content, including:
- Best Travel Drone – comparison & analysis of the top drones for travelers
- What’s the TSA Drone Policy?
- American Airlines Drone Policy – can I take my drone on an American Airlines flight?
- Delta Drone Policy – there is no policy!
- 3 Awesome Drones for Travel
- Top 5 Drones on Amazon.com
- 147 Travel Tips – the ultimate list of road warrior tips & tricks
- 7 Tips for Traveling with a drone – the experts weigh in
- Spirit Airlines Drone Policy – what is Spirit’s Policy on Traveling with a Drone?