The modern age means that everything is checked going onto planes, and unfortunately that has presented a lot of different rules and regulations for what you can and cannot bring on a plane with you, and there are an ever-changing set of steps you must take at the security checkpoints. Sometimes it even feels like they change by the day, like when I was told to keep my phone in my pocket and my belt on while going through a TSA checkpoint in 2014 while on my way to Costa Rica. I got through security, but I was a little worried about why they didn't want anyone touching anything, but in the end it all worked out. Traveling with a drone is something that I see people asking about online all the time in the drone groups and pages I am apart of. I wanted to write about my experience, so that it would hopefully answer a lot of the questions that people may have.
Your Airline Matters:
Your airline will matter. A lot of the airlines have similar rules, but it is always best to check your specific airlines rules and regulations for the batteries of your drone. While some airlines restrict the size of the battery, some may also restrict the size. For example; Delta Airlines only allows lithium batteries up to 160 watt hours on their planes, anything larger than that is not allowed. They also restrict the number of spare batteries between 100 and 160 watt hours to two batteries, and all lithium batteries must be packed in your carry on baggage. For reference, the GoPro Karma Battery is 75.4 watt hours. And while Delta does not restrict you from bringing a drone on board the aircraft, it is best to be prepared to spend a little more time at the security checkpoint, and be sure to put the drone in its own bin, because you know they are going to want to have a closer look at it. It is always best to do your research beforehand so that you can be up to date with the latest TSA requirements, along with any restrictions your airline may have.
My experience during my trip...
Over the past year I had heard mixed reviews about air travel with a drone. Wether it be due to airlines not publishing their restrictions where they can be easily found, or due to the constantly changing TSA requirements for having your carry on bags checked and how to pack items such as drones. Overall the experience was just like bringing a laptop or an iPad on a flight. The only requirements from the airline was a restriction on batteries if the battery was between 100 and 1600 watt hours, which mine was below, so I had no issue with their restriction. Getting through the TSA checkpoint was a breeze, and all I had to do was put the drone and it’s accessories in their own bin, which is the same procedure for all electronics larger than a cell phone, and I was through in about three minutes. Getting my spare battery back into its location was a hard one, so currently it’s not in its preferred place in the bag. The other tip was that airlines and the TSA like seeing the terminals on spare lithium batteries taped or covered so that they are protected from contacting anything metal. A simple step to make everything go smoother.
After a few days in Athens, I would be boarding another flight. This time flying from Athens to Santorini, and not knowing the exact laws or what to do with the drone in my carry on had me wondering what to do, or who to ask. Luckily for me, I arrived at the security checkpoint to find a very helpful security officer. I had already opened the bag, and when he saw the drone he kindly let me know that I could leave it in the bag, and just asked me to close the bag. I went through security in a matter of seconds and that was it, I was on my way to our second stop, but still had not been able to fly the drone yet. Once we arrived in Santorini, we took the drone out for some quick test flights near our hotel and the beach, mostly just to check that everything was working properly. We hadn't calibrated it yet, which shocked me that it didn't ask me to do so either. After two quick attempts and return to homes, I knew everything was working, but that I needed to calibrate next time before I flew, so now we had a plan.
The first location that I wanted to fly was in Oia, where I would be watching the sunset like you see in all of the classic postcards of Greece. This beautiful town overlooks the ocean and was a great location to get some amazing photos during the day. Once we were walking around before sunset, I realized just how crowded the area was, and knew that setting up, and flying a drone in this area would not be a good idea, unless I had a private rooftop to fly from, which others were. In hindsight I probably could have asked the fellow drone enthusiast for a little help with a launch location, but sadly I gave up before that.
After another day in Santorini, we were off to the island of Paros. I was excited to be able to fly around Paros due to their beaches. Although due to time, I wasn't able to fly as much as I wanted to, I was able to spend about 20 minutes flying during a private boat trip to the island of Antiparos. I was able to capture some shots of the boat we took, everyone waving, and some videos just viewing the clear blue water that surrounded us for the day as we swam, dove, jumped, and sailed our way around this beautiful area. While a little better planning would have resulted in more footage, I came out happy with the footage I was able to get, and enjoyed all of the videos. Although thanks to a GoPro that was one software behind, I was given a slight heart attack when nothing showed up on the Quik app, but after a quick update all was well in the world.
From Paros we were off to the beautiful island of Mykonos. The party destination with its famous windmills. While I really wanted to capture these windmills with the drone, I immediately realized that I was not a skilled enough pilot to do so in the winds that were constantly there to remind us where we were, and why there were windmills. So I had to settle with taking all of the photos and videos for this location from the ground. While I wish I could have flown more, I found it better not to push the envelope, because losing the drone would be worse, and would prevent me from capturing the moment in other ways.
After the trip...
Getting home from the trip with a micro SD card filled with great drone footage is going to be one of the best parts of bringing your drone. After all, how many people are going to have that footage, and unlike a photo, everything a drone shoots is unique because the clouds, sunsets, landscapes, and buildings that you will see in the photos and videos are always going to be slightly different than if you were shooting from the ground. Its a unique perspective that not everyone can say that thy captured.
Like I said before, I wish I could have flown more. While some of the time on the ground could have been spent in the air, human error and lack of planning did prevent me from flying more. I found that traveling with the drone was easier than I expected, and you have to take the punches as they come. People and weather are not always things that you can plan for, but power outlets taking forever to charge batteries was probably something I should have expected, after all I have been to Europe before and noticed that last time. At the end of the day though, traveling with a drone isn't about what you missed, its about what you were able to capture. The world is a beautiful place, capture everything in any way you can.
Whenever I go abroad, I try to go carry on only, at least on the way there. Luckily, I was able to do it on the way to Greece! If you click here you can read about how I go carry on only, and read about any tips I have.