Travelling and photography go hand in hand. But when you add a Drone to the mix it takes it to a whole new level, get it…level!! However it is an intimidating thought on what happens when you travel through airports with a drone. Do you check it in or take it as carry on luggage?
Well I am going to share my experiences while travelling overseas with my DJI Phantom 3. I have a fairly generic backpack which is big enough and light enough to take it with me. So far I’ve travelled through to New Zealand, France via Dubai and have taken my drone as a carry on luggage.
I make sure that my carry on limit is not exceeded, as the backpack is fairly big in size, I ensure I only have another small item with me so I don’t get hassled by airlines and airport staff.
What you know and prepare for?
Check if the country you are about to visit has any restrictions on Drones. What is their policy for recreational usage vs commercial usage? Where do you fit in?
So next thing you should know is that you cannot check in the complete kit as checked-in baggage. If you have a hard shell case for your drone you can check it in but make sure Batteries are not in the case. You cannot check them in, it’s illegal. Most airports scan your checked baggage and if escalated to your flight captain he/she may decide to un-board you from the flight with your luggage.
All batteries must always accompany you in your Carry On.
If you plan to carry the drone with you (as carry-on) like me then you need to ensure the weight and dimension requirements of your airline are going to be compatible with your drone case/bag.
Next the batteries should have a little amount of charge in them, not fully charged but some charge. This is to prove to airline authorities and airport security that these items are in fact working batteries and nothing sinister. If they are fully discharged the airport security may confiscate them.
Be prepared to be pulled aside through security screenings for some general questioning. If you have nothing to hide then you shouldn’t worry. Just don’t get stressed or worried or worst act as if you are in a hurry to get through security. This will only raise their suspicion.
My Travel to New Zealand
As I live in Sydney, New Zealand is only a stone through away. In three hours I can be in Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch from Sydney. So needless to say I have done this route many time for work and 3 times with my Drone. In Sydney the Airport Security is strict but so far no body has opposed to taking the drone as carry on. After all its a harmless toy when its in a case, so getting through security check is okay.
Next when you arrive in New Zealand, you don’t have any security screening unless you are taking a domestic flight after. Then again the Kiwi’s are strict but pretty easy going.
On the way out of New Zealand, Airport Security haven’t had any issues getting through with a drone. Often they are curious and will ask you questions about how far it can go and flight time etc. Which is good thing, the more people know about it the better it is for drone pilots. So I always have a chat with them if they ask about it.
My Travel to France (via Dubai)
2016 has been a challenging year for the French with attacks on its home soil so threat level alerts are high everywhere. Army presence can be seen through out airports, railway stations and at many tourist spots. So I did my research in terms of if they are banned or not. It turns out that they are not and for recreational use the French have similar policies to Australia. So I took the chance and embarked on the journey from Sydney to Paris via Dubai.
As I expected, no issue getting through Sydney Airport security and when I landed in Dubai, the first thing they do if you are transiting is to get your carry on baggage scanned. So essentially they scan you immediately on arrival rather than just before the boarding point. The X-Ray machines and staff so no issue with the drone and I was through. Eventually arriving in Paris, apart from the usual delays in getting through customs everything else was fine. I boarded my train to my destination city of Lyon and visited Annecy later in the week.
On my return, I took the train back to Paris. Once again the drone was going to be a carry-on for me so it went through airport security with me. No issue encountered, no questions asked. However when I reaching Dubai and was in transit through security my drone bag got pulled to a side. A female staff member asked me to open it, I said, “sure! there is a drone in the bag”. She looked at the drone and called a colleague over. They chatted together in Arabic for couple of minutes but didn’t even look at me or the drone, after they finished she simply said, “okay, go”. I found that very strange that first they asked me to come aside and then no further questions…but as I have learned by experience of travelling hundreds of flights over my lifetime. Once you get an OK, don’t hang around or ask further questions..just move along to your destination.
So my experience tells me that if I am prepared knowing the rules and regulations of my destination city or country then I can be better prepared to carry my drone with me. Additionally, at the time of writing this post one of the member of our Facebook Group “Drone Photography Australia” informed me that Qatar has a complete ban on Drones. If you are transiting through then you are fine otherwise they will hold the drone at airport to collect on your departure. By the way this members drone was confiscated and then returned to him on departure out of Qatar.