You bought a drone, practiced flying it around your neighborhood, and are now ready to travel around the country or even around the world to take aerial shots of some of the most gorgeous landscapes out there. But, can you travel with your drone to your intended destination? What’s the best way to travel with a drone?
Here I will answer this and more by telling you eight things you should know before leaving home.
1. It is legal to travel with a drone?
Yes, you can go through TSA and board a plane with a drone. It is not illegal. At time of publication, most major airlines don’t impose restrictions on drones in checked bags or carry-on bags.
2. Give yourself more time passing through security (TSA)
I’ve flown my drone to over nine countries, and I’ve never had any problems passing my drone through security. In the US, I’m always requested to take the drone out and put it in a tray individually (standard, like a laptop). Some countries require you to pass through security when arriving. If you’re traveling to a country where "drone laws" might be in a legal gray area, it’s possible they might ask you about it, the purpose of carrying it, and possibly even ask you to pay a fee to enter the drone into their country.
3. Research the laws of your destination
"Drone laws" are still in their infancy, and they are changing rapidly as more and more people travel with drones. While there is no single database on drone laws per country, dedicating some time searching on the web will let you know whether it is legal to fly at your destination, and if it is, what are the limitations.
For example, in the US it is legal to fly a drone up to 400 feet above the ground. It is illegal to take off and land in a National Park as well as flying within five miles of an airport. The FAA regulates the limitations on drone flights in the US, so to know more about it, you should check the current rules on their site. In other countries, like Cambodia, it is legal to fly drones everywhere except in the capital, Phnom Penh, and Angkor Wat. Should you get caught flying it, you could face time in prison. There are also countries like Morocco, where drones are illegal, and just attempting to enter with a drone means automatic confiscation at the airport (no return). In cities like Abu Dhabi, where it’s illegal too, they will confiscate it at the airport, but return it once you depart the country.
To avoid any potential confiscation or issues with the law, do your proper research online, and if you don’t find anything, ask in one of the many "drone forums" to see if someone had any experience flying at your destination.
4. Have a proper carrying case
I don’t like checking-in any electronics, so I travel with my drone (DJI Phantom 4) in a carry on backpack designed for it. It fits well in the overhead compartment, and I’m sure it won't get beaten or thrown by baggage handlers.
Should you not be able to take your drone in a carry-on, buy a sturdy case specially molded for your drone. Make sure it can be locked with a lock pad or combination to avoid any potential theft.
5. Carry the batteries in your carry-on
If you check-in your drone for your flight, take the batteries out of the case (including the one in the drone) and carry them with you in your carry-on. Changes in pressure and temperature can increase the possibility of lithium batteries to catch fire. If they are in the cabin with you, this change in pressure and temperature is significantly minimized, thus reducing any potential hazard. Additionally, it’s possible they wouldn’t even let you check-in the lithium batteries in the first place.
6. Take extra batteries and propellers with you
As you hop between sights, try to distribute your flight time according to how many sights you’ll visit that day. I travel with two batteries, and they give me about an hour of flight, combined. At the beginning of the day, I know that if I’m visiting three sights, I should dedicate about 20 minutes of flight to each place. Don’t count on finding chargers on the go, but if you do and have the time to sit down and charge a battery, then that’s gravy! Same goes with propellers. I travel with two pairs of propellers in case one set gets damaged during the trip. You wouldn’t want to keep your drone on the ground for the rest of your trip just because a propeller got damaged.
7. Embrace the local’s attention
One of my most memorable experiences flying my drone was in Bagan, Myanmar. Most people there had probably never seen a drone, and as soon as they heard the propellers run, they gathered all around me to marvel at this funny flying machine. By the end of my flight, I had 20 people, of all ages, all around me. Just embrace the attention and don’t fear them. Most of them are just amazed by the sight and have no intention of doing any harm or stealing it. Of course, it’s always good to have common sense and be cautious.
8. Give yourself more time at each sight to fly your drone.
Schedule your day with some flexible downtime between sights because the chances are that you might need it to fly your drone safely. While I was in Iceland this past summer, I spotted a few other drones flying in the same space. Most of us, out of courtesy, would wait for one drone to finish to start flying the other. This is done mostly to avoid any potential interference and to prevent any midair collisions.
Now, ready to take some stunning aerial shots all around the world?
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