Friday 28 December, 2007
With very little notice, the Department of Transportation has announced a change to what you can pack in your checked and carry-on luggage, to take effect from Tuesday 1 January.
And then, within an hour or two, they released further information that completely altered their earlier announcement - fortunately the new information came out seconds before I sent out an update that would have needed an immediate further update.
So, here is the current version of what is a very confusing truth.
The rule change relates to rechargeable lithium batteries. There seem to be several different types of lithium batteries out there, and the DoT refers to 'primary lithium' or 'lithium metal', and 'lithium-ion' types. Don't ask me whether the increasingly common 'lithium polymer' battery is considered lithium-ion or lithium metal.
You can see the full glorious statement of the new regulations here.
What do these regulations actually mean? Well, to try and simplify a marvelously complicated set of guidelines, the following seems to be correct :
* You can not pack any loose/spare rechargeable lithium type batteries in checked baggage any more.
* You can carry loose spare rechargeable lithium type batteries in carry-on baggage, subject to some limitations which shouldn't affect most of us unless we're carrying unusually high capacity batteries, and in a manner to safeguard against short circuits (simple solution = one battery per ziplock bag).
* You can still have devices with normal sized lithium batteries inside them either in your carry-on or your checked luggage.
Clearly, this is a mammothly complicated new regulation that requires us all to become electrical engineers. More frighteningly, it will also require the TSA to be able to calculate battery capacities and lithium equivalents - can you imagine the potential hassles we might face going through security now?
Here's the simple formula to calculate the watt hour equivalent of a battery : Simply multiply its voltage by its Amp hour capacity to get its watt hour energy stored. Most batteries show their capacity in mAh - milli-Amp hours, so in such a case, you need to divide by 1000.
For example, some of the batteries I have here include :
But how will the TSA handle things like an iPod, with no battery information printed on it, and the battery sealed inside the unit? Or a Blackberry phone, with a removable battery, but no battery capacity information printed on it?
Okay - perhaps they might end up with a reference list of things like iPods, but what about less common things such as my new Philips portable DVD player? This is a substantial sized unit (it has an 8.5" screen) and has an unknown capacity/type lithium battery inside. What will the TSA do when they see a unit with an unknown but potentially large and possibly now illegal battery inside? Give us the benefit of the doubt? Or seize the unit and keep it?
And can you imagine how this could potentially slow down going through security, if we have to present all our electronic devices and have each one inspected by the TSA, and then have the screener do some sums on a piece of paper to work out if we're within the battery capacity limits or not?
If you're planning on traveling in early January, you probably should allow a bit of extra time to go through security. These new rules might slow things down appreciably, especially if the TSA will now require us to remove all electronic items from our carry-ons and present them for individual inspection.
I hope there'll be no more special newsletters this week, or, if there are, that they are bringing good news for a change!
Until next Friday, please enjoy safe travels
David M Rowell aka The Travel Insider
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