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Airline Passengers Can Bring Batteries Aboard, After All

A Transportation Department administrator clarifies the Jan. 1 regulation regarding loose lithium batteries, developed to lessen the risk of airplane fires.

To clear up confusion, travelers should know that they can carry most consumer batteries and battery-powered devices in their carry-on baggage. These include dry cell alkaline batteries, including AA, AAA, C, D, and 9-volt; dry cell rechargeable batteries, including nickel metal hydride and nickel cadmium; lithium ion batteries, including rechargeable lithium, lithium polymer, and LIPO -- basically batteries that power consumer electronics like cell phones, PDAs, cameras, and laptops; and lithium metal batteries, including non-rechargeable lithium and primary lithium.

The regulation states that all batteries must be kept in their original packaging, a case, or a separate pouch such as a plastic bag to prevent short circuits.

There is no limit to how many spares of dry cell batteries a passenger can bring with them. Batteries that are already installed in electronic devices can be brought in carry-on baggage or checked in, and there is no limit on the number of devices either.

But there is a weight and power limit for lithium ion and lithium metal batteries. Lithium ion batteries cannot exceed 8 grams of equivalent lithium content or 100 watt hours per battery. Passengers can bring only two larger lithium ion batteries -- up to 25 grams per battery-- in their carry-on bags. These include extended-life batteries for laptops.

When it comes to lithium metal batteries, passengers are allowed up to 2 grams of lithium content per battery in their carry-on.

So to sum up, dry cell batteries are allowed in carry-on baggage and in checked baggage. Lithium ion and lithium metal batteries are only allowed in carry-on baggage and cannot be checked in unless they're inside devices. Passengers are allowed to bring only two larger lithium ion batteries, such as those used in film equipment. All batteries must be stored in some kind of a case.

Passengers can find more safety tips at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration's Safe Travel Web site.

It's still unclear, however, how rigorously the regulation will be carried out at airports. The U.S. Transportation Security Administration, at least at present time, isn't applying the same rules to carry-on lithium batteries as they do to liquids, gels, and aerosols. If during a bag check a security officer discovers a loose lithium battery, they will hand it over to the airlines to deal with, said a TSA spokeswoman.

Why take a chance and have another headache to deal with? Just don't forget to grab an extra Ziploc or two when traveling next time.

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