Flying With Lithium Batteries

It's a Monday morning. I've got about an hour until my flight departs for Dublin. The security line isn't bad today.  Then again, airport security in Sweden is usually a breeze: no shouting TSA agents, no taking off of shoes, no hassle.  They have one of those customer service "How Are We Doing?" consoles where you press a smiley or frowny face to indicate how happy you are. Normally, it's a full on Happy Green Smiley Face experience at ARN. The staff are professional, friendly, and fast. This one was an exception.

I often fly to Dublin for work, but this is the first time I'm bringing my radio gear. In my carry-on, I've got the works: rig, antenna, Morse code paddle, and a 12V lithium battery. The battery is in my carry-on bag because a battery of this size isn't allowed in checked baggage. Makes sense. Lithium-based batteries have a unique chemistry that can react angrily to punctures, shorts, or other hostile conditions. Better it's in the cabin than in the cargo hold if something bad happens.

Something bad isn't likely to happen.  This is a battery from the most well-regarded manufacturer in the ham radio community:  Bioenno Power.  I own a few different batteries from them.  The one I'm carrying today is the BLF-1209A, a 12V 9Ah battery that is good for 108 Watt-hours.  This battery is one of their LiFePO4 series.  Every time I bought a battery from them, they contacted me post-purchase, checking to make sure I was satisfied and asking if I had any questions about the product.  Awesome!

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A lithium iron phosphate battery (LiFePO4) is a different animal than a typical lithium ion battery.  For one, they're safer.  From a chemical and thermal perspective, the oxygen atoms are much harder to remove than a typical lithium ion battery.  This means that if the battery gets damaged or punctured, a fire is less likely to break out.  LiFePO4 batteries are also safer during the charge cycle, particularly when they're paired with a built-in PCM (protection circuit module), which guards against overcurrent, undervoltage (overdischarge), overvoltage and short circuiting.

On the operation side, LiFePO4 batteries maintain a pretty flat voltage curve over the discharge cycle.  My own testing with a computerized battery analysis software verified that fact:

Discharging a fully charged BLF-1209A with a typical duty cycle for my KX3 + PX3.

Discharging a fully charged BLF-1209A with a typical duty cycle for my KX3 + PX3.

For all these reasons, I felt confident that I wouldn't encounter any issues when bringing the battery on my trip to Dublin.  Still, I read up on the airline's restrictions on lithium batteries.  Somehow, I must have missed the part that says that the limit is 100 Watt-hours.  The battery I was carrying was 108 Wh -- barely over the limit.

As I made my way through the security line, the battery was naturally flagged for further inspection.  Eventually the security folks cleared it, pending approval from the airline.  They escorted me back down to the check-in counter, where an SAS (Scandinavian Airlines) rep broke the bad news that it would not be allowed on the flight due to the 100 Wh restriction. 

Bummer!  I had nowhere to store it, and shipping lithium batteries is even more troublesome than carrying them on a passenger plane.  I had to forfeit it.

After I arrived in Dublin, I posted on Bioenno's Facebook page what had transpired.  Within a few hours, I was contacted by their customer support.

They offered to replace the confiscated battery -- for free.

The quality of the product stands on it own, with rave reviews from hams across the globe.  The customer care exhibited when they offered to replace my battery is next level.  Within days, they had shipped a brand new (and newer model) BLF-1209 to my shipping location in the US.

If you're looking for a battery for ham radio, or really for any application, check these guys out.  They take care of their customers, and their product straight up performs.