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How to Travel With a Drone


You’ve done your research, you’re free to fly, but which one to fly? A small, highly-portable drone might be a better option for travel. Wirecutter, The New York Times company that reviews products, recommends a few camera drones, including the DJI Tello, for around $100. The photos and videos produced won’t be quite as high quality as their larger counterparts, but their low cost and small size make them a great option for travel.

Drones typically use lithium ion or lithium polymer batteries, and the F.A.A. prohibits any type of spare lithium batteries in checked luggage. Batteries in a device are fine, but spare ones are not. You can bring most of those in your carry-on, however. The F.A.A. has a handy PDF to explain what’s allowed and where, but check your actual airline for any additional rules.

Law enforcement authorities and governments of all sizes take the potential threats drones pose very seriously. Flying your drone in a national park, for instance, is classified as a misdemeanor, with a maximum fine of $5,000 and six months in jail.

Countries have implemented similar fines. Depending on the infraction, in Britain you could be fined between a few hundred British pounds on the spot to £2,500 (over $3,000). In Japan it’s up to 500,000 yen, or about $4,700. Motherboard, part of Vice Media, used a Freedom of Information request to get a list from the F.A.A. of all the fines it has levied so far.

If your drone is confiscated by the police or local authorities, there’s no guarantee you’ll get it back. So it’s smart to know local laws before you fly and look for any “no drone” signs, often very visible near parking lots, entrances and ticket booths.

Signe Brewster, a Wirecutter staff writer and expert in drones, wrote the Wirecutter guide referenced above. She offers one last piece of advice:

“I like to err on the side of extreme respect when flying drones. If I’m at a tourist destination and other people are within earshot, I won’t fly. I wouldn’t want to hear 10 drones buzzing around, so I’m not about to be the first. Never fly over crowds and always heed signs banning drones.

“Public opinion is still developing on U.A.V.s, and I want to do my part to ensure I can still be flying 10 years from now.”


Geoffrey Morrison is the editor-at-large for Wirecutter whose work has also appeared on CNET. He wrote the best-selling sci-fi novel “Undersea,” and you can follow him on Instagram or Twitter.


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