How To Take Your RC Vehicle On A Plane: Everything You Need to Know


How To Take Your RC Vehicle On A Plane

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Every now and then, we find ourselves relocating, be it for vacation or perhaps a cross-country move for a fresh start in a new city. Regardless, you will want to transport your precious RC vehicles. Many times, when we do travel large distances, we will need to fly, but will you be able to bring your RC vehicle on the plane ride?

How to fly with an RC Vehicle? In order to fly with your RC Vehicle, you need to ensure that you have emptied the fuel tank of the vehicle and taken out the battery of the vehicle. You will want to be sure and carefully wrap the vehicle to prevent it from being damaged during the trip. 

In this case, you may be taking either an RC car on a plane trip or lugging along an RC helicopter for your cross-country travels. In either case, let’s look at the ins and outs of what to do and how to go about ensuring the travel will be safe and easy.

Can You Take an RC Car on a Plane?

As we discussed above, you should have no issues bringing along your radio controlled car on a plane ride as long as you empty the fuel tank and remove the battery from the transmitter.

Now you may either choose to have the RC car in your carry on with you, or you may choose to have it shipped on the plane ride with you. The main thing is that you want to avoid allowing the car to travel in the hold of the plane without proper protection.

What Can You Do to Protect Your RC Car on a Plane Ride?

You’ve probably devoted a lot of time and energy to your RC car, in the initial build and through the maintenance you’ve done over the years, so you’re number one priority when flying with your RC car should be to protect the vehicle.

  • First, remove any batteries prior to your arrival at the airport. You are allowed to take the RC car’s batteries with you on the plane but it is best practice to not have them in your vehicle. If they are less than 100 watt hours you can have them in your carryon or in your checked bag with some restrictions. If your battery is more than 100 watt hours it is only permitted in your carryon bag and you cannot have more than 2 loose batteries with you.

  • Pack the car in a way that will protect it, such as in a sturdy box, or better yet, a reinforced case. The box should fit the car snugly, being neither too big nor too small. If the box is too large, the car could move around inside the box and become damaged while you are flying.

  • Make sure to keep your RC car away from anything that could crush it or damage it. This means flying with it near you and not trying to cram it into an overhead compartment if it doesn’t fit. (If it does fit, then the overhead compartment should be perfectly safe.)

  • Check with the airline to be sure that your packed up RC car will fit in overhead storage otherwise you will have to put it in a checked bag or send it ahead with a normal shipping service.

  • Weigh your car, if necessary, to be sure it meets the requirements for carry on weight.

Here are some cushioning options to help ensure your RC car stays in good condition:

  • Bubble wrap: Bubble wrap should be wrapped tightly around the vehicle to hold it securely while not being wrapped too tight to bend or warp the more fragile pieces. If you don’t secure the bubble wrap with tape or other methods the bubble wrap could come off during the flight and then it won’t protect the car at all.

  • Packing Peanuts: Packing peanuts can be used to help reinforce the inside of the box, restrict movement, while also providing enough space for the RC car to move fluidly according to the fluctuations of the plane during flight. The biggest issue with packing peanuts is there are an absolute mess to clean up when you need to unpack the car.

  • Cotton: Like packing peanuts, you may choose to use cotton to reinforce the inside of the box and protect your RC car. Cotton helps to restrict too much movement but also allows fluidity during flight to help avoid damage during transportation.

Have You Had Your Car Modified/Enhanced at All?

You may have chosen to have your car modified to enhance the performance of your RC vehicle. If that is the case, you may not be able to transport the car.

Certain enhancements are strictly not allowed on plane flights, and, as such, the cars to which they are attached will also not be allowed on the flight.

Certain popular modifications or enhancements that are not allowed include, but are not limited to, CO2 cartridges meant to force the RC car to ride more quickly and Oxygen cylinders meant to enhance the car’s capacity and speed.

Make sure that you check with the airline prior to your flight to find out whether any of the modifications you have on your RC vehicle are allowed on a flight. You can also get on the TSA website and search for a specific item to see if you are allowed to have it on board. 

What About the Transmitter?

First off, avoid calling it a transmitter when going through TSA. This will bring up unnecessary red flags for them. Just call it a controller.

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Transmitters can be very sensitive. Pack it with as much care as you would pack your vehicle with plenty of cushioning and in an appropriate sized box.

More Tips

Some additional tips can be found on the video below from RC Sparks Studio. They flew to Puerto Viarta, Mexico with their RC car and they give some great tips how you can too.

Flying with LiPo Batteries

LiPo batteries are particularly sensitive to extreme temperatures, namely high temperatures. As such, these batteries do not do well where temperatures can fluctuate suddenly.

It is not recommended that you pack certain watt-hour LiPo batteries in your checked bag when flying, as packing it in a checked bag will expose the battery to an extreme change in temperature. 

When exposed to a dramatic change in the air temperature, the battery may be prone to catching fire, making the battery extremely unsafe to include in checked baggage, as it may out you and others on your flight in danger. 

Including a LiPo battery in your carry-on luggage is a better bet, as the temperature in the cabin does change, but the change experienced in the cabin is in no way indicative of that experienced in the luggage hold in the bottom of the plane.

For a safe, easy trip, elect to pack your LiPo battery in a carry-on bag.

Specific Things to Know for Flying with LiPo Batteries

Although you may bring LiPo batteries with you in a carry-on bag, there may be a quantity cap on the number of batteries you can bring.

There are three different groupings of LiPo based upon their Watt-hour:

  • 100 Wh and below: Generally, these have no cap on the quantity allowed on a commercial flight.
  • Between 100 Wh and 160 Wh: Usually, 2 of these are allowed per passenger. If you’re not flying alone, you could use that to your advantage.
  • Over 160 Wh: These are not permitted on most flights. Call your airline if you need to transport this type of LiPo battery.

Specific information on the batteries allowed by the TSA can be found here

The good news is that most RC cars use batteries that at under 100 Wh. The watt-hour of your batteries should be clearly labeled on the outside of the battery, and you will want to make sure it can be seen while you go through security.

If it cannot be seen because the sticker has worn away, it may be a sign that you need a new battery anyway.

You should always double check with your airline about what is allowed and what is not. Regulations change, and some airlines have more stringent policies than others.

Safely Packing Your LiPo Batteries

The regulations concerning batteries on flights are understandable. Batteries can be extremely dangerous if they become damaged, especially in a confined space that is thousands of miles above the ground.

Here are some tips on how to pack your LiPo batteries safely if they are below 100 Wh:

  • If at all possible, leave the batteries in their original packaging.
  • Cover the loose ends of the battery with a shock-resistant tape or a tape specifically designed for uses on electrically charged items.

  • Most LiPo batteries have the option to cycle them into storage mode, which is essentially the state it arrived to you in after purchasing the item. You should avoid flying with fully charged or nearly empty batteries.
  • Make sure that you put something over the battery’s plug or its input connectors. Use either rubber caps, plastic insertions, or electrical tape in order to ensure that you won’t have a short circuit in your battery.
  • Place the battery in a safe, plastic bag that is suitable for the transport of LiPo batteries. These are not grocery store style plastic bags, but rather durable plastic cases made to help one transport electrical objects. For example, refer to this bag.
  • If you have more than one battery, pack each of them in their own separate bag.
  • When going through TSA screening, you may want to let an agent know about your battery, as it will likely be flagged as a suspicious object.

Double check with your airline for any additional requirements they may have for storing your batteries.

Shipping Regulations for LiPo Batteries

To avoid the hassle of worrying about whether or not your batteries will make it on the plane or slow down your check in, you could always choose to ship the batteries ahead of you.

Naturally, shipping batteries with lithium as a component will have a set of regulations with which you are required by law to comply. Contact the shipping company of your choice and see what options they have for shipping batteries. Some companies will have restrictions while others won’t. Know what the rules are before you head to the store to ship them. 

For example, the post office allows the air shipment of a lithium ion battery as long as it is with the item that it powers. If it is by itself then it has to be shipped using only ground methods. 

UPS requires some specific labeling to show that the item has lithium ion batteries inside. Specific details have changed a lot recently so contact your local UPS store for specific questions. 

Can You Bring RC Vehicle Tools?

Do not bring any tools in your carry on. In all likelihood, they will be confiscated. Even though this is not something that would cross your mind, the tools used for RC cars can be used as weapons.

In fact, if you’re going to be meeting up with other people who enjoy RC vehicles, then you can likely manage by borrowing from others who traveled there by car.

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It is hard to pack light when traveling with an RC vehicle, but this is one area you can usually skip. If you aren’t meeting up with others, you should be okay to put some of the essentials in your checked luggage.

Shipping your RC Vehicle

Of course, you can ship your RC car to your destination ahead of time, but this is generally not recommended, especially if your RC car is a labor of love or very expensive.

Here are some tips for shipping your RC vehicle:

  • Before bringing your RC vehicle to your post office or another shipping service, you will want to have all your packing supplies including a sturdy box, cushioning, and tape.

  • Make sure that you supply a return address for your RC vehicle. Without it, you run the risk of your package getting flagged by the post office. If that is the case, your package will be returned to you if you provide a return address.

  • Shipping an RC vehicle is inherently risky. The package will be bumped and knocked into. It could be crushed. It could even go missing. It is best to purchase insurance on your package for the value of the car in the event that any of this happens. You can purchase insurance for your package from both USPS and UPS.

  • You may have to remove the battery depending on the size of it. Don’t tape up your box until you’ve checked with the shipper.

Can I Fly with an RC Car that has a Nitro Engine?

This is a tough one. In theory, yes, you should be able to fly with an RC car that has a nitro engine, but if TSA finds any amount of nitro residue or fuel in or on the car, they could confiscate your car, and they will typically swab any RC car that comes through for nitro residue. That’s not a risk I’d be willing to take.

If you really must fly with your nitro engine RC car, take these precautions, but don’t say we didn’t warn you!

  • Ensure that the fuel tank is completely empty.
  • Make sure you do not bring any fuel with you. It will be confiscated.
  • Clean the car from top to bottom.

Alternatively, you could remove the gas tank, fuel lines, and motor from your vehicle and ship them separately. Some people have had luck packing them in their checked luggage without issue, but once again, this isn’t recommended.

Unless the nitro RC car has never been used, then we would not try to bring it on an airplane.

Can You Take an RC Helicopter on a Plane?

Perhaps instead of an RC car, you have an RC helicopter and want to transport that along with you on your plane flight (especially since you can’t fly it out the window of the airplane).

Just like an RC car, you should have no issue lugging along your helicopter with you. However, you should make sure to remove the battery.

You’ll want to take the necessary precautions with the battery, as mentioned above in the section about RC cars.

Legally, TSA allows RC helicopters to be transported on airplanes as either checked or carry on item. Here are some tips for getting traveling with your helicopter:

  • If you elect to carry on your RC helicopter, you’ll want to contact the airline with which you plan to fly to find out whether or not your helicopter will fit in the overhead storage unit or the area beneath your seat. Make sure to provide the airline with the dimensions and weight of your helicopter. In most cases it will fit in the overhead bin but won’t fit under the seat.

  • TSA recommends that you should remove anything sharp on the RC helicopter, especially the rotors, as those could be potentially dangerous during a flight.

  • Consider packing your RC helicopter in a hard suitcase in order to protect it from possible issues with being damaged during the flight.

  • Because bringing an RC helicopter on a plane ride is generally considered less normal, you’ll have a greater likelihood of having an extra screening of your carry-on luggage containing the RC helicopter. Leave plenty of extra time before your flight so you don’t miss it!

Remember, this is simply a formality to ensure the safety of you and other travelers, so the extra surveillance of your RC helicopter is nothing to worry about.

How Do I Pack an RC Helicopter?

To avoid damaging your radio-controlled helicopter, you’ll want to make sure that you have a case to transport it during the flight.

Ace Wing Carrier provides hobbyists with a variety of case options to use to protect his or her RC helicopter while traveling.

When purchasing a case, you’ll want to make sure that you have bought a size that is compatible with the dimensions of your RC helicopter.

If you buy a case that is too small, you run the risk of damaging your vehicle due to the heavy construction. If you buy a case that is too large, you may allow too much room for movement in the case, which could cause the RC helicopter to shift within the case and damage it by hitting the sides of the case. 

Shifting could cause serious damage to your RC helicopter.

Prices range from around $40 to nearly $300 for the case depending on which size and protection you need. 

Can I Fly with an RC Boat?

Yes, you can fly with your RC boat, just like you can fly with an RC car. Just like with cars, make sure you remove the batteries, drain any fuel, and pack the boat up securely so that it does not get damaged in flight.

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You may want to check with your airline about storage space available to you in the cabin so that your boat does not end up being checked, where it is much more likely to be damaged.

What If It’s Too Big?

If it so happens that your RC boat is too large to bring in a carry-on bag, then you’ll have to check it.

You should have no problems checking your boat in as luggage (although you may have to pay extra for this depending on the other luggage you plan on checking and the airline you are flying with).

Again, make sure you have packed the boat well enough to ensure that it will not get damaged in the shipment process, meaning you have selected a large enough case that doesn’t allow for too much movement. Follow these steps, and all should go well!

Traveling Overseas with RC Vehicles

Usually, international flights are met with higher standards of surveillance and security as these flights are typically longer and are transporting people from all over the world.

Whether you are flying from Georgia to Nebraska or New York City to Moscow, you should go about your methods of transporting your RC vehicle the same way.

As always, you’ll want to make sure you carefully pack your vehicle, as international flights may expose your vehicle to temperature and pressure fluctuations for a longer period of time.

Regardless, seeing as your RC vehicle is your possession and not something you bought while visiting another country, you should have no issue returning to the United States and getting through customs.

There will be different rules for flying internationally with a lithium ion battery so make sure to call the airline and get the exact rules so you can prepare properly for your flight. 

Flying with Other RC Vehicles

You may own other RC vehicles that are not RC cars, airplanes, or boats. This may include RC trucks, buggies and truggies, monster trucks, rock crawlers, drones, and more. 

The biggest thing you need to do when thinking about flying or traveling with any sort of RC vehicle such as the ones listed above is as follows:

  • Weigh your item and make sure that it fits the weight requirements for a carry-on bag. If it weighs more, then you’ll have to check the item

  • Either way, make sure you pack our vehicle safely, with a packing substance of your choice (i.e., packing peanuts, bubble wrap, cotton)

  • Reinforce the walls of the box
  • Test certain vehicles (such as the monster truck) to make sure that it will not sustain any irreparable damages during your flight. Some vehicles are more fragile or have more fragile parts than others so the more fragile the vehicle the more you need to protect it.
  • Be sure that you drain the fuel tank, no matter the fuel used.

  • Remove the batteries and pack them separately

Traveling with RC Vehicles on Trains

Whether your traveling by train to get to your airport or making your whole trip on the rails, you’ll need to know how to safely bring your RC vehicle along. Typically, regulations are more relaxed when traveling on trains as there is less danger for cabin atmosphere change that planes expose travelers to.

For example, we’ll look at Amtrak’s policies for carry-on and checked luggage:

Carry-On

According to Amtrak’s guidelines on carry-on baggage, each passenger is allowed two free of charge carry-on bags, anything over will cost you money. For those of us used to traveling by air, this is a luxury!

Carry-on luggage may weigh up to 50 pounds and cannot exceed dimensions of 28” x 22” x 14”.

When packing your RC vehicle, you’ll need to make sure that the luggage or box you’re using to house your RC vehicle for the journey does not surpass the weight limit or dimension restrictions. Unless you’re traveling with an oversized RC vehicle, you should be fine.

Similar to planes, you can keep these bags near you in either an overhead storage or below your seat if it fits.

Checked Luggage

Amtrak only offers this service for travelers who have purchased tickets from a departure point to a destination where luggage can be loaded or unloaded.

You are allowed a maximum of four checked baggage items per ticketed passenger, two of which you can check for free.

Your two free luggage items cannot exceed 50 pounds and 75 linear inches. If your checked bag does exceed 50 pounds or 75 linear inches, you will face a charge of $20 per bag.

Aside from the two free checked bags, you may pay $20 per additional bag.

Baggage Regulations on Trains

Overall, what you can and cannot bring on trains is largely laxer than airplane standards.

Refer to Amtrak’s list of prohibited items to see what cannot be brought on the train. For safety purposes, you should proceed about traveling with your RC vehicle as you would on a plane.

By that, you should drain the fuel tank, remove the battery, and store the battery in a safe case so that you can ensure your vehicle’s safe transportation.

Conclusion

Now, you should have the relevant knowledge and wherewithal to proceed to your flight as needed. Make sure that you take the necessary safety precautions to avoid any damages or issues with your RC car or helicopter.

If you have any doubts on how you should pack your RC vehicle or battery it is far better to call the airline and ask than it is to have problems while going through security. Reading all the relevant information on the TSA site will also help make sure you follow all the relevant rules and regulations. 

Matt Robbs

I love to spend time with my wife and 3 kids. There is no better way to get them off the couch and outside than for us to grab the RC cars or boat and enjoy the sunshine!

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