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TSA lithium battery regs - more info AND a hotline number


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Posted by Ken Kurtis on January 02, 2008 at 12:59:15:

"We're from the government. We're here to confuse you."

I received an updated link for info on the lithium-ion batteries. This one's from the TSA. And - what a surprise - it has some mis and confusing information it in.

So I went back to the original source and called the contact number in Washington on the PHMSA news release. They in turn referred me to an 800 number that's an info hotline for all the questions about this. Here's that number:

800/467-4922 (then push the number 1)

It was clear after talking to the (nice) guy who picked up the phone that he was just parroting the information that's been on the website and didn't really know much himself, other than what he'd been handed. (And he says they're getting hundreds of calls.) I asked him if there was someone else I could talk to who might be a little better-versed on all of this and he said, "How about if I give you the number of the guy who actually wrote the regulation?"

So I spent about the last 20 minutes on the phone with Arthur, the author of the regs and he was very helpful. but he also freely concedes that this is a very confusing area and that a lot of the attempts they've made to clarify things have probably only made things worse.

Arthur also said (as I mentioned in a previous post) that although the regulation technically went into effect yesterday (Jan. 1), it's going to be a few months before the TSA people (don't forget this is a DOT reg that's being implemented by TSA) are trained and up to speed. Arthur said their goal is smooth implementation without hassling the flying public.

He also pointed out that the regs were originally designed mainly for mfgs who bulk-ship lithium-ion batteries. That's why the language is written in "grams of lithium" which doesn't do the consumer much good. But now they're going to apply this to the general public as well.

The easiest way to think about this: If you have extra/spare lithium-ion batteries that you're traveling with, put them in your CARRY-ON bag.

Arthur told me that even though the language on the website refers to "loose" batteries, what it really means is any battery not in the device it powers. And on the TSA website, where it implies that lithium-ion batteries in a plastic bag or in original packaging can be checked, Arthur says that is NOT correct.

Basically, they define the batteries as under 8 grams of lithium, 8-25 grams of lithium, and over 25 grams of lithium. The other way to think of that (which you can calculate from the battery) is in watt-hours. 8 grams is roughly 100 watt-hours. 25 grams is roughly 300 watt-hours.

Batteries under 8 grams (100 watt-hours) - No limit. Take as many as you like (according to Arthur).
Batteries 8-25 grams (100-300 watt-hours) - Limit two per passenger per device.
Over 25 grams (300+ watt-hours) - Not allowed.

Arthur basically said that cell phone, digital camera, and regular laptop batteries all fall under the 8 gram (100 watt-hour) limit. No problems. For instance, my HP laptop battery ends up being about 45 watt-hours. Even my extended 12-cell battery would be about 90 watt-hours, so is OK.

The way you can figure out the watt-hours of your battery is to look on the battery and take the voltage times the amp-hours to get the watt-hours. (Mine was 10.8V x 4.4AHr = 47.52 watt-hours.) If the amp-hours are in milliamps, you'll need to convert to amps. But basically, Arthur said most consumer stuff should be fine. but he did re-emphasize that, to play it safe, put ALL of your spare lithium-ion batteries in your carry-on.

I also specifically asked him about AA batteries (which I put in my checked bags) and he said they're not an issue, nor are NiMH batteries. With my AAs, I also leave them in their original packing and Arthur said that's perfect. He also pointed out that, if you've got checked batteries in your bag, it's a good idea to stand by the TSA guy while they x-ray the bag so that if anything needs to come out, the TSA guy can just hand it back to you. Arthur specifically said, "We don't want to end up with bins of batteries the way we did with lighters."

So that - I think - should be the latest info. As I've said before, it's an evolving subject. It looks like the practical implementation is a ways down the road but that doesn't mean some over-zealous TSA person couldn't ding you tomorrow. And if you've got questions, call the 800 #.

- Ken

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Ken Kurtis
Owner, Reef Seekers Dive Co.
P.O. Box 11634
Beverly Hills, CA 90213
www.reefseekers.com



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