Flying with ham radio

Welcome to another post in my “reprint” series! As a kick off to the newly updated blog, I wanted to start by republishing some of my most visited posts, but with updated material.

This edition of reprint does need to come with a qualifier - all the information below was accurate at the time I wrote it. With some promotions and job changes at work, I’ve been working from home for the last 2-3 years at the point, and as a result I’ve only flown with gear once or twice since the time of these posts.

Now, on with the show!

Flying With Ham Radio

First Published 9/21/2017

​Over time I’ve seen quite a few questions about flying with ham radio pop up in places like Facebook and Twitter. At some point people started asking me direct questions about it - at first I wondered why, but then it dawned on me - I have mentioned it quite often!

My YL suggested that I write up a short summary to help point people in the right direction, but it took an interview with Curtis of the Everything Ham Radio Podcast to motivate me to actually get it done. Check it out! (ed. while Curtis is no longer producing his podcast, all 100 of the episodes he recorded are still available on his site.)

To give you the quick summary, traveling with ham radio gear is easy! The only catch I’ll add is that everything here is about domestic flights. Flying internationally can be a different story because you can end up involved with customs and import/export regulations.

Below are a number of posts I’ve written on the subject in the past, but I’ll sum up with this - just follow the TSA rules,(ed. keep in mind this was written in 2017 - please verify all information yourself using the resources available at the links included) and you’re good to go! Most of the people that have “trouble” with TSA create it for themselves. To get on an airplane with your ham radio equipment, just remember these easy highlights:

They are just doing their job. They’ve seen weirder stuff than what you have. You aren’t “special” in their eyes, you are just another passenger they need to process through line. If you do what you are asked and answer any questions politely, you and all your gear will be waiting at the gate before you know it! With that summary out of the way, check out these posts for my insights and thoughts on the subject!

ed. these links will take you to the original posts in my “old” blog, because at the time of this writing, they hadn’t yet been transferred to the new format

Packing the Bags

Show and tell of how I pack for a work trip, HF station and all, without any checked baggage! You don’t have to have tiny, CW only gear to do this – small 100 watt HF transceivers can fit the bill if you’re smart about your packing!

Flying Ham

(ed. in this article I link out to a TSA site and reference that ham radio gear is specifically green-lighted. The site appears to have changed since then, and while a search for “ham radio” or “amateur radio” doesn’t appear to return any results, the results of the generic search for just “radio” are what I personally would use as my guidance )

In this article I talk about my “normal” packing strategy for what is the most common luggage arrangement most people run into – 1 checked bag, 1 carry on, and 1 person item. I also touch on TSA and ham radio equipment. This is the thing that most hams seems to have the most concern about, but it is actually the least exciting, and easiest, part of traveling with radio gear!


Where I discuss a something I learned – it’s cheaper to fly with two 50 pound bags, than it is to fly with one 70 pound bag. I Also shared some pictures of my “personal item” which has radio body, etc. in it.

Pop Culture Central

This post is mostly not about flying, but I do show one of the cables I travel with, and talk about using rental cars as my generator when I’ve flown somewhere. If for some reason you can’t take power with you, this is an excellent way to get it once you get to where you’re going. I also give an example of how planning to use what you’ll have on the other end (a rental car’s spare tire) can eliminate pieces that you would normally need to take along (stakes.)

Bummer Dude

Another post that isn’t about flying specifically, but I do talk briefly about carrying my radio as a “personal item”, and included a picture of how I threw it in the case for this trip.

William Howard Taft

​This post is also mostly not about flying, but I also share pictures of a setup I did at a site after flying in. This was another one where I demonstrate using the rental car as a generator. I also learned on this trip that a cheap power inverter is NOT the way to go for laptop power. Either travel with an inverter you know is RF quite, or just get a car charger for your laptop, if you insist on computer logging!

​I’ll leave you with 1 final tip before I go:


TSA specifically talks about batteries here, but I’ll give you a quick summary as it pertains to ham radio. Your best bet is to carry LiFePo4 (Lithium Iron Batteries), and to put them in your carry-on. They state that consumer batteries of up to 100 watt-hours are allowed in this manner. This works out to about an 8ah battery. There is no quantity limit, so can carry as many of these as would reasonably fit in your carry-on. They also generically say you can take “2 larger batteries” with airline approval, up to 160 watt-hours, which is about a 13ah battery. If you want to power a full 100 watt rig, 2 of these will do the trick without being prohibitively heavy! ​ I hope you find some of this useful as you prepare to travel with your gear…I never leave home without mine!