Spotlights & Flight Regulations

I just received a question about taking spotlights on flights from fellow mammal watcher Greg Easton, and thought I might see what others’ experience has been. In August, when I was meeting Jon in Vegas for his Southwest mammal trip, I had my spotlight confiscated at the Boise airport. They pulled it from my checked bag and held it at check-in, but would not allow me to take it. (My wife drove out and picked it up for me).


Anyhow, they said the regulation is as such: If it is a high-powered spotlight and has a battery, the battery must be removed and in a separate bag. If the battery is removed, it’s ok to go. Has anyone else encountered this?  If not, you may want to consider removing the batteries on high-powered lights if you’re in the U.S.

Then again, they also confiscated my peanut butter on that same flight so maybe it was just not my lucky day.


  • Mike Richardson

    I mentioned my recent experience with a spotlight on my recent Italian trip report (see below on the blog).

    In summary I was called back to the security desk at Leeds-Bradford Airport (UK) where my spotlight had caused some concern on the baggage scanner. I explained what it was to the security officer and he let me check it back into the hold luggage were it was taken from. Incidentally it was one of the high powered Cluson lights where the lamp is separate from the battery. I always unplug the lamp when packing.

    On other trips I haven’t had any problems with the spotlight, although I know it has been examined several times in the USA. I always wrap the lamp in bubble wrap and this has been torn open and rewrapped on a couple of occasions.

    On all trips I make a point of checking whether batteries are allowed in the hold luggage. Usually it’s only wet-cell batteries that are disallowed.

    On future trips I might consider actually mentioning the battery when I check in the luggage, although there is always the risk of getting the spotlight refused.

    I would be very interested in hearing the experiences of other mammal watchers.

  • John Fox

    I have a Coleman LED spotlight with a rechargeable SLA battery. The battery is not intended to be removed except for replacement, which appears to be a major operation. On my first trip with it I tried to carry it on and they said I had to check it. I did check it a few more times without any noticeable problems. All flights were in the US.

    Since a lot of my trips were short and I had no need to check luggage otherwise, I bought a Princeton Tec Shockwave LED dive light which uses 8 AA batteries. I’ve carried that on several US trips and one trip to OZ without any problem.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to run into a TSA agent who did the same as the one in Boise. I think if it was really important to me I’d ship it ahead, if I could.

  • Stefanie Lahaye

    I had some problems on a flight from Brussels (Charleroi) to Bucharest in 2009. We had a very primitive spotlight lamp (this type: It was not possible to remove the battery, so I kept it in the hand luggage. At the security I was not allowed to keep my spotlight because “it might be used as a weapon”. It was a quite cheap thing and it cost more for the security to hold on to it until my return than the lamp had cost, so I lost that one to the security in Brussels. Now I have a spotlight from which I can remove the batteries. I now keep the batteries in the hand luggage and I check in the spotlight in. I had no problems with flying from Europe to South-America or during domestic flights in Chile.

  • Curtis Hart

    I have a Blazer spotlight with a 29 volt detachable battery. I typically carried it on, and US security checked my bag so much, I just started taking it out with my laptop to avoid problems. Some of them really feared the thing, and refused to let me handle it or turn it on until they did their little bomb swab test on it.
    When I was flying back from India, at the checkpoint past customs, they refused to let me proceed with the battery. Luckily a employee from the airline was called and he transfered it to my checked bag. I had taken the battery thru that same checkpoint 6 weeks before without incident.
    I’ve now changed to a less powerful Fenix Headlamp with 4 AA batteries and have had no issues.

  • Jon Hall

    I’ve travelled with various spotlights and I don’t think there is much rhyme or reason to what is and isn’t allowed. I’ve never had anything confiscated but come close on several occasions. Security people are not used to large batteries and don’t know what to do.

    I’ve always travelled with sealed batteries that are separate from the light. I have always put these in my hold luggage. Sometimes – and more recently more often – these have triggered problems and I have had to go talk to security when boarding the plane. Sometimes they say “ah battery no problem”.. other times there is much debate. In Colombia I had to negotiate for 45 minutes before being allowed to check the batteries and then only if I got them wrapped in cling film. In Tokyo last year we had to go on the internet to prove that the battery was sealed and still they were suspicious so insisted I carry it on board the plane rather than in the hold. Because of the weight and the hassles I have taken recently to travelling mainly with a small LED torch and a batteryless spotlight I can run from the car. So my advice is try your luck and argue confidently if they try to confiscate your battery and tell them that they are allowed in the US, Europe etc etc etc. There is a very good chance that it is not prohibited and the person you are talking to is in the wrong. That’s always worked for me… but I won’t be surprised one day when it doesn’t!


  • Jerzy


    This January I witnessed a hassle on Frankfurt airport, where a couple was asked to remove batteries from they underwater torches in hand luggage (BTW, some of underwater torches make good spotlights!). The reason was that they overheat when accidentaly turned on in baggage.

    In contrast, my large torch in checked in baggage in the same flight was OK.

  • Scary Israel

    as Jon said, there doesn’t seem to be rhyme nor reason as to what Customs do and don’t allow through. I’ve even had DEET confiscated from my check-in luggage in Sulawesi! I’ve never had trouble with Customs with regards to spotlights or torches, but just as a warning I did have a Dolphin torch accidentally get turned on in my check-in pack and it got very very hot because it was packed in so tight amongst clothes etc; now I always remove batteries before packing!

  • Greg

    I checked my spotlight on my way to Chile thanks to Matt’s recommendation. I’m typing this from Jose Sandoval’s home at the Pudeto Guard station where we just finished lunch. We spent all morning searching for pumas without success. The challenge now is how to manage the minimal diesel available to keep looking. Apparently my trip planning failed because I did not know that you can’t buy diesel within 100 miles of the park…

  • phil telfer

    I got called up front after boarding a ba flight back from Jo’berg and had to take the bulb out of the large cluson spotlight. Now only travel with spotlights that go in cig lighter plus led lenser torches for on foot. these are great, run on aa batteries with a real long life. better than lugging 3 kg around forest.

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