Traveling with Model Aircraft on Public Transportation

Please note: This document represents our recommendations only. Every effort has been made to assure they are in compliance with regulations. However, you are 100% responsible for assuring you are in compliance with all Local/State/Federal/International or any other applicable regulations.

  1. If at all possible, ship your models and equipment in advance. While more expensive and cumbersome, this eliminates having to travel with them and worrying about security.
  2. Models should be packed in strong, but light shipping containers. Many members have built custom containers to transport electronic equipment. Handles should be built into the case. You don't want to give handlers a reason to use a forklift, or something similar, if at all possible. Make the cases easy to open for inspection. Do not screw the lid down. The lid should be hinged and hasps designed for this purpose should be used to secure the lid. Obviously, indoor models present very special problems due to ultra-light construction techniques; there is no way for me to address them here. The modelers transporting them already know the best way to do so.
  3. Make your shipping/transportation container (and models) as small as possible. Break the model down into its smallest possible size. If building a new model, construct the model to break down [yes, we know that is easier said than done, but consider the alternatives]. Build a smaller model if at all possible. You are not going to get a coffin size model box on an aircraft any longer! If, by some quirk of fate you do, you will pay a huge sum of money to do so. Extra time spent during construction will save you money and a lot of headaches later on. Also, all checked baggage will be subject to explosive detection screening starting in January 2003. Large model boxes will not fit inside the x-ray or EDS (Explosive Detection Systems) machines. Again, this will mean hand inspection, which can raise more questions. Our best information at this time is most EDS equipment can handle items less than one meter wide.
  4. Fuel tanks, engines and fuel lines must be purged of all fuel residue. Castor oil is an acceptable purging agent. Everything must be flushed and wiped down to be safe. If at all possible, fuel tanks that have been used should be removed and a new, unused tank should be sent with the model. Do not mention engines, fuel tanks etc. unless specifically asked.
  5. Remove and secure batteries in both receiver packs and transmitters. Wrap in insulating material to avoid any possible electrical connection with an outside source.
  6. Don't attempt to carry anything on board the aircraft. Be sure you don't have anything with you that could be considered a weapon. This list seems to change daily, but the airlines are serious. Scissors, nail clippers and other normally benign items have all been confiscated over the last year or so. Again, our recommendation is to empty your pockets and only carry a good book.
  7. From the AMA Competitions Department, obtain a letter that describes who you are, where you are going and why you are transporting model aircraft. If you are a World Championships team member, this letter will be provided automatically. If not, contact us with this request at least thirty days prior to traveling.
  8. Clearly mark the outside of all your shipping containers with your name and address. Also, mark the container "Fragile Model Aircraft".
  9. Contact your carrier well in advance of your travel date, explain what you desire to transport, how it will be packed, the size and any other information they may desire. Ask them to put something in writing that pre-approves your transportation of your models and equipment. If obtained, carry several copies of the letter with you at all times. Be sure to let them know that you are more than happy to have the containers hand inspected at any time. At times, it will be difficult to find the right person to do this for you, but be persistent (nicely though) and you should get to the right person eventually. This will normally be someone in airline baggage or security.
  10. Give the transportation officials all of the information they ask for willingly. Be open and honest about your containers and what they contain. However, don't volunteer more information that they really do not need. In other words, if asked what is in the container that contains your tools, let them know it contains small hobby type tools. You need not tell them (unless specifically asked) that you have eight small wrenches, two bottles of CyA adhesive and two hobby knives in it. The more detail you go into, the more questions will be raised.
  11. Do not make any kind of fuss or become irate with airline or security personnel. This can be considered "suspicious behavior", making you subject to arrest or armed escort off airport property. Airlines are serious and models, while not illegal, are just strange enough that they could be considered a risk, making it easy for a screener or gate agent to simply say that it cannot go.
  12. Undeveloped film will be damaged by checked baggage screening equipment.

What is contained in this document is accurate to the best of our knowledge. However, airline security procedures continue to change as needs dictate, so no amount of advice will work in every case. AMA is working hard with several agencies in an attempt to get our transportation of models better defined and understood by the agencies responsible for transportation and security. Until that effort is realized, our best advice is advanced planning and a lot of patience. You may wish to visit the TSA website for further information, as security procedures can change rapidly. Included with this document is a link to the most current TSA “Permitted and Prohibited” items.

Prohibited items are weapons, explosives, incendiaries, and include items that are seemingly harmless, but may be used as weapons—the so-called "dual use" items. You may not bring these items to security checkpoints without authorization.

If you bring a prohibited item to the checkpoint, you may be criminally and/or civilly prosecuted or, at the least, asked to rid yourself of the item. A screener and/or Law Enforcement Officer will make this determination, depending on what the item is and the circumstances. This is because bringing a prohibited item to a security checkpoint—even accidentally—is illegal.

Your prohibited item may be detained for use in an investigation and, if necessary, as evidence in your criminal and/or civil prosecution. If permitted by the screener or Law Enforcement Officer, you may be allowed to: consult with the airlines for possible assistance in placing the prohibited item in checked baggage; withdraw with the item from the screening checkpoint at that time; make other arrangements for the item, such as taking it to your car; or, voluntarily abandon the item. Items that are voluntarily abandoned cannot be recovered and will not be returned to you.

The charts of prohibited items outline items that are permitted and items that are prohibited in your carry-on or checked baggage. You should note that some items are allowed in your checked baggage, but not your carry-on. Also, pay careful attention to the "Notes" included at the bottom of each section – they contain important information about restrictions.

The prohibited and permitted items charts are not intended to be all-inclusive and are updated as necessary. To ensure everyone’s security, the screener may determine that an item not on the prohibited items charts is prohibited. In addition, the screener may also determine that an item on the permitted charts is dangerous and therefore may not be brought through the security checkpoint.

The charts apply to flights originating within the United States. Please check with your airline or travel agent for restrictions at destinations outside of the United States.

For updates and for more information, visit their website or call their Consumer Response Center toll-free at 1-866-289-9673 or email