Rules for Flights in the USA
Night vision goggles are allowed in carry-on and checked baggage on United States flights with certain restrictions. Night vision goggles work with two different mechanics. The most common night vision goggles use a highly sensitive sensor or a photon multiplier to amplify low light, resulting in a green image. The less common night goggles use thermal technology to convert heat signatures into images.
Therefore, night vision goggles themselves don’t represent a threat, nor do they interfere with the airplane’s systems because they don’t use transmit radiowaves as other electronic devices.
Night vision goggles and other night vision devices are classified in Gen 1, 2, and 3, and Gen 3 plus. Gen 1 is the most common in the market and the one with the least quality. Gen 3 is the most powerful of all, and it is also the one used by the military.
Although all night vision goggles are allowed on domestic flights, the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), prohibits traveling with Gen 3 night vision devices on international flights and it’s punishable with fines and even prison. It’s not because the technology itself represents a threat to the flight, but it’s to prevent these devices from being used for military purposes in other countries. To travel with Gen 2 devices, travelers will need a special license from the Department of Commerce.
Although some websites classify their night vision products as Gen 4, overall, it isn’t a real classification, as Gen 4 products aren’t strong enough to be considered an upgrade from Gen 3. Stronger night vision goggles than Gen 3 are classified as Gen 3 plus.
If you’re traveling with night vision goggles domestically, also keep in mind some states prohibit using night vision devices for hunting.
Rules for Flights in Other Countries
Canada, Europe, and the UK
On flights within Canada, Europe, and the United Kingdom, night vision goggles aren’t specifically mentioned as banned or allowed in carry-on and checked luggage. Overall, night vision goggles are allowed but there are rules for their use and exportation. In Canada, most parts of Europe, and parts of the UK, it’s forbidden to use night vision devices for hunting. Any night vision device entering the country must be used solely for observation. Also, in multiple countries of Europe, owning a Gen 3 night vision device is illegal.
New Zealand, Australia, and China
New Zealand, Australian, and Chinese authorities don’t list night vision goggles as allowed or banned items. But there aren’t any restrictions for civil use, so we can assume they are allowed in carry-on and checked baggage on planes.
Indian authorities don’t mention night vision goggles specifically in their list of allowed and banned items on carry-on and checked baggage. Still, in India, it’s forbidden for civilians to have any kind of night vision device. This means you can’t bring them into the country in your luggage.
Sources: For writing this article, we took information only from official sources, like airline regulators, government websites, and major airlines. If you want to confirm that our information is accurate and up to date, click on any of the links mentioned above. We linked out to where we found this information for each country.
Disclaimer: The final decision of whether you can bring night vision devices onboard airplanes always rests on the security officer. Some airlines also have additional rules that may be different.
Frequently Asked Questions About Bringing Night Vision Devices on Planes
Are night vision binoculars, monoculars, and cameras also allowed on planes?
Night vision binoculars, monoculars, and cameras are allowed on carry-on and checked baggage on flights in the United States. However, using night vision for hunting is illegal in 13 states, and restricted in 17 other states. Alaska, Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Kansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Alabama, Delaware, Rhode Island, and Hawaii forbids hunting with night vision.
Therefore, night vision devices attached to hunting rifles or that could be used for hunting could raise some questioning from security if you’re flying to a state where hunting with night vision is forbidden. But, overall, all night vision devices are allowed on planes.
Do I need to take night vision goggles out of my bag when going through security?
Generally, you don’t need to take night vision goggles out of your bag when going through security in the United States. Although night vision goggles aren’t listed specifically, TSA does mention that battery-powered devices larger than cell phones should be taken out of the bag.
Most night vision devices are similar in size to a cellphone, and wouldn’t need to be taken out. Those that are larger than a cell phone must be out of the bag and placed in a bin with other large electronics when going through security. Yet, traveling outside the United States with any night vision device over Generation 1 without a license is strictly forbidden. Therefore, if you don’t have a license for your Gen 2 or Gen 3 night vision goggles, they will be confiscated at airport security.
Should I pack night vision goggles in hand or checked luggage?
Overall, it’s best to pack your night vision goggles in hand luggage when traveling in the United States. Night vision goggles are expensive equipment and they can get damaged with the rough handling of checked baggage. Also, there is always a chance that your checked baggage gets lost during traveling.
Packing your night vision goggles in your carry-on is the safest and best way to travel with them. You won’t have any problem with getting night vision goggles through airport security if you’re traveling domestically, but, if you’re traveling internationally, ITAR restrictions forbid you to leave the country with Gen 2 or Gen 3 night vision goggles. You can use a hard protective travel case to pack your night vision goggles and store them inside your hand luggage.
Does night vision equipment interfere with the hardware on airplanes?
Night vision equipment does not interfere with the hardware on airplanes. Night vision goggles work similarly to a camera, but they have a highly sensitive sensor or a photon multiplier that uses the light available and amplifies it to create an image. Other night vision goggles use infrared technology to capture heat signatures and convert them into images. Usually, these devices don’t use radio waves, which are the waves in other personal electronic devices like a cellphone that could potentially interfere with a plane’s system.
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