If you are about to take off for your first flight, there are some things you have to know. One of those things is the fact that many items we consider to be common are not allowed on airplanes. In fact, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has a full list of items that they don’t allow on airplanes.
Moreover, individual airports also have the ability to expand the list of items they wouldn’t allow you to take on a plane. And, as some frequent fliers already know, there are many items on those lists that make little to no sense. So, with all of that in mind, can you really be sure that something that is seemingly mundane, like a pen, is airplane-safe?
After all, we have all seen what someone skilled can do with a pen thanks to the incredible action scenes from movies starring Keanu Reeves or Heath Ledger (John Wick and The Dark Night respectively). There is no doubt that a sturdy pen can be used to inflict harm onto someone.
So, Can You Take a Pen on a Plane?
To give you the short and sweet answer – yes, you can take your pen on a plane and you shouldn’t have any issues with the airport security. But, there are situations where you might get in trouble. So, make sure to pay close attention to the article in front of you to avoid negative experiences during airport security screenings.
Rules of the TSA
Going through the official rules of the TSA will show you that pens of any kind aren’t on any of the lists of prohibited items. In fact, there are no real mentions of pens throughout the entirety of the documents they have to offer.
But, there is another thing that fountain pen owners should have in mind – there are rules about ink. Ink is a liquid so you will have to follow the three-one-one rule for carry-on luggage. You can only take 3.4 ounces of it with you, it has to be in a single quart-size plastic bag, and you can only have one bag.
Not All Pens Were Made the Same
A basic ballpoint pen is safe to use, and you can take it anywhere you want. The TSA won’t mind and you shouldn’t run into any other type of trouble as you take off to your destination. But, there are some exceptions to that rule.
Tactical pens are an interesting combination of a writing utensil and a self-defense tool. Thanks to their unintimidating design, a lot of people will take them to environments where carrying a weapon is frowned upon.
But, the TSA is not as lax about tactical pens as you might hope. In fact, they specifically forbid these pens as they consider them to be weapons. Which, to be fair, is a correct stance. Tactical weapons are made for self-defense and can be very dangerous in the hands of a trained fighter.
If you visit the TSA’s blog, you will see a lot of pictures of tactical pens the TSA agents confiscated from people at the airport. Of course, you might want to attempt to sneak your tactical pen in if you believe that it looks “normal” enough, but we cannot advise against it strongly enough.
Some Pens Might Explode During the Flight
When it comes to taking your pen with you for your trip, few stop to wonder whether or not all pens are safe for flying. And, as scary as that may sound, some pens can actually explode mid-flight, an experience you probably want to avoid at all costs. It’s not very likely to cause serious harm to you or anyone else, but it can lead to a very awkward situation.
Of course, that won’t happen to all pens. Namely, the people who are most at risk of accidental pen explosions mid-flight are the proud owners of rollerball pens. These pens are a real joy to write with, but, they are simply not built to withstand the pressure changes you experience in the cabin.
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The other type of pens that is likely to malfunction at higher altitudes is the fountain pen. While it isn’t prone to doing anything as dramatic as exploding due to pressure, your fountain pen just might turn to a proper fountain of ink in your carry-on bag.
If you want to avoid this experience, there are a few things you can do. For starters, you can give up using the explosive pens. Regular ballpoint pens are much less likely to suffer a catastrophic failure (even if it might still happen). That is a good thing, given how mundane and inexpensive ballpoint pens are.
On the other hand, some people aren’t willing to compromise their writing experience and they want to stick to their rollerball pens. For them we still have good news. Namely, there are rollerball pens that were specifically designed to cater to writers who are frequent travellers and that can safely handle the shifting pressures in the cabin. Unfortunately, those pens can be quite pricey.
The Transportation Security Officer
Even after all is said and done, there is one last thing you have to consider before you calmly pack your bags for the big trip – the Transportation Security Officers (TSO) usually have the last say about which items get to go on a plane and which don’t.
What you have to bear in mind is that the list of prohibited items that the TSA maintains is not made to be an all-encompassing list. They try to update it as much as possible, but there will always be exceptions. So, if the TSO finds your pen to be problematic, you might still end up having to leave it behind.
Realistically, even if there are some attributes of your pen that the TSO finds troubling, you will probably get to take it with you on the trip. However, depending on the pen itself, the TSA agents might even consider it to be a sharp object and you might have to securely wrap it and pack it in your checked luggage instead of taking it as a part of your carry-on.
As you can see, the answer to this question is very simple on the surface, but it can get a bit complicated when you dig around a bit. Sure, you can take a regular ballpoint pen with you on your journey and you should never run into issues. In fact, if you are traveling to certain countries, you might even require a pen to fill out forms upon landing.
But, there are also exceptions that you should consider. For starters, taking a rollerball pen might not be the wisest choice for your trip. They are prone to exploding when the cabin pressure changes and will likely malfunction. If you don’t pay extra attention to the position of your fountain pens, you might also have a mishap during your flight. So, stick to regular pens or be willing to spend a bit more money to get high-quality models capable of surviving the flight.
The other type of pens you should avoid when trying to board a plane are tactical pens. While they aren’t illegal and most people won’t even know what they are, the TSA is more than willing to confiscate them at sight.
Certainly, you can always check with an airline with which you fly if there are any restrictions on the entry of a pen on their flight.