(Above photo cc by Flickr user redjar)
Many of us crafters just returned from Maker Faire with the woes of air travel fresh in our minds. So what about that, huh? Can you bring scissors? Crochet hooks? Knitting needles? How are you supposed to get your craft on on long flights with the fear that your favorite tool might be confiscated by the TSA? The regulations are confusing and sometimes can appear contradictory. Here I will try to clarify what the TSA says on their site and share my crafty air travel experience. I’ll focus on the USA, so if you’re from another country and want to share your experience or the local regulations, please comment below.
The TSA site says “Scissors – metal with pointed tips and blades shorter than four inches” are allowed in carry-on luggage. I’ve brought the red scissors pictured here (which have pointed tips and blades under four inches) through security in four different airports without a problem (PHX, AUS, PDX, SFO), except once when I buried them in my bag and the agent wanted to take them out to measure them. The three other times, I took them out of my laptop bag and placed them in the bin next to my shoes; they didn’t even get a second glance from the TSA.
However, TSA writes “Our Security Officers have the authority to determine if an item could be used as a weapon and may not allow said item to pass through security,” and are therefore authorized to deny your scissors if they want. On the special TSA page about knitting needles and needlepoint, it says “scissors must have blunt points,” which contradicts the regulation on the main prohibited items page.
(above photo cc by Flickr user Laiane)
Knitting and crochet
I’ve never had a problem getting knitting needles on a plane in the US, but here’s what the TSA has to say: “Circular knitting needles are recommended to be less than 31 inches in total length,” and “We recommend that the needles be made of bamboo or plastic (Not Metal).” That first one has me puzzled. Sure, circular needles pose less of a stabbing threat than straight ones because of their short rigid sections, but why recommend a maximum length? If it’s strangulation they’re concerned with, I’m sure a 24-inch set of circular needles would be more than ample for choking somebody. There’s no restriction on other lengthy strong things, like rope or wire. Again, it’s up to the agent to determine what makes it through. Go non-metal if you can for brevity’s sake. If you’re ok with feeling like a criminal, just stick your plastic or wooden needles in your pocket when you go through the metal detector; they’ll never find them unless you get a pat-down.
It’s recommended to bring a self-paid mailer with you in case the TSA won’t let you through with your needles, that way you don’t lose them permanently. Crochet hooks are referred to as “crochet needles” by the TSA, in case you’re wondering what to search for. Based on what I’ve heard from crocheting travelers, the raising of their eyebrows seems to be inversely correlated with the size of the crochet hook; the smaller the hook, the more “dangerous” it is perceived to be. It seems silly, especially since pens are universally allowed. I wonder if they’d look twice at one of these pens designed to double as a weapon.
At the checkpoint
How you act at the checkpoint can sometimes make a difference in how your items are perceived. The agents are trained to evaluate entire situations, not just one item at a time in your bag. If your bag gets taken aside for search, you should have your craft project already started. A portion of a sock arranged on three double-pointed needles looks less suspicious than the needles by themselves. Think about the context. Store that tiny, pointy crochet hook in a plastic bag with the lace blanket edge work you’re working on. When they TSA pulls it out to look at it, don’t be afraid to say “I’m working on that for my niece.” TSA agents are people too, not robots. I was once bringing a frozen Tofurkey to visit family where it’s hard to get one, and when the agent opened my bag and knew he had to swap the box with his particle detection cloth, we both broke out laughing.
If an agent does take your tools, remain calm. They’re just doing their jobs, and they deserve our respect. It can’t hurt to print and carry the regulations on the TSA site to share with the agent as a bargaining tool. Bring a back-up entertainment plan so you don’t panic when your only thing to do on that five hour flight is taken away. Magazines, books, computers, and mp3 players are all considered safe by the TSA. When all else fails, you can draw little mustaches on the people in the safety diagram with that pen you’re allowed to bring on board. Happy flying!
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