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(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.

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Scissors

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.


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(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!

If you have a question for Ask CRAFT, shoot me an email at becky@craftzine.com, or drop us a note on Twitter! We’d love to answer your crafty questions on any topic: technique, projects, crafty culture, or anything else! Each week the answers are here; include your name, where you’re from, and your website or blog if you have one!

Becky Stern

Becky Stern is head of wearable electronics at Adafruit Industries. Her personal site: sternlab.org


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Comments

  1. AMEH says:

    I started wearing a thread cutter necklace when flying. I usually take needle point and it works great for small threads. I am unsure how it works with knitting yarn. But they’re easy to find at places like Walmart or Hobby Lobby and usually cost around $5. And it makes a cute necklace too.

  2. Anon says:

    I second the reminder to bring a padded envelope because they can change their minds and confiscate anything :(

  3. malia says:

    I carry a pair of Fiskars alligator scissors, designed for kids. They have a rounded point and as a bonus are shaped like an alligator! I have been using them since all new regulations have come into effect.

  4. Dave Jensen says:

    My wife and I just got back from a trip – she took one crochet hook and a little tiny pair of scissors (from one of those travel-sized sewing kits). The TSA folks didn’t blink.
    I also saw someone on the flight home knitting away.
    But, as another commenter pointed out, the TSA’s brochure basically says that they can deem anything “dangerous” on the spot.

  5. Nicole says:

    I have had no problem traveling with knitting and crochet needles/hooks in the US, but lost my travel crochet kit in Mexico because of the large-ish needles in it. Of course when I offered to take those out, they still confiscated the crochet hooks.
    While I usually find international travel easier than domestic, it can be somewhat more random in what they consider dangerous (I speak Spanish fluently, and they could not give me a reason for taking my lovely hooks!).

  6. anonymous and somewhat ashamed says:

    My nan (a heavy smoker) used to always burn off her knitting yarn with her cigarette lighter when she couldn’t be bothered to go find her scissors. Just thinking outside the box here. Possibly not a great idea once you’re on board, but if you’re waiting at the gate, it could work.
    It makes your knitting smell, too, but the smell of the cigarettes covered it, in my nan’s case.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I travel regularly, flying at least once a month. I always travel with several pairs of knitting needles (usually bamboo for straights, Addi Turbo for circulars), a couple metal crochet hooks, and a tiny pair of stork embroidery scissors. I have never had any problem at all. When they first changed the regulations, I brought a print-out of the new rules with me, but I haven’t bothered with that in a couple of years.
    As long as you look like you know what you’re doing, take off your shoes, put your plastic baggie with liquids in the tray, and don’t come to the airport dripping in metal, you should be fine. Oh, and if you want to be really speedy, wear slip on shoes. Security loves that.

  8. reb says:

    I travel for work frequently and always have a craft project with me, as well as work-related tools. Since the new regulations, the only thing I’ve ever had a problem with was a bone folder. The TSA people were very confused by it and I’m sure it was entertaining to watch me try to explain that I use it to fold paper and smooth out creases. But even then, I was cool and they were cool and I got to keep my folder. I find that being super-pleasant and saying “Thank you” and “Have a nice day” go a heck of a long way in making security a better experience for everyone involved.

  9. capn_midnight says:

    “TSA agents are people too, not robots.”
    “They’re just doing their jobs, and they deserve our respect.”
    Unfortunately, I have to disagree. The TSA is just the first arm in the ever growing resurgence of totalitarianism in the west. You say “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?” For normal citizens, there should never be any sense of fear from flying. It’s all, “the ends justify the means” and “this is needed for security,” when you point out that the regulations are often nonsensical.
    TSA regulations are designed to provide the illusion of security to assuage the fears of the uninformed masses who don’t realize that, even on 9/12/2001, flying was still the safest form of travel in the world.

  10. EastTex says:

    I would would like to say how much I truly appreciate everyone who has posted replies on making it easier to get through the check points. This not only helps the travelers but also us TSO’s. It makes my job so much easier knowing there are people out there that understand we are only doing our job, which is enforcing laws that are there to protect you the traveler and also me. we did not make the laws but we are required to enforce them and failing to enforce them will not only lead to me being fired but it could also mean my arrest. Even though being fired or arrested is something I really really do not want to happen it is not the worse thing that could happen. I do not know if I could live with myself if i knew I had let someone through a check point with a restricted item and that one action resulted in a plane going down. The public may look at us as rent a cops or the governments attempt at giving people a false sense of security but we take our job very seriously. Just because a person never see’s someone being arrested because a TSA officer found an IED in their bag doesn’t mean we are not preforming an important part of providing you with safety. Consider this, how many terrorist have decided not to go through with a plan because we are there and checking the bags? Would you feel safer if we were not there and anyone could bring anything they want on the plane? Whould you feel safer if we were not so strict on upholding the laws on what can and can not be brought on a plane? Personally I think to much security is better than not enough security when it comes to the lives of my family and loved ones. Also when you read and hear all the horror stories of how a TSA officer mistreated the person use common sense. Most stories are posted by people who were angry because they were asked to do something everyone else complied to such as removing their shoes, removing the liquids from their bags, or extra screening because they did not follow one of the mentioned rules. These people usually get mad because they feel they should be treated special and not have to follow these rules (rules everyone else followed) and they seek out revenge. The revenge usually results in adding extras to the story or leaving certain details out to make the TSA officer look really bad. Yes if you come through with electrical items that have been tampered with we will have to check them, we don;t know if your an electrical wizard or a terrorist. Just please remember people, you could be the nicest person on earth but we don’t know you. I’m a nice person but if I had something in my bag that looked out of place, looked like it could be a weapon an IED or part of an IED, would you let me on the plane just because I said I am a nice person? Please, please please! Just put yourself in my place. I am there to do everything in my power to make sure you have a safe flight.
    It really make going to work each day easier know there are people out there that understand and want to make the process easier for you the traveler and me. If you ever do come across a rude TSA officer or you feel is not checking stuff enough please report them to their supervisor. At anytime you can request to speak to a supervisor and the officer MUST comply without arguing or disputing you. We want the public to like us but as with all jobs there will be those few who just do not know how to deal with the public. I’m sure most of you have run into the same thing with police officers, some are very friendly and helpful and some come across as rude. I apologize if you have run into a TSA officer that did not treat you with respect, just keep in mind we are not all that way and they do their best to train all officers to be respectful and sensitive to the travelers needs.
    Thanks again everyone.