For at least a decade now, people have been asking me about bringing knitting needles onto an airplane. Because really, people like to travel, and like to knit during long periods of monotonous sitting to while away the hours in-flight, or between connections, or in line for coffee. And with the cost of checking baggage these days, most people I know try to squeeze into one carry-on and one personal item whenever possible, eliminating the opportunity to “just check your knitting stuff.”
So today I’d like to talk a bit about flying with knitting, and present you with some facts, some anecdotes, and some tips for the itinerant knitter.
Let me start with a blanket statement. TSA allows knitting needles, crochet hooks, and most needlepoint equipment in your carry-on luggage.
Quoting from tsa.gov:
Transporting Knitting Needles & Needlepoint
Knitting needles are permitted in your carry-on baggage or checked baggage.
Items needed to pursue a Needlepoint project are permitted in your carry-on baggage or checked baggage with the exception of circular thread cutters or any cutter with a blade contained inside which cannot go through the checkpoint and must go in your checked baggage.
Yes, folks, that picture of Susan Bates size 7, 13″ long aluminum poke-your-neighbors’-eyes-out-while-you-knit needles is courtesy of the TSA website itself. And if they’re not afraid of those, then they’re not afraid of the toothpicks you’re making that sock on.
You know what’s also allowed on planes? Crochet hooks. And sewing needles. And, guess what…FOLDING SCISSORS. Or any pair of scissors with a blade 4″ or less. Pointed or rounded, doesn’t matter (and this has been the case since 2005, folks). And nail clippers. And lots of other things with little sharp points and blades and whatnot. Just don’t bring a boxcutter or a circular thread cutter pendant, and you should be fine.
Now, I’ve been giving people this advice for years, but still playing it safe when it comes to my own travel. I generally have put extra DPNs and interchangeable tips into a pencil case with my writing utensils, and if I’m using interchangeable circulars on a project, I might even take the tips off until I get through security, again, stashing them in the pencil case. I’ve been more inclined to work with wooden needles when traveling (and, they’re cheaper to replace). I would avoid bringing scissors, figuring that I could tear the yarn with my bare hands if push came to shove. But I recently traveled to Portland, OR for a knitting convention, and figured that if there were any time to push the limits, this was it.
So, I brought my knitting stuff. A collection of sock needles (both DPNs and small fixed circulars), crochet hooks, scissors, works in progress, etc. Have a look at all the things I brought in my hand luggage through security:
Long circs in size 0, 1, and 2; Crochet hooks in size 10 and D; DPNs in size 0, 1, 1.5, and 4; darning needle; nail clippers; tweezers; and of course, the scissors.
And, let’s not forget the other needles that either started out or ended up in projects:
Take note: that was going to Portland. I mention it, because returning, I added this:
It’s 9.5″ long, and sharp enough to draw blood (see my Sock Summit post to see that yes, in fact, an identical spindle did draw blood). It’s a Russian supported spindle, and it’s a bit scary.
Now, I was a little concerned about the spindle. I bet if I’d gotten a grumpy TSA agent, that wouldn’t have slipped through. As it was, though, no one batted an eyelash.
This raises an important point, though. Like it or not, at the end of the day the individual TSA agent you’ve encountered is in charge, and it’s his or her job to keep air travel safe, so if that person thinks your knitting is a problem, then you’re out of luck. I’ve heard knitters bringing along a printout of the page above that says that knitting needles are allowed, and if that makes you feel more justified and a bit safer then I wouldn’t tell you not to, but my reckoning is that, if I’ve butted heads with an irate security agent who wants to confiscate my knitting needles as a matter of personal and national security, I don’t know that I want to be the smart aleck who tells him that he’s wrong, implying that I know his job better than he does. Someone with the gift of tact could probably maneuver that situation with a fair amount of grace, and perhaps sweetly convince the agent to let them keep the needles, but me? I don’t think it would end well, so I opt for the path of surrender. I’ll insist on my right to opt out of the backscatter machines, but I’ll let the knitting needles go if it comes to that. I will say, I don’t have $55 needles (cough, Signatures, cough) to fly with, and I always have a book to read. So, not the end of the world.
I’ll address another story of “what knitters do” as back-up plans if they get a grumpy TSA agent! Another “plan,” now more of an urban legend, is to bring a padded, stamped mailer to ship the needles or other items back to yourself. Sorry, folks, but this plan would only work in a pre-9/11 world, when you’d find stamp machines and mailboxes within airports, so you could send a postcard to your sweetie en route. These days, you’d never find such a thing, so if you put all your needles in the padded, stamped bag, you’ll just have to deal with the agent throwing away your padded, stamped bag. Tough noogies.
My final caveat is an important one: everything I’ve said here applies to air travel originating in the United States, under the jurisdiction of the Transportation Security Administration. Once you leave the States, these rules no longer apply, and you’re at the mercy of either the country or the airline of the departing flight. Not having flown out of every country under the sun, and not really being in a position to create an exhaustive, up-to-date list of what policies are like elsewhere, I’ll only mention those instances that I’ve had personal experience with. Generally, I haven’t had problems. Russia has always been fine, and the UK allows knitting and sewing needles. Dublin, however, explicitly prohibits knitting needles. So does the Prague airport. Not wanting to make waves, I didn’t try to push my luck with either flight, and I was checking baggage both times, so tucked my knitting inside.
Bottom line is, try to check the websites of those airports you’re traveling from before you go. This could be particularly important if you’re transferring between different international flights, and will need to clear security more than once, in different countries. If you can’t find any info online about the places you’re leaving from, and the airlines also can’t provide information for you, I recommend playing it safe, and bringing as innocuous needles as you can muster/sneak (wooden DPNs in a pencil case, or metal needles tucked into the spine of a book, for example), or put them in your checked baggage. But, in the USA, you shouldn’t encounter problems, so knit away!
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, happily knitting mid-air (she’s a thrower!)