Laser pointers in carry on - yes or no?
August 2, 2014 8:00 AM   Subscribe

I have some cheapie laser pointers I need to carry with me for an art installation. Will they be allowed in carry on per TSA?

These are little $1/piece laser pointers, and have about 20-30 of them. Some of them will probably die before I even get on the plane. I know they're not on the prohibited items list from the TSA, but I still wonder if I should be ready for extra search or even confiscation since I'll have a bunch of them. Anybody have any experience with this?

I really don't want to check the bag since there are items that I can't afford to lose or have delayed that I'll need to have in there, and I'm going to have to make a connection on this flight, which usually spells bad news for baggage arrival.

This flight will take place entirely in the U.S.
posted by Ms. Toad to Travel & Transportation around United States (6 answers total)
If you're concerned, just stick them in a Priority mail flat rate envelope (just $5.05 if you print your postage online) and let them beat you there!

Should TSA have a problem with them? No. Will they? As your question would suggest, you have some healthy apprehensiveness of TSA and their quixotic approach to security checkpoints. I have been (briefly) detained because of having two sample-size jams (1 oz each!) in my bag, and just last week they took all the padding out of a checked box, removed it and did not replace it (though they did an insert a friendly little search card), resulting in 60 oz of berry juice annointing the baggage conveyer, baggage carousel, airport floor and (I presume) the airplane and tarmac).

So - I wouldn't put anything past them. For your sanity, just mail them.
posted by arnicae at 8:06 AM on August 2, 2014

Are the batteries removable? It might help if you have the pointers and the batteries in separate clear plastic bags inside your luggage. Even if it's not on the prohibited items list, TSA agents are known for coming up with their own ad hoc justifications for prohibiting an item or subjecting someone to extra scrutiny for having it. (Not that it has ever done more than annoy law-abiding travelers, of course.)

Anyway, more trouble for you up front, but better than infinitely more trouble if you couldn't fly or if they were confiscated.

For your sanity, just mail them.

As bad as the TSA is I've had more experiences with mail lost in transit or delivered to the wrong address (and the USPS having no idea which house they actually sent it to) than I have with the TSA screwing with my luggage or preventing me from boarding with something. I would much sooner chance it with the TSA than the postal service if it were something essential.
posted by jedicus at 8:13 AM on August 2, 2014

I have not traveled with laser pointers, but I've done similar things with small metal miniatures, sensitive rolls of film, packages of sharp knitting needles that included yarn scissors, and sets of rechargeable batteries. Never had a problem (I have had other problems with the TSA) and this is basically what I've done each time:

Put the weird items in big clear plastic zip bags and pack my carry-on with a big hollow the size of those bags. Also, pack my large purse with all the actual stuff I might want during traveling. Put my purse in that hollow in the carry-on and heft my clear bags of whatever as my "personal item".

In the case of the film, the minis, and the batteries, as I approach the check point I speak directly to the TSA person, hefting my bags and say "hey can you please look over these by hand? I don't want to put this through the machine." TSA person goes "huh?" then notices it's film, or something interesting that they would be curious about anyway (the minis), or in one case, my cat, hands it to their secondary checker person, person hands me items once I'm through the evil eyeball machines. (In the case of the needles I placed them in their own separate bin on the scan machine's belt and absolutely nothing happened.) Then, I hurry to a calm corner and swap my purse for the bags so they're in my carry-on and my purse becomes my personal item.

Once or twice I've been asked why I have a bunch of [item], and I've been asked why I won't put them through the scanner. I've mostly responded "to help with party favors" (the truth once and then it was just the simplest answer), and "because the line will go faster this way", which they seem to appreciate occasionally.

I started doing this because I was worried about undeveloped film with an art final on it. (The answer to why I wouldn't put them through the machine was "If my film gets exposed I will fail college.") But I've kept doing this because it seems that when there's something similar it holds up the whole process as the scan operator pauses and rechecks and pauses the conveyor belt. If they see a clear plastic bag with stuff in it that they can easily identify, and their attention is calmly brought to it, it seems to go much more smoothly. The thing to keep in mind is that TSA people are people with confusing crap jobs, so if you can simplify their jobs and make clear what you'd like to happen and accommodate their weird needs, it goes much more predictably for you. (Experiences may vary with gender, racial and cultural presentation. Sorry.)
posted by Mizu at 8:44 AM on August 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Anecdata: I have been told to remove the batteries from laser pointers on both occasions that I had them in my carryon (but was then allowed to bring both the device and the batteries together on the plane). ????!?
posted by Tandem Affinity at 8:52 AM on August 2, 2014

I've traveled with a bunch of novelty pens with flashlights in them: wasn't stopped or commented on at all. Just don't have other things that could be suspicious (eg don't forget to remove all liquids and such), and pack clearly and cleanly. My experience is that an easy to see and well organized bag matters in case you get searched.

Variations between different airports seems to matter more overall. Boston Logan TSA security has been great lately, but DCA was a pain.

Good luck!
posted by troytroy at 11:47 AM on August 2, 2014

I've traveled with three in my bag for about three years now. No problems. Take the batteries out of you are concerned.
posted by fake at 4:47 PM on August 2, 2014

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