Packing Pen on Plane?
March 11, 2008 7:36 PM   Subscribe

Does anyone have direct experience taking a Rotring 500 fountain pen on an airplane in post 9/11 America? If so, your advice?

I am flying to a conference and would like to bring along my daily writing pen as I intend to take lots of notes but because it is a solid hunk of brass I am reluctant to chance getting it confiscated. It has always reminded me of one of those "self defense wands" and I am afraid that a tsa agent will think the same. Bonus: any general tips for taking a fountain pen on an airplane? I have heard horror stories about spurting ink and general messiness due to fluctuating air pressure. Thanks.
posted by gyusan to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I flew several times with a similarly hefty Rotring Trio after 9/11. In fact, I bought it in airport pen shop, so I doubt it's much to be concerned about. If anyone questions you about it, just demonstrate that it is, in fact, a pen.
posted by jedicus at 7:42 PM on March 11, 2008

I keep a fountain pen (not my long-lost Rotring, sadly) in my bag at all times, including in flight. When on flights, I've carried it empty and about half-full, never fully full. If you're worried, stick it in a ziplock in your bag. Mine's never been disassembled by overzealous TSA agents, even when I have been pulled for extra clearance.

I miss my Rotring so much.
posted by cobaltnine at 7:49 PM on March 11, 2008

I've traveled with mine (well, the roller-ball 500, not the fountain) in my laptop bag and haven't gotten it confiscated. *Knocks on wood.*

But ... the TSA is exceedingly arbitrary about these things, as you're no doubt aware. I've heard a lot of people recommend that you carry around a small prepaid envelope/mailer in your bag. If the nail-clipper gestapo get after you, at least you'll be able to toss your stuff in there and hopefully find a mailbox to stick it in. (Assuming they have mailboxes in airports anymore; come to think of it I haven't seen one recently.) I keep one in my bag for this eventuality and in case I forget to take something out of my bag or pockets that's verboten, but I've never actually had to use it; no clue if it would work.

This of course assumes that you routinely get to the airport early enough to go through security a second time (and find a mailbox or convince someone at customer service to put it in their outgoing mail); if you routinely cut it so close that you'd have to ditch your stuff rather than go through security again ... I'm afraid you're screwed.

Bottom line: if you possibly can, I'd put it in your checked luggage. I don't think there's any other way to guarantee that some brownshirt-in-training won't decide you look shifty and confiscate your pen just because he can; the system isn't exactly designed to give you any recourse in that situation. (In fact quite the opposite.) You could be fine going through security with the pen 100 times, but on the 101st you could get it confiscated: if you're fond of the pen you need to plan for the eventuality, or leave it at home.

You know, now that I'm thinking about it, I think I'm just going to leave it at home the next time I travel. Maybe I'll get one of those bright-yellow plastic Lamy ones for airplanes.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:46 PM on March 11, 2008

I've gone on flights with sharper looking fountain pens (and some fierce drafting pencils); have not been hasseled or asked. I make sure though that the fountain pen is never pointing down, don't want any accidental spillage.
posted by Upal at 10:17 PM on March 11, 2008

I was harassed at an airport a few years ago for a regular pen that was in a metal housing. The TSA person said it looked like "a dagger" on the screen. Not a knife, a dagger. I think she read too many detective novels. After they searched my bag thoroughly, removed it, and re-ran it through the x-ray, they let me keep it. I did have to demonstrate that it was, in fact, a pen, though.

Kadin2048 has a good point - just bring a prepaid mailer with you and get to the airport early. If they give you any crap, mail it to yourself. After asking for a supervisor, of course.
posted by bedhead at 11:37 PM on March 11, 2008

I don't fly a lot anymore, but I have never had my daily fountain pen questioned by the TSA. It's pretty conventional looking (Waterman Phileas), which probably accounts for the lack of interest, but you'd have to have a very overactive imagination to mistake a pen for anything else.

As far as having the pen on a plane, use a cartridge and keep the pen nib-up and you should not have problems with leaking.
posted by briank at 6:35 AM on March 12, 2008

I have had fountain pens leak on a plane before. Having a pen dischage a cartidge load of India black into one's lap at 10,000 ft. wasn't a pleasant experience. Packing it in a plastic zippy bag might not be a bad precaution. I would also be careful about using it during the flight.

Given this and the potential hassles at airport security, you might consider putting the pen in your checked luggage.
posted by bonehead at 7:16 AM on March 12, 2008

I'm not a TSA agent or anything, but I'd find a pen in a baggie to be awfully suspicious. And the sane-sounding, "I thought it might explode" won't win you much, either. And even if you avoid the word "explode," they might still wonder why you're bringing a beloved pen if you fully expect it to start spurting ink all over you.

This doesn't answer your question directly, since I'm not familiar with pens on planes. I just wanted to point out that wrapping it up in a baggie might make it suddenly seem more suspicious, especially if you're already worried it'll be suspicious.
posted by fogster at 10:20 AM on March 12, 2008

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