Want to enjoy your fine cigars when traveling but don’t want to give up your precious stogies when heading through TSA?
I don’t blame you.
But before you decide to take your cigars through airport security and onto a plane, you should be aware that there are a few common pitfalls people often experience.
The good news is that if you are aware of these, you can easily avoid them and safely and securely transport your cigars to your destination.
Below, I’ll give you all the latest TSA rules and tips for bringing your cigars, lighters, cutters, and other accessories like humidity pouches.
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Can you take cigars on a plane?
Yes, you can bring cigars on a plane as a carry-on item or in your checked bag.
You’ll want to take extra care when packing your cigars and also be careful about bringing certain cigar accessories because some of them won’t be allowed, such as torch lighters.
When traveling internationally, make sure you are mindful of the limitations and also the current status of the law when it comes to Cuban cigars.
Keep reading below to find out all the details of what you need to know.
Tip: Use the free app WalletFlo to help you travel the world for free by finding the best travel credit cards and promotions!
Carry-on or checked baggage?
Since TSA allows you to travel with your cigars in either your carry-on or checked baggage the decision is up to you on which one best suits you.
With that said, I would always recommend to put your cigars in your carry-on bag for a few reasons.
My general recommendation is to never put anything in your checked baggage that you feel like you cannot live without. That’s because your luggage could be lost, knocked around, or in rare cases, objects from your luggage could be stolen.
For some aficionados, premium cigar collections could certainly fall within the “can’t live without” category.
The checked baggage hold under the plane will also be subject to more extreme temperatures and conditions.
They typically are temperature and pressure controlled but could have temperatures much different from those found in the cabin, potentially affecting your precious cigar cargo.
You could partake in one of the cigars offered at the lounge but you also may want to enjoy one of your own so having them in your carry-on could make sense there.
How to pack and transport your cigars
When traveling with your cigars, a few things can go wrong.
The first thing is that your cigars can get crushed.
This will happen when placing your cigars into one of your luggage bags without sufficient hard-sided protection. A lot of people underestimate how easy it is for cigars to get squished with even the slightest amount of pressure.
On the flip side of that, if you place your delicate cigars in a large container where they are not secure, they can get tossed around during the flight and all kinds of beat up or cracked.
The third issue is that your cigars could get affected by the environment. This could be temperature, humidity, sunlight, etc.
But it could also be whatever materials you decide to store your cigars in since they can easily absorb aromas and tastes.
So when traveling the goal will be to avoid your sticks getting crushed or beat up and to minimize how they are impacted by the environment.
Luckily, there are a few ways you can do this.
While bringing your full-size desktop humidor is an option (more on that below), typically the most convenient way to transport your cigars will be to store them in a travel humidor.
One of the best ways to pack lots of cigars is to place them inside of something like an air-tight Herf-a-Dor Travel Humidor.
That is a hard-sided case lined with foam cushioning that you can purchase in different sizes such as 5-count, 10-count, 15-count, and 40-count.
Other solid brands include: Perdomo, Xikar, Peter James, or Cigar Caddy.
Each of those sizes should be allowed to get through TSA security.
If you want something a little bit more portable and fashionable consider something like a Klaro leather case made for smaller amounts of sticks. Some of these have hard sided cases on the inside and still have room for your accessories including humidity pouches.
And of course, if you want to go even smaller and slimmer you could always go with the “finger cases.”
These usually pack a quantity of two to three cigars — perfect for those weekend getaways. Cases like this are easy to slip into sleeves in your backpack or sometimes even a coat pocket.
Some travel humidors feature a humidor in the the case, but others will require a humidity pouch, such as a Boveda Humidity pack.
Bovedas contain purified water, natural salts and odorless food grade thickener (the same type of thing that is used in salad dressing).
The potential problem with Bovedas and similar packs (gels, etc.) is that they will be considered a liquid and depending on how much liquid is in your pouch, that could be a problem for your carry-on.
The TSA liquid rule allows you to bring in liquid containers no larger than 3.4 ounces and these should be placed in a clear, quart sized bag.
Many of these humidity packs should be under that 3.4 ounce limit and so they should be okay. In fact, some people even keep these packs inside their Tupperware or travel humidor when going through security and have no problem.
But if you have a checked bag, you can avoid any potential issues by simply placing them in your checked bag.
How many humidity packs will you need when traveling?
For longer trips and for trips to dry areas such as the desert, consider packing extra just in case.
If you’re not exactly sure how the humidity will affect your travel humidor at your destination, it might also be a good idea to bring humidity packs with different relative humidity levels. (You can purchase packages with pouches of different levels.)
That way, you can play around with which ones help get your travel humidor in the needed sweet spot. See the graphic below.
Tip: Some also add small cedar planks to help with humidity and aroma.
Portable cigar hygrometers, whether digital or analog should not be a problem for TSA so make sure that you bring one along to monitor your travel humidor.
Keep in mind that if you are smoking your cigars within just a few days of departure, you may not need the humidity pouch.
You could simply store your cigar(s) in a tightly sealed Ziploc bag and place that inside of a hard sided container (Tupperware works).
Cigar cutters are allowed in checked baggage and “generally permitted” in carry-ons with the caveat that a TSA agent could confiscate them when bringing them in a carry-on.
For that reason, I would strongly advise you to always place your cigar cutter in your checked baggage.
If you absolutely have to bring it in your carry-on, consider purchasing a cheaper one that you wouldn’t mind getting thrown out. The cheap disposable ones can also be a good option.
Lighters & matches
Lots of cigar aficionados love to use ultra-hot torch lighters from makers like Xikar, Jetline, and Visol for their intensity, precision, and ability to withstand outdoor conditions.
Unfortunately, these cannot be brought as a carry-on or in your checked bag.
According to the FAA, when traveling on a commercial airline you can bring one lighter that uses a flammable gas (butane) or that uses a flammable liquid (Zippo-type of lighter).
Some of these like Zippos are known to affect the flavor of cigars but butane may not.
You are allowed to bring disposable and Zippo lighters without fuel in checked bags but there must be no traces of fuel or vapor inside the lighters. If you go that route, it’s a good idea to leave a note by your lighters explaining that they are 100% empty.
If you do plan on bringing non-empty lighters in your checked bags this is possible but you need to comply with the Department of Transportation exemption.
This exemption allows you to bring up to two of your disposable/Zippo lighters in checked baggage if they are properly enclosed in a DOT approved case.
These are basically special airtight containers that will help reduce the risk of transporting non-empty lighters.
If you want to ditch the lighter and go a little bit more old-school with matches you’ll be happy to know that one book of safety (non-strike anywhere) matches is permitted as a carry-on item. No matches are allowed in checked baggage.
When using wooden matches for your cigars, it’s a good idea to wait to expose the cigar until after the sulfur burns off to better preserve the flavor.
Some cigar lovers decide it’s best to just take a long their desktop humidors. If you go this route, you want to check your hygrometer religiously because your humidor will acclimate to the different environments.
Make sure that you are aware of the Customs Duty as it relates to bringing cigars back into the US.
Specifically, if you don’t want to exceed the amounts specified in the personal exemptions, this means you cannot bring more than 100 cigars if arriving from other than a beneficiary country and insular possession.
In 2016, things opened up with Cuba and cigars were allowed to come in as the CBP stated:
On October 17, 2016, the Office of Foreign Asset Control relaxed restrictions so authorized travelers, arriving direct from Cuba, are now able to bring Cuban merchandise for personal use back to the United States
Former President Trump changed things when he was in office and in 2020 a ban resumed on Cuban cigars.
Per the CBP, the current policy for Cuban cigars as of 2022 is the following:
- Authorized travelers may no longer return to the United States with alcohol and/or tobacco products acquired in Cuba as accompanied baggage for personal use
- Persons authorized to travel to Cuba may purchase alcohol and tobacco products while in Cuba for personal consumption in Cuba.
- Persons subject to United States jurisdiction may purchase or acquire Cuban-origin merchandise, including alcohol and tobacco products, while in a third country for personal consumption outside the United States.
So you can purchase and consume Cuban cigars for personal consumption while in Cuba or while in a different country but you cannot bring them back to the US.
Smoking cigars in the airplane cabin
Hopefully, you are aware that smoking anything (including vapes) anywhere inside the airplane cabin, including the lavatory is 100% illegal.
While the aviation industry does have a history of allowing smoking on planes, that is no longer the case.
Smoking on a plane is just not worth it no matter how big of a craving that you get.
And just in case you were wondering, there are smoke alarms in the plane bathrooms.
I talk more about that interesting history in this article focused on bringing cigarettes through TSA; feel free to give that a read.
If you’re planning on bringing some whiskey or other type of alcohol to your herf, TSA has some very specific rules on alcohol.
You can bring your own mini bottles in a lot of cases but you need to be mindful of the alcoholic content because TSA/FAA does put some strict limitations on those.
We put together a comprehensive guide that will tell you everything you could possibly want to know about taking alcohol on a plane so be sure to check that out.
Cigar lovers can bring their cigars on a plane in either carry-on or checked baggage. However, I strongly recommend you to bring your cigars in your carry-on to preserve the quality of your cigars.
Ideally, you will bring them in a hard sided container, such as a travel humidor and take some humidity pouches with you if you will be gone for several days or longer.
Don’t forget to place some of your accessories in your checked baggage like your cigar cutter and possibly your humidity pouches. And pay extra attention to the restrictions on lighters since they are not so straightforward.
And then finally, remember the limitations with customs and Cuban cigars when coming back into the US.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.