I’m a huge fan of surprises when traveling and perhaps the biggest surprise of all that you could do with a romantic partner is the surprise proposal.
If you’re planning on proposing at a destination away from home then you may have to go through airport security which means that you’ll run the risk of TSA agents spoiling your surprise by calling attention to the engagement ring.
But there are a few steps you can take so that you can decrease the odds of your surprise getting spoiled.
In this article, I’ll outline several helpful steps so that you can get through TSA security and on to a plane without your future spouse finding out about the engagement ring and your proposal plans.
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How to bring an engagement ring on a plane without your partner knowing
Here are the different ways you can bring an engagement ring on a plane without your partner knowing.
- Hide it in your checked baggage – Risk of theft or getting lost and not recommended.
- Put it in your pocket – Only recommended if fine jewelry and going through walk-through metal detector; opt out of full body scanner so it doesn’t get detected.
- Put it in carry-on bag – Remove potentially suspect items from carry-on bag to reduce risk of close inspection; Alternatively, create distance in security line between you and your partner and then request private screening.
Below, I’ll go into much more detail for each of these different routes, so be sure to keep reading to find out how this can work.
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Putting the ring and checked baggage
Many people planning a surprise proposal are tempted to just put the engagement ring in their checked bag.
This will allow you to not have to worry about sneaking the ring through airport security. Plus, it’s easy to hide something small like a ring inside of a sock or some other clothing item that would naturally be found in your checked baggage.
The problem is that it is generally a bad idea to put anything in checked baggage that you could not live without.
There is always the risk of your bag getting lost or your contents getting stolen.
In reality, the odds of something happening are extremely low, so if you do go this route the odds are in your favor.
According to the Air Travel Consumer Report issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation, you face less than a 1 percent chance that a major airline will misplace your bags. But there is still the risk of theft which can happen at any stage of the baggage transfer process including baggage pick up.
For many people, even the smallest odds of something happening to their engagement ring are not acceptable.
So for these people, taking the engagement ring with them through airport security is the most comfortable and reasonable route to take.
Keeping the ring in your pocket
One way to get your engagement ring through airport security without your future fiancé noticing is to place the ring in your clothing such as in the pocket of your pants.
This should only be attempted if you know for sure that you will be going through a walk through metal detector (WTMD).
When going through a metal detector, small fine jewelry items like diamond rings (10K gold, 14K gold and above or platinum) usually do not trigger the metal detector unless the sensitivity is cranked up crazy high.
But notice I said just the ring. If you also have the case to the ring sometimes even the metal on that case can be enough to set off the metal detector.
Also, be sure that you remove all other metal items such as watches, belt buckles, and all other jewelry items. You want your overall metal load to be as low as possible.
If you are going through a full body scanner which is the tubular machine where you stand with your arms up in the air, that could absolutely detect something in your pocket as small as a ring.
In that case, you would NOT want to keep the ring on your person.
If you find yourself having to go through a full body scanner you can request to opt out.
You might be able to get through a metal detector or they might give you a thorough pat down instead but that could be a way to avoid the full body scanner detecting a small ring in your pocket.
During your alternative screening you could quietly mention to the agent that you have a secret engagement ring on you so that they don’t call further attention to it.
Packing the ring in your carry-on
If you don’t want to put the ring in your pocket you could also place it in an enclosed compartment within your carry-on. Go with a small carry-on that can fit under the seat in the plane.
It would probably be a good idea to put the ring in some type of case or pouch although I would avoid placing it in an obvious ring box just in case TSA pulled it out. (You may want to hide the ring box in your checked bag so that you have it later on when you pop the question.)
If you decide to keep the ring in your carry-on, then it might be a good idea to include a note attached to the ring case.
It could say something like: “engagement ring, please help keep a secret.”
The drawback to this of course is that if your future fiancé takes a look in your bag and finds the note, the surprise is obviously killed.
So you’ll need to be careful that your partner does not access your bag before going through security and remind yourself to destroy the note once you get through security.
You may also want to think about a few other things when bringing the ring through security inside your carry-on.
Decrease the odds of a random search
Sometimes when you go through TSA security, an agent is going to want to inspect your bag extra close. This could be a random thing or it could be triggered by something in your bag.
The key here is try to avoid placing things in your bag that could trigger a closer inspection. These would be the following items:
- Liquids (remove all liquids including empty bottles; comply with 3-1-1 Rule)
- Powders (avoid protein powders and other types of powders)
- Aerosol cans
- Electronics (avoid having electronics like large cameras, drones, lots of batteries, etc.)
- Sharp objects (scissors, etc.)
- Cash (avoid large amounts of cash)
- Vapes, lighters, etc.
The strategy here is to place all of those potentially suspect items in a separate bin or bag.
Heck, maybe even put them in the bag of your future wife/husband. By doing this, you can greatly reduce the odds of an agent taking a closer look at your bag containing the engagement ring.
The other thing you can do is to sign up for TSA Pre-Check.
You need to do this several months in advance before the trip to make sure that you get approved in time but this will provide you with many benefits that will make security much more of a breeze.
First, you often only have to pass through a traditional metal detector (as opposed to the invasive full-body scanners) and you also get to enjoy the following benefits:
- Shoes can stay on
- Belt can stay on
- Light jackets can stay on
- Laptops allowed to stay in bag
- Liquids can stay in bag
By having TSA Pre-Check, you may be once again decreasing the odds of having an agent closely inspect your bag and potentially spoil your proposal.
Create space in the security line
There have been plenty of times where Brad and I don’t go through security right after each other. Sometimes we head in separate lines and other times people just get between us. It’s no big deal it happens all the time.
As someone trying to sneak your engagement ring through security, you could just naturally drift apart in the security line so that you and your spouse are not going back to back through the checkpoint. Even better if you end up in different lines.
It’s often easy to create space when you get close to the security checkpoint.
Maybe you need to throw out some water last minute or perhaps you were taking extra time to takeoff your shoes and belt, etc.
Just move at sloth speed and you’ll be surprised how quickly you create some distance.
Being in separate lines will help just in case an agent does perform a close inspection on your belongings and spots the ring, because you will have a buffer zone from your partner.
It could also help you request private screening….
Ask for private screening
It’s possible that when going through airport security you can ask for a private screening. In fact, TSA even states this is a possibility when transporting jewelry:
If you are travelling with valuable items such as jewelry […] You can ask the TSA officer to screen you and your valuables in private to maintain your security.
In this case, you will not undergo the traditional screening and will be removed from the standard line to undergo a closer inspection.
You would presumably have enough private space to communicate to an agent that you are trying to get through security with an engagement ring and hopefully they will be understanding and work with you to help preserve your surprise.
This is something you could discretely request if you had created a buffer zone from your partner, as mentioned above.
After you get taken to the private screening and get done with it, you could just tell your partner that you were subject to some type of random screening. Go on a little TSA rant (“that’s your tax dollars at work, blah, blah”) and then go on with your day. Your partner will not suspect a thing.
The TSA proposal
In a worst case scenario, your engagement surprise could be ruined by TSA agent.
If your partner discovers your intentions to propose to them then maybe it would be worth to do an impromptu airport security proposal.
Some people would embrace the opportunity to just roll with the situation like this while others probably cannot imagine going through with it.
But this could at least be a last-resort option on the table if you wanted to turn lemons into lemonade.
Bringing your engagement ring through security at an airport is a little bit risky because there is always a potential that your surprise proposal could get ruined.
But if you take some of the factors above into consideration you can reduce the odds of ruining your surprise by a good degree.
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.