I always make it a habit to travel with at least one writing pen.
It’s a good idea to have a pen on you when traveling because you never know when you might need it, especially if you are on an international flight where you may have to fill out immigration and customs forms.
(No, flight attendants will not always offer up their pens.)
Lots of travelers wonder if they can bring their pencils, pens, and other writing utensils through TSA without any issues. And some even worry about pens leaking or exploding in the cabin, especially fountain pens.
Below, I’ll break down the TSA rules and give you some insight into how to best transport your pens and pencils on a plane.
Table of Contents
Can you take pens, pencils, and other writing utensils through TSA airport security?
Yes, you can take pens, pencils, and other writing utensils through TSA airport security as a carry-on or you can bring these on a plane in your checked baggage.
In some cases, you might want to take extra caution to prevent your pens from leaking and there are several practical steps you can take to minimize the odds of this happening.
Keep reading below from a practical tips!
Bringing pens and pencils as a carry-on
Pencils are completely fine to bring through airport security as a carry-on and this includes mechanical pencils (and refill cartridges).
@moorlandcat Mechanical pencils and lead refills are allowed in carry-on bags. Safe travels!— AskTSA (@AskTSA) October 12, 2022
Pens are also allowed in your carry-on although there are a few considerations you may want to think about.
Pens with water-based or oil-based ink technically do have liquid inside of them but TSA does not treat them the same as standard liquid.
For example, your pens do not have to be placed inside of a clear, quart-size bag because of the liquids rule.
Note that if you have a separate bottle of ink that will be treated as a liquid and will have to comply with the liquids rule meaning that it will have to be under 3.4 fluid ounces.
In addition, you can bring as many pens as you would like.
Sometimes TSA agents have been known to give resistance with certain types of pens such as MontBlanc fountain pens.
This is likely because they are not familiar with them and their eyes just see an odd, sharp object.
If you take a second to explain to them that it’s just a fountain pen they should not confiscate it. In some cases you might need to disassemble the pen but that’s probably rare.
(More on how to travel with fountain pens below.)
Same happened with my MontBlanc fountain pen. Said they could not see through it and it showed up as something I could stab with. They did let me take it out myself though and carefully handled it #TSA— Read-Write-Cook by Alice 🇳🇱 🇺🇸 (@WhiteCork19) September 10, 2022
These are special pens that come with additional features that could be used for things like self-defense or survival. Because there is a rule against sharp items, these pens are not allowed.
Bringing pens and pencils in your checked baggage
Bringing pens, pencils, and other similar items in your checked baggage should not be a problem at all.
You’ll just need to make sure that you take steps to prevent leaks for certain types of pens which we talk about below.
For ink bottles, make sure that you provide sufficient padding around the bottle to prevent it from getting roughed up. For example, some people use clothing to pad the bottle while others may even use something like bubble wrap.
Check out the article on traveling with glass for more tips.
Pens exploding or leaking on the plane?
One major concern you might have about bringing pens on a plane is that they could explode!
I can personally attest to flying with ballpoint pens and gel pens over the years.
I’ve been on hundreds of flights and almost always have at least a couple of ballpoint/gel pens in my backpack. Yet, I’ve never encountered any issues with a pen leaking or exploding.
Some pens that have been recommended for travel include:
- UniBall Vision Elite
- Pilot Precise V5/V7
- Pilot VBall
Maybe even consider a Fisher Space pen!
However, if you have certain types of pens like fountain pens they could be more prone to leaking (nib creep).
When traveling with a fountain pen, you want to make sure that there are no air bubbles present in the pen that could push ink up in the feed and cause a leak.
You can prevent this by making sure the pen is completely filled with ink or you can always play it safe and just go with an empty pen.
You can also minimize leaks by always traveling nib up. Some people might even clip the pens to the storage sleeve on the back of the seat in front of them.
If you minimize the air bubbles, keep the nibs up, and store your pins in a Ziploc bag, the chances of something going wrong should be very minimal.
However, some types of fountain pens like eye dropper pens can be the most problematic and present more issues with things like burping.
If you want to use your fountain pen while flying on the plane you should be able to do that although you need to think about how air bubbles could affect the pen.
Some people have filled their fountain pens whenever they get at cruising altitude and then emptied them back out before descending so that the rapid changes in altitude do not cause problems.
Descending should cause less issues since the air pockets would be shrinking but it would probably be a really good idea to avoid using the pen during takeoff because at that point you may not be sure how the pressure is going to affect the ink contents.
If you’re curious about pencil sharpeners, those are allowed in both your carry-on and check bag. While they do contain a sharp razor, because it is confined inside of the casing, it’s treated similar to a disposable razor.
Other types of writing utensils
You might also be curious about things like: markers, highlighters, colored pencils, etc.
TSA does not prohibit any of these items in your carry-on bag or checked bag.
As you can see, traveling with pens and pencils is relatively straightforward. There are no rules against bringing these in your carry-on or checked baggage in the vast majority of cases.
The biggest thing you need to be mindful of is your pen leaking but that only tends to be the case for certain types of pens such as fountain pens. For the most part, you can avoid these issues by traveling with a Ziploc bag and positioning the pens the proper way.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC. Read my bio.