Or to be more precise – travelling with knitting needles in your carry on.
I travel a lot with my knitting both domestically in New Zealand and internationally. In 2017 I think I flew on 18 long haul flights to Australia, South East Asia and Europe, and a similar number of New Zealand domestic flights. Probably 90 % of the time that comes up in conversation, someone usually says “I thought you weren’t allowed to knit on planes”. Once upon a time, not long after 9/11, there was a period of time when knitting needles were banned on flights particularly international long haul ones. That lasted for maybe a couple of years amongst Western countries – Australia was the last to lift its ban around the end of 2010 (from memory), but somehow that ban seems burned in the public consciousness in a way that other, still current bans are not.
The decision about what can safely be taken on an aeroplane is a matter for each country’s aviation security – doesn’t matter which airline you are flying. If an airline says its OK to have knitting needles but you are flying out of a country where local aviation security doesn’t allow it – you wont be taking your knitting on board. Likewise the reverse applies – if an airline doesn’t want you to have knitting needles on board and aviation security is ok with it, security will let your needles onto the plane. In this case the cabin crew of your flight may ask you not to take them out of your bag during the flight. Quite apart from this, occasionally cabin crew may ask you not to knit on take-off or landing – basically so if something happens there aren’t pointy objects flying around. I have been asked to put knitting away maybe half a dozen times and usually there is some turbulence expected.
There is always the odd exceptions – aviation security in any country may increase restrictions at any given point based on a particular level of threat or an increased security requirement. An example of this recently was a ban on laptops and electronic devices from the Middle East to the United States which while partially lifted has led to new rules (while not universal always be sure to have enough charge to be able to turn them on if asked). Be aware of what is going on that could lead to heightened security when you are flying e.g. religious holidays, major political or sporting events. For instance, I limit myself to a single project at Christmas after getting my needles visually checked both ways when I had three things in my carryon in a flight from Perth to Kuala Lumpur at Christmas a couple of years ago.
Anyway as aviation security is a function of typically federal governments, last week I went for a bit of a hunt for the definitive sources across as many countries as I could find, and I have linked them here. As long as the link stays live it should be the most up to date version of information and hopefully provide you with some reassurance that yes you can take your knitting. If you are going to a country not on the list search their aviation security information – do not rely on the airline information as often website content is out of date.
To look as benign as possible wood and plastic are easier options. If you are using interchangeables having cable caps available is a useful precaution (and a lifeline in lace). Don’t try and conceal your knitting – assume you are allowed to have it with you, and if for some reason knitting is on the watch list that day have a back up plan. If I have metal needles I will sometimes pull the project bag out so it’s sitting separately on the tray through XRay as the couple of times I have had queries its been because of overlaps between the cable and other things in my bag such as charging cables.
New Zealand Aviation Security – Knitting needles are on the permitted list assuming they are accompanied by yarn. We appear to be the only country that mentions that!
Scroll down this list – knitting and crochet needles are on the list of specifically permitted items
As always the handy gov.uk has the definitive list with Yes for knitting needles
They are in the Sharp Objects category but at time of posting a definite Yes (although note the proviso at the top of the page that decisions rest with the TSA supervisor on the day for anything at all.)
Here this an omission rather than a permission – knitting needles are not on the list of prohibited items.
Changi Airport (one of my favourite airports in the world) is one of the few countries where it doesn’t say Yes but they are not on the list of prohibited items. Changi really likes your metal (keys, loose change etc) out of your bag as it goes through X Ray at the security check at the gate, so its an airport I either tell them I have knitting or put the project bag in the tray separately if I am using metal needles.
If you are travelling to Europe border security appears to be managed across the EU and this link is current. There may be changes in the future if member states re-establish national border control.
I need to give credit to this post for helping me rapidly find a number of the links here. Note that the writer’s trigger was having an issue with knitting needles in Mexico. A friend of mine had a problem taking knitting to Vietnam and back from Kuala Lumpur in January this year. This could have been due to a heightened security and/ or a change in how security is being managed there (when I went looking for their rules it was in a state of flux how it was being managed).
Overall my advice would be:
- Assume knitting will be okay
- Don’t make any attempts to conceal it – but you don’t need to ask permission either.
- Pack you carry on so your knitting is easy to pull out (which you will want to be able to do anyway) and preferably in a part of the bag away from cables/chargers etc.
- Keep it to a couple of projects maximum and avoid your best needles if you can. While I use wood/acrylic for garments I use metal for socks. I personally prefer fairly mindless knitting on a plane so I don’t need to check the pattern often. Lifeline lace or complex patterns if you do take them.
- If I am going to an unfamiliar country I usually checkout a site like SafeTravel for any travel advisories that could potentially cause a heightened security alert. It doesn’t stop me taking my knitting but I am a bit more thoughtful about what I take in the very unlikely event I have to take it off the needles.
- Depending on how the flow is working and how busy it is at the X Ray, commenting as you pass it through that you have knitting in your bag doesn’t hurt. I have heard the person pause the image and then say “oh that’s the knitting” and a couple of times it has been opened to verify that’s what it was – once for a training exercise for a new staff member.
Last but not least aviation security is really important for us to fly safely. You know you are not a threat but they actually don’t. Being relaxed and letting them do their job even if you are unlucky enough to be the one in 10,000 travelling knitter who gets pulled is part of keeping us all safe. You could politely ask why its a problem if you are in a country where needles are on the permitted list, keeping in mind that a threat on the day (or even another passenger on the plane requiring additional security) will always supersede the overarching policy.
Just as an aside – as knitters its easy to assume that it is the knitting that has led security to ask us to open a bag. Here’s a short list of things that have tripped me or a family member up in the last few years:
- small Swiss Army knife due to the blade (was confiscated)
- small embroidery scissors (confiscated)
- a roll of coins in a float bag – that took three passes to figure out what it was.
- solid bracelets in a jewellery pouch
- a lipstick not being pulled out as seperate fluids for an international flight.
And if you are transiting at Changi or Kuala Lumpur the final security check is at the boarding gate and they wont let you carry a full water bottle through even if you bought it at the dispensing machine 100metres before the gate.