We all need to travel sometimes, and we don’t want to leave our favorite pens behind. Should you get on the airplane with a fountain pen, or are you doomed to using hotel ballpoints when you’re on vacation or flying for work? Read on for the answer to that question as well as how to fly with your pens.
Should You Fly With A Fountain Pen In Your Luggage?
Are Pens Allowed on Planes?
Yes! Fountain pens are allowed on airplanes. You might get stopped at security if you are carrying a case full of them in your carry-on, but they will just give them a quick look and send you on your way. This has certainly happened to us on flights to pen shows.
Do Pens Explode on Planes?
The short answer is that your fountain pen won’t explode on the airplane. They might leak a bit, but they won’t be damaged by a change in air pressure. All you ever risk is a little bit of a mess.
Here’s the longer answer. The real issue here is air pressure. Different altitudes have different air pressures and, as your plane gains altitude, it will pressurize the cabin to keep passengers comfortable (and conscious). This change in cabin pressure is what makes your ears pop and it’s also what can make your pen leak in the sky.
Whether you are using an ink cartridge, a converter, or an eyedropper-style pen, there is a bit of air inside the ink chamber of your pen. As the pressure changes around the pen, that air bubble will expand just like the chip bag or your neck pillow. The air will press on the ink around it, and if there is ink between your nib and the air bubble it will push that ink out of the nib.
Since we know why pens can be prone to leaking in flight, we can take steps to stop that, and you can absolutely travel with a fountain pen. You’ll just want to take a few precautions. I’ve flown with bunches of fountain pens without any issues by following the advice below.
Safely Flying With Fountain Pens
Carry-on or Checked Luggage?
Firstly, where should you carry your fountain pens when you fly? My advice is to keep it in your carry-on or in your personal item. There won’t be any difference in air pressure between the plane’s cabin and the cargo hold because they pressurize both. The difference is in who controls those two areas. You are holding your carry-on, but the checked bags are getting tossed in willy-nilly. They might even get lost. I don’t want to lose my pens, so I keep them with me.
Should I keep them nib-up in flight?
The second reason to keep your pens with you is that you can control how they fly. I’ve heard many people advise that pens should be kept nib-up during the flight if you can do so. It keeps any air bubbles at the top of the ink chamber, and that should minimize the amount of ink that could be pushed out of the nib and keep your fountain pen from leaking. So, common advice is to take out your pen case and put it in the seat pocket in front of you with the nibs pointing up.
Truthfully, I never do this when I fly. I just leave them in the carry-on on the floor or in the overhead bin. I’m more worried about leaving my pens on a flight than having them leak a little into their caps.
Fill Them or Empty Them!
The first of my key tips is that you should either keep your pens full or empty when you’re flying with a fountain pen. An empty pen obviously can’t leak into the cap. A full one probably won’t. If it does, that is more likely to be from being shaken around than from the air bubble expanding. Less air means less leaking. Cartridges are great for this sort of use because they are small, portable, and inexpensive. You can carry the pen empty, pop in a cartridge when you get to your destination, and then toss it before you get back on the plane. It’s a little wasteful, but it is a solution.
The second of my key tips is that you can just bag your pens if you’re worried about your fountain pen on an airplane. Storing your fountain pen in a zip-top bag won’t necessarily keep them from leaking a bit, but it will keep the rest of your carry-on from being inked if the ink escapes the cap. I’ve never had ink escape a cap, but it is an additional layer of security.
When You Land:
Travel of any kind can shake things about, and travel with a fountain pen is going to shake that pen. Even without the air pressure changes, you can get some ink in your cap or around the grip section of the pen. One of the first things I do, when I get to my destination, is to lay out some paper towels, uncap my pens, and then clean out the cap and wipe down the section just in case.
Some safe to use while you fly?
We’ve talked about storage, but what about when you’re in flight? I don’t generally use my fountain pens in flight, but there is no reason that you couldn’t do so. The “danger” has passed once the cabin has pressurized, and further leaks aren’t likely. There are a couple of kinds of pens that are even safer to use as your travel fountain pen.
First up is any Japanese-style eyedropper filler. These have a plunger in the barrel that screws down to seal off the section of the pen from the ink chamber. You’ll still have enough ink in the feed to write a page or two, and you can twist the tail cap to unseal the ink chamber slowly if you need more ink. Keep one of those little cocktail napkins handy in case a bit of ink leaks when you unseal it.
The most common of these types of pens right now are probably the OPUS 88 pens. They hold enough ink for a whole trip and they seal at the section.
Second, are vacuum fill pens that have the same sort of seal. TWSBI’s Vac700 pens seal at the section just like the OPUS 88 pens, and they will work the same way on an airplane. Designate one or two of those as your flying pen and write away. Just mind the turbulence. It’s bad for your handwriting.
What about inks?
One last thing: can you carry inks on an airplane? The answer to this one is short and simple. Yes. You totally can. They’re fine in your carry-on if you keep to the limits on liquids that TSA sets. They’re also fine in your checked luggage. The air pressure changes will not be severe enough to do anything to an ink bottle, but you will want to pad them well so that they don’t break if someone throws your suitcase on the tarmac. I also bag them in something watertight to avoid any sort of leak.
Traveling with your favorite pens isn’t a big deal. Take a couple of simple precautions, pack up your plane pen, and have a great vacation. Write someone a letter. Drop a postcard. Keep a journal. Remember that great meal, the friends you saw, and the things you did.