Published April 22, 2012
By now most travelers know the Transportation Security Administration’s carry-on rules: Don't bring bottles of liquids more than 3.4 ounces; don't wrap presents because they may be inspected; don't bring knives or sharp objects.
Judging by the endless list of what you cannot carry on board -- antlers, snow globes, Donny’s baseball bats, little Jimmy’s bows and arrows, Dad’s drills and drill bits -- but you might be surprised at what you can bring on board.
The TSA will allow unloaded firearms on board, for instance, but they must be checked, not kept in carry-on. What about camp stoves, parachute rigs, Grandma Sara’s remains or her knitting needles you just inherited?
Here are a host of things that you may want to take on a flight but never thought you could.
Antiques and Artifacts
So you just got off a fabulous anthropologic dig in Israel or the Sudan and want to bring a few rocks home, or you bought the Hope Diamond for a steal while in Cape Town, South Africa. It's perfectly fine to take these home with you on a plane.
In the good old days, I hauled several handmade Indian rugs on board with me – they weighed a ton, they were bulky (on an Air India flight were likely the least obtrusive items on board), but I was allowed to keep them close to me.
Buy antiques – small or large. You will be charged for the biggies and they will have to travel without you in the hold, but be sure to carry documentation such as receipts or export permits for any antiquities or art purchased abroad.
You can bring these as carry-on or checked luggage only if they are empty and squeaky clean so that there are no vapors or residue left. Emptying the fuel container will still leave telltale flammable odors. The safest bet is to ship the fuel containers to your destination ahead of time.
Crematory Containers and Deceased Remains
The TSA is working with funeral home associations to develop everlasting guidelines on these items. For now, yes, take the urn on board ,but consider putting Grandma in a wood or plastic container that can be successfully X-rayed, otherwise she will have to be screened as an explosive material or device. Out of respect for the deceased, screeners cannot open the container under any circumstance. This may be a moot point as some airlines prohibit cremated remains even in checked baggage; check with your travel agent.
Firearms and Ammunition
Yes, you can transport unloaded firearms, ammunition and firearm parts, but only in your checked baggage, which needs to be a locked, hard-sided container. To avoid never seeing this item again, declare the weapon at the check-in counter. Stick around during the screening in case you have to open the container. If you’re not there, the container will probably not get on the plane. Do not even think about bringing black powder or percussion caps used with black-powder type firearms aboard in checked or carry on.
Hunting and Fishing Equipment
Predictably you are not going to get on board with hunting knives or spear guns. But fishing rods, expensive reels or fragile tackle like flies can travel with you if they fit within the carrier’s size limitations. Leave the heavy-duty tackle in your checked baggage, as it is usually designed with troublesome hooks.
Knitting Needles, Needlepoint and Sewing
Yes, you should be able to bring knitting needles aboard, but who can imagine why they are deemed safer than butter knives? You might encounter a security officer who will decide the needles pose a threat to national security, while others may recognize it as a knitting needle. When it comes to more specialized items -- like a circular thread cutter -- just check it in.
TSA’s tip: bring circular knitting needles made of bamboo or plastic and blunt scissors and to make sure all the work you have already done is not confiscated on that shawl you are working on. Carry a crochet hook with yarn in case your knitting tools are surrendered at checkpoint.
If it fits the airline’s guidelines, bring it on board, but it will be X-rayed and possibly subjected to rigorous physical exams before traveling with you. The TSA recommends carrying the stringed instruments with you, while brass instruments ought to be checked in with your luggage along with, now this is crucial—clear instructions to someone with no musical background as to how to handle and repack it. Amplifiers and speakers can also be in carry-on.
Skydivers need to add 30 minutes to their arrival time because although you can carry on your skydiving rigs, with and without Automatic Activation Devices (AAD), security may choose to open a rig to inspect it. You must be present and will be allowed to assist with the inspection.
Pigs, Monkeys, (Companion or Service Animals)
More trendy than a canine is the Vietnamese pot-bellied pig, which had been legally classified as a "companion animal.” A pilot I spoke with recalled a pot-bellied pig was once allowed to travel with a passenger in business class, and while he had lots of dogs on flights without incident, this pig managed to pretty well destroy that section of the plane to the horror of other passengers.
Among other animals, the TSA Security Officers will likely not touch the monkey but ask handlers to remove the “Monkey Helpers’” diapers for closer inspection.
Boogie boards, wake boards can come along with you in carry-on provided the skeg fin is encased in protective material. Bowling balls and shoes may be considered oversized or overweight, but can go in carry-on, as is true for ice or roller skates, and skateboards without Hazmat stickers.
Scuba divers may have it easier according to Frontier Airline’s guidelines. They’ll accept one bag with fins, mask, snorkel, regulator, safety vest, spear gun, pressure gauge, tank harness, empty scuba tank (with the regulator valve completely removed), but leave the knives and spear guns behind or well-packed and checked in.
Dolls, stuffed animals go right through security, but sex toys will be inspected more closely. Take the batteries out because you won’t be able to survive the sheer embarrassment of them sounding off or buzzing at security or on board. If you’re into handcuffs or whips, beware: they will be noticed through the X-ray machines. Play it safe, pack them in your checked luggage as you will never get away with them.
Compressed Gas Cylinders
If the regulator valve is completely disconnected and the cylinder is no longer sealed so that it has an open end, drag it on board.