Have knitting, will travel: At the airport….


Image Details: ‘knit-plane’ by docpop, via Flickr

In view of our impending relocation to SA, I have been doing a little research into knitting on planes. There seems to be a plethora of beliefs when it comes to this pastime, and nobody can seem to agree on the answer, as a quick search on the Ravelry boards will attest. So I decided to do a little digging, as the last thing I want is some blunty security officer taking away my prized pins and current wip. As if I would stab someone with my new Knitpro DPNs. Have they any idea how much those things cost!!?

I will caveat at this point, that all information in this post is with reference to travel from the UK and I would strongly advise that you make your own enquiries if you are travelling elsewhere. I don’t think ‘but Shinybees said’ will cut it if you come up against some overly officious security type in Venezuela. That said, as you are about to find out, there really does not seem to be a definitive answer, and how that can possibly be, I have no idea. Surely, someone holds the trump card when it comes to the rules, right? Wrong! So, just in case, I have also added some top tips for avoiding attracting attention when going through security, courtesy of the Ravelry massive.


Cue the circus music…

I decided to kick off the search with the airport I am flying from and the airline I will be travelling with, in this case, London Heathrow and Virgin respectively. According to the Heathrow website, and, thankfully, it can’t get much clearer than this, it states under the heading ‘sharp items’, ‘What about knitting needles? Knitting needles are allowed.’  Whoop! There is no distinction between metal vs bamboo vs plastic or straight vs DPN vs circular or indeed sizes/lengths. KNITTING NEEDLES ARE ALLOWED! When I checked the Virgin website, however, there is no mention of knitting needles. It doesn’t specifically say they are not allowed, nor does it specifically say that they are, which I think is a bit of a cop-out, personally. It does say however, ‘Please note that regardless of these exceptions, security personnel are entitled to confiscate any item that may, in their reasonable opinion, be used or adapted to cause injury or incapacitation.’ So it depends how paranoid the security person is about what you are going to do with your knitting needles, I guess. Er…knit? I’m a knitter, not a fighter, baby!

Still in search of the answer to my question, I decided to check the Department for Transport rules. Because surely what they say goes, being the DfT? Well they say, categorically, that knitting needles are allowed, both in hand and hold luggage, again, with no reference made to type of knitting needle, so I consider that to mean all kinds are permitted.

What I find a bit bemusing, is how the DfT say knitting needles are fine, yet there are still a range of websites saying things to the contrary. I did a quick search of the official websites and the following airports allow knitting needles: Heathrow Stansted, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh – so basically all BAA airports. Be aware that the first return that comes up on a lot of searches on Google for ‘xxx airport knitting needles’ as it is not an official airport site and the information they give is in direct contradiction to what the official airport websites say.

The following airports did not clearly state whether knitting needles are allowed: Luton, Gatwick, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham (who, bizarrely, are the only airport I looked at to ban pointed hair slides!) and Leeds Bradford.

With regard to the airline, there are far too many to research and list here, so I recommend you look up the security policy for the airline you are travelling with.

How to get around it…

Top tips (and I accept NO liability from any event that happens as a result of following any of these tips. If you get in trouble, it’s your fault, I’m afraid!)

1.   Print out and take with you a copy of the airport’s security policy, along with the DfT policy. Having this ammunition may help your cause.

2.   BE NICE. We all know from past experience that at least one complete numpty in the queue in front of you will pack a bag full of things that aren’t allowed. A bag full of things that they will then argue they need for at least 10 minutes whilst the security chap/chapess has to explain v-e-r-y slowly are carefully the reasons why they aren’t allowed to take 15 litres of baby milk for a 2 hour flight because ‘it’s not the same in Spain, it’s like the tea bags’. This must get really bloody annoying on a 12 hour shift, so you need to be as nice as possible to avoid being bracketed with said irritating numptys. Getting arsey with the person trying to take away your needles is a normal reaction, but it is not the response we are looking for here. Just suck it up and try and charm your needles through.

3.   Try and take a small project. Knitting an Afghan on 3m long straights is just antisocial, quite frankly, and you probably deserve to have it confiscated. If you must take something big, at least take it on circulars: airline seats are not exactly known for their elbow room. Circular and smaller needles look much less threatening than large metal ones if security are going to take offence.

4.   I have seen some people suggesting that you are more likely to get through security with bamboo or plastic needles, and I believe the US Federal Transport types recommend you do this. I suppose it makes sense as they don’t look quite as menacing as metal ones.

5.   One Ravelry suggestion was to remove your wip on the cable (assuming interchangable needles here) and put the points in a pencil case to try and disguise them, then reassemble once on-board.

6.   Make sure your wip has a lifeline in it in case you do end up surrendering your needles, then all is not lost. You could take a pre-weighed and stamped addressed envelope, to post the project back to yourself if security won’t let you keep it and they let you out of line to put it in the post box!

7.   Finally…. don’t take anything you aren’t prepared to lose….

What not to do…

I have come across a couple of posts by people that advocate taking bits of partly sharpened dowel and wooden beads, hidden in pencil cases or in foldable umbrellas, which they then take into the toilet on the plane and assemble into a set of needles by gluing on the bead and then using sandpaper to sharpen the tip! This is bonkers – nothing is going to make you look more ‘terrorist maniac’ and less ‘harmless knitter type’ than this kind of malarkey, it is taking it way too far in my humble opinion.

Seriously people, it’s not worth it. Just get the Chat puzzle book from WH Smiths instead.

9 comments on “Have knitting, will travel: At the airport….

  1. Vero says:

    Oh you are SUCH an angel for putting this together!

    I can now dance in joy as we’re doing Heathrow – Montreal and both have clearly stated on their sites that all knitting needles are allowed.

    Here’s the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority’s non-permitted items list (which is linked from the Montreal airport site):

    1. Shinybees says:

      Glad you found it useful, it is very frustrating trying to get a definitive answer! Let’s hope we don’t get our needles confiscated! Thanks for the link to the Canadian rules – tip top!

  2. Becky says:

    I’m going on a cruise in October. I’m thinking of just packing my knitting in the checked baggage to do while we cruise for 4 days each way to our destination. I can read a book on the plane in order to make sure i have my knitting on the cruise. You didn’t find any information that it would be a problem in checked luggage, did you?

    1. Shinybees says:

      Hi Becky – absolutely no problem in checked baggage as far as I am aware from my research. I actually took 5 pairs of metal straights on the plane with me in hand luggage and there were no questions asked whatsoever at security or on the plane when I got them out. Hope you have a lovely time on your cruise – how exciting!

  3. Thank you so much for this, I wish I’d found it sooner,
    I am due to travel from Heathrow to Auckland via Hong King with Air New Zealand.
    I did exactly as you did, I checked with the airline, and with the airport and because the Hong Kong Airport page didn’t say anything about knitting needles, I emailed them advising that Heathrow had said it was okay and that ANZ had no problems, but I wanted to ensure that I would not cause a problem with their security. They got back to me a couple of days later to advise that my knitting needles would not cause a security issue.

    1. Shinybees says:

      No problem! It is SO frustrating trying to get the right information that I just had to vent about it. Have a great time in NZ! :o)

  4. cam_snapper says:

    Another idea for getting them through security – remove the WIP (or intend to start on the plane) and tie them into a womans hair do! Worked for me flying out of Australia recently – just had my girlfriend do her hair up and stick my needles through. Much less likely for them to notice hair accoutrements than something in hand luggage. (Though also, Australian security do allow needles anyway, but better safe than sorry.)

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