“Can I Take My Fountain Pen on a Plane?” – Some Stationery Travel Tips
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If you’re anything like me, then you have an unnatural attachment to your pens. Your pens are carefully chosen and treasured writing instruments. But when it’s time to travel, it can be hard to know whether you can take your good pens with you, especially when you travel by air. So I’m here to help you with the question “Can I take my fountain pen on a plane?” – plus a few extras for good measure.
Types of Pens
Since I recently traveled by plane, I thought I’d make it into a little experiment and bring along several types of pens to see how they handled the trip. There are three general categories of pens that I brought along: fountain pens, felt tip pens, and ballpoint pens.
Pentel Aquash Water Brush Pens (the last two aren’t technically fountain pens, but they hold ink the same way)
Felt Tip Pens:
Uni-ball Vison Elite Rollerball pens
Why Do Pens Cause a Fuss During Air Travel?
Lots of people generally know that there can be a problem with pens on a plane, but not many know exactly why. If you know the reason why airplanes cause pens to leak, you can have a better idea of which pens you should bring along. So why does it happen?
When the plane climbs in altitude, the air pressure drops. By the time you are at cruising altitude, the air pressure in the cabin is very low. Your pen, on the other hand, has a barrel full of ink that is adjusted to ground air pressure. That means that in order to equalize to the new atmosphere, your pen will push out any air and often push out some ink, resulting in a mess. This problem can hit just about any kind of pen, but it’s more likely to affect pens with more liquidy ink. That means fountain pens, which have almost water-like ink, are easy targets for high altitude mishaps.
Fountain Pen Anatomy
Before we jump into the results of my pen experiment, let’s talk about the guts of a fountain pen so you can get a better idea of where the problem lies. The converter is where the ink is stored, and the ink flows through the feed to the nib where you write. For the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, there’s a brush instead of a nib, but the principle is still the same.
The ink has to be watery for it to flow smoothly. If it were more viscous, it would constantly get jammed and gunky. But that thin quality of the ink means that it will readily flow right out the nib when you introduce it to high altitudes. How do you prevent this?
Firstly, you should not write with it on the plane, especially during the ascent or descent. Just avoid that all together unless you enjoy being covered in ink. Secondly, either have the converter completely full (no air to decompress) or empty (no ink to leak) while you travel. Thirdly, keep the pen nib up while you travel. The ink will have a much harder time dripping out of your pen that way! Lastly, just play it safe and store your pens in a plastic bag. If one leaks, you can simply rinse if off when you get to your hotel and there’s no harm to your pen at all. It will save you plenty of stress and keep you from worrying about it while you fly.
What Pens Can Travel on a Plane
Let’s go through the pens I brought and talk about what happened with each one.
Can I take my Pilot Metropolitan on a plane?
You can bring it on the plane, but be cautious. Each fountain pen I brought had different colored ink so I could tell which ones did the deed, and the Pilot was the culprit. I had filled it up the night before I traveled, but I wrote my Morning Pages while I waited at the terminal. Perhaps that was enough to inject air into the converter and make it leak. However, it should be noted that it did not leak on the trip home despite only being partially full. The air travel gods smiled upon me that day, I guess!
Can I take my Noodler’s Ahab on a plane?
I had no troubles with my Ahab whatsoever. Both the trip there and the trip back went perfectly. I even used my Ahab during the conference, so it had a bit of air in the converter when I flew home.
Can I take my Pocket Brush Pen on a plane?
Sure! I brought mine along at it did fine. When I was rinsing the Metropolitan’s oopsie off my fountain pens at the hotel, I ran some water through the caps of all three pens. The Pocket Brush had a little bit of black ink come out of the cap, but nothing escaped into the body of the bag. Either it only leaked a tiny bit or the cap snapped on tight enough that there was no escape. Either way, there was no problem.
I will note that when I used it in Salt Lake City (which has high altitude), it ran really thick. The ink flowed way easier than normal, which made it actually bleed through the pages of my Leuchtturm a bit. That’s something to keep in mind!
Can I take my water brush pen on a plane?
Since the water brushes hold water and not ink in the barrel, it’s not a big deal if a few drops escape. So these are perfectly safe to bring with! Like the Pocket Brush, they flowed super strong, especially on the plane. I tried painting with my Winsor & Newton travel watercolor palette during the flight, but the paint and water acted very weird on the page. I can’t really describe it except to say that the watercolor sketch was a mess and I gave up pretty quickly. No idea what that was about, but it’s something to note for the traveling artists out there!
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Can I take my Staedtler Triplus Fineliners on a plane?
I have no problems to report with my trusty Staedtlers!
Can I take my Tombow Dual Brush Pens on a plane?
The only Tombow I brought gave me no problems at all. I used it in Salt Lake City and it worked fine, no flow issues to speak of.
Can I take my Tombow Fudenosuke brush pens on a plane?
My Fude didn’t leak or give me any trouble during the flight. I did, however, have the same high altitude flow and bleeding issues that I mentioned before, so you might not want to use these on the plane itself. The ink flow is back to normal now that I’m back home in the lowlands, so it seems to be a temporary problem.
Can I take my Zebra brush pen on a plane?
The Zebra did not leak, but it was susceptible to the same flow problems while I was in Salt Lake City. As with the others, it is back to normal now that I’m home.
Can I take my Pigma Micron pen on a plane?
Yep! There’s no problem to report here. The Microns did great.
Can I take my ballpoint pen on a plane?
None of the ballpoint pens I brought had any trouble whatsoever. Everything wrote fine when I was in Salt Lake City and when I got home. However, it is worth mentioning that these pens can have the same leaking issues as fountain pens. While I did not have any problems, they might still give you grief. Just stick them in a plastic bag to be safe!
Have Fun and Stress Free Travels
Whether you are going to need your pen for business meetings, documenting your vacation, or to keep yourself busy while you wait for hours a terminal, it is always nice to have a pen with you. And if you are a curator of fine pens like myself, it can be tough to bring only one with you on your journey. Just remember that pens need a bit of extra thought and care while you travel, so take the steps necessary to protect yourself from an inksplosion. You don’t want to find that your purse is ruined or your pants have a fun new stain on them while you’re balancing boarding passes and bags. So plan ahead, be prepared, and you’ll have fantastic adventures with your trusty pens!
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I’m thinking about bringing my nib pen and a small bottle of ink with me on my carry on. Do you think that would be alright?
As long as the ink is sealed up tight, it should be fine! If you want to be extra sure, though, you could put it in a ziplock bag.
I have had many issues with fountain pens leaking and I solved the problem with a short piece of PVC pipe that has a cap glued on one end and a tight fitting cap on the other end. I carry my pens in these and have never had an issue since – since = 30 years and lots of air miles.
This post was incredibly useful!! Thank you so much.
I’m so glad it was helpful for you Tara! Better than finding out the hard way, right?
Will I have problems with my Aurora Sole 88 and Sheaffer PFM pens when I am traveling on a plane? Thanks.
Hello Norman! I’m afraid that I have never used those particular pens before, so I don’t have any firsthand knowledge of how they behave in flight. However, I think it’s always a good idea to be cautious with all fountain pens since the ink is more liquidy than typical pens! I would suggest you either carry your pens in a plastic bag or empty them of ink completely before the flight and fill them again when you arrive at your destination. I hope that helps!
My TOMBOW FUDENOSUKE BRUSH PENS did not do so hot on my plane ride. The ink bubbled out and still was leaking afterwards. It it worth noting that I was traveling to Peru (high altitude). I was thinking about taking my pens to Scotland this May & your post gave some great advice. Thanks!
Oh no Nathalie! Sorry to hear about your Tombows 🙁
Hi! I was wondering if you had all of your pens in the hand luggage or the checked-in bag? And aren’t liquids supposed to be in a separate ziploc (like cosmetics)? I always worry about what I should put in the liquids’ bag.
Hey there, Alex! I kept my pens in my carry-on bag. Liquids are supposed to be in a separate bag like you said, but I figured something so small as a pen barrel would go unnoticed. And I was right! I suppose a TSA agent could technically seize it, but it would have to be a pretty persnickety agent to get in a huff over something as small as that. I hope that helps!
Sorry my comment is so far after your original post but I just found your blog last month. As someone who doesn’t fly much but lives at a mile high in Denver, CO I often face pen troubles of all kinds from leaking to goopy clogging due to altitude changes. Even a day trip to the foothills for an outdoor art session can be enough to make an inky mess in my bag. Thank for your care in preparing this article. I always recommend the plastic baggie just to be safe.
Thanks for reading Jamie! It’s amazing how a little change in altitude makes a mess of them, isn’t it?
I just wanted to add that I once brought Pigma Microns onto a very high altitude flight, and they ended up leaking quite a bit. It was only one of the pens for some reason – the 0.3 – but I felt it worthy of mentioning just in case.
Thank you so much for sharing that Sarah. It’s really good to know that even though I didn’t have any problems with the microns, you may still want to reconsidering bringing them on a plane!