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Knitting at 35,000 feet

Good news! The US Transportation Security Administration no longer considers knitters to be a threat to your red eye flight to San Francisco. According to the "Permitted and Prohibited Items" list, knitting needles and crochet hooks are officially allowed in carry on baggage.

However, although you and I and the Tiny Diva know that the only real damage a metal 4mm needle can cause is no worse than that of a ballpoint pen, the final decision is always up to the discretion of the security screener. While it's unlikely you'll run into any issues traveling within the United States, the rules can be very different while flying to other countries. For example, Canada's security screeners could care less about what's done in the United States. If they complain about your Addi Turbos, flashing a copy of the Permitted Items list won't get you very far.

What should you do if you run into problems? The following four tips may not get your W.I.P. through security, but they will help you avoid any unnecessary complications.

Stay Low Key
Sharp metal objects are more likely to receive questions or be closely inspected. Consider traveling with bamboo or plastic needles that raise fewer flags. Also, your beautiful Point 5 jacket may not be the best project for your carryon; those 15mm needles can appear more like clubs than craft tools.

Follow the Rules
If your knitting kit contains scissors, pins, sewing needles, metal stitch holders, or anything else metallic, pack it in your checked baggage. On the plane, I like to carry a retractable vinyl measuring tape and a plastic yarn needle. It's nicer to snip threads with scissors, but in a pinch, I find most yarns break by hand, if you separate the plies first. It's not neat, but the ends can be trimmed later. While you might 'get away' with these items, they are questionable, and might cause problems for all your knitting gear.

Pack for Inspection
You may be randomly selected for a comprehensive hand search of your bags. In this case, it's handy to keep knitting projects individually packed in large, clear, freezer bags, or zippered vinyl bags. Airport security personnel can quickly see the contents without accidentally unraveling a ball or dropping stitches.

Be Prepared
In case of a problem, you'll be calmer if properly prepared. If traveling within your home country, carry a small stamped envelope, pre-addressed. Most security stations will let you mail the items home. If traveling internationally, use an International Reply Coupon instead of standard stamps, but make sure the value will cover the weight. If you have to surrender your needles, that plastic yarn needle can come in handy to put the stitches on a spare bit of yarn. At least you won't have to start that fingering-weight cabled masterpiece from scratch when you get home.

So, you've run into a problem. Airport Security informs you that your needles are considered lethal weapons. What should you do?

Stay calm. The screener will ask you the purpose of the object, or explain that it is too dangerous to fly. Resist the temptation to make jokes, complain, cry, or throw a temper tantrum. These reactions will get you nowhere. If travelling within the U.S., mention that you had read on the TSA's website that knitting needles are now allowed. Politely ask the security screener to explain the rules, but don't expect a satisfactory answer.

Although the situation is stressful, remember that it's not the end of the world. You may have to go on a 2 [or 12] hour flight without your knitting, but as soon as you land, you'll have a great excuse to go shopping! After all, you can really use a set of bamboo circulars in that size, right?

The one time I was restricted, I had passed through that same checkpoint with the same knitting five times that month. I mentioned this, but the screener kept repeating, "Too many sharp metal objects." I paid $3 to have my project stored for a week.

In the end, if you're questioned at all, you're probably not going to get on that plane with everything you packed. But as long as you're properly prepared, you won't lose anything permanently.


Amy Swenson lives in Calgary, Alberta, with her partner Jenn, their yorkie, Basil, and their cats, Cleo and Maddy.

Her overwhelming addiction to yarn is mostly paid for by her work as a website developer and functional analyst.

She documents her quest for dropped stitches, cheap airfares and Canadian permanent residency at Indigirl.