Some items are completely prohibited on planes, such as flammables and explosives. But what about knives? Can you bring knives on planes and pack them in checked luggage? Which knives are allowed and which are banned (for instance, kitchen knives, swiss army knives, antique/decorative knives, e.t.c.)?
In this article, we’ll answer all of these questions, in addition to covering other related topics, such as international knife laws, how to pack knives in luggage, how to protect them from being stolen, and more.
Warning/Disclaimer: This is not legal advice. We’re only travel enthusiasts who enjoy talking about personal experiences. Knives in luggage are serious because bringing the wrong type of knife can get you arrested. If you’re looking for legal advice, you should talk to an attorney, or contact the authorities/airports/customs.
Rather watch a video? In this short one-minute video, we explain the most basic things and go into more detail in the full article.
Can You Bring Knives on Planes in Hand Luggage?
In 2001 TSA (Transport Security Agency) stepped up their security, and now all items that can be used as weapons are banned from cabin luggage, including knives. The only types of knives that are allowed on planes are round-bladed or plastic butter knives. This means that you can freely pack them inside your carry-on, personal item, or bring them in your pocket when going through airport security. Additionally, there are no limitations on how many knives you can bring, and there are no requirements on concealing/packing them, as long as they’re butter knives with a round blade or made from plastic.
In 2013, TSA announced that soon knives with small blades will be allowed in cabin baggage, such as pocket knives and small tactical knives. However, the rule was never actually implemented. You can still find a few articles with contradicting information based on that update, but as of right now, only round-bladed or plastic butter knives are allowed in cabin luggage.
Can You Bring Knives in Checked Luggage?
According to the TSA, you can bring any type of knife in your checked luggage, including death stars, swiss army knives, and even swords. TSA doesn’t limit the blade length, curved blades, concealed blades, or anything of that kind. The only requirement from the TSA is that all sharp objects must be safely packed inside, so the TSA agents can safely check the contents of your bag. This means that you always have to safely secure the blade to avoid accidental injuries that could occur while performing an inspection. If an agent is injured because you didn’t properly secure your knife, you could get sued.
However, it’s important to note that TSA is only a single regulator for restricting items in luggage. A lot of knives are banned from checked luggage by other airline regulators, customs, and other authorities.
For example, let’s look at butterfly knives, which are illegal in most U.S. states. The TSA doesn’t really care if you’re carrying a butterfly knife. But if the TSA security officer were to recognize that this type of knife is illegal in that specific state, he could call the local police to have you arrested for carrying an illegal knife. So in short, TSA doesn’t enforce knife laws but the police do.
Do You Have to Declare Knives in Checked Luggage?
Officially, you aren’t obligated to declare knives in your luggage within the U.S. because knives are classified as sharp objects. The TSA requires you to declare firearms, large quantities of medications, and other items, but not sharp objects. However, we would advise that you voluntarily declare knives at the check-in desk, especially if you’re flying internationally. Airline employees can sometimes misunderstand or forget the rules and some countries require all knives to be declared.
Honestly, knives are considered a gray area. Although you don’t need to declare a knife in checked luggage within the U.S., we’ve heard people say that their checked baggage wasn’t loaded on the plane because security officers found an undeclared knife in the suitcase. Most people who travel with knives always declare them, and they report having no problems. So even though you may not need to, we recommend that you always declare knives – it isn’t hard to do anyway.
The Types of Knives That Are Legal/Allowed in Checked Luggage
Pocket Knives/Swiss Army Knives (Allowed)
Pocket knives (Swiss Army Knives) are generally legal worldwide. We haven’t found a single state/country where pocket knives are banned, so you can safely pack them in your checked luggage.
Kitchen Knives/Toolsets and Chef Knives (Allowed)
Kitchen knives and kitchen knife toolsets are perfectly fine to pack inside checked luggage. It’s a very common type of knife, and you shouldn’t get into any trouble packing them in your checked luggage. That said, you should be very careful when packing expensive kitchen knife sets because they might get stolen from checked luggage.
Antique Knives and Blunt Decorative Knives (Allowed)
Most countries will allow antique and decorative knives in your checked baggage. However, some countries will not. If the antique knife has a long or curved blade, you could get into serious trouble in some countries, even if it’s blunt. So, when you’re bringing antique or decorative knives, always check with the local authorities before packing them, including layover/connecting countries. You should also have insurance on your valuable knives!
Small Fixed Blade Knives with Short Blades (Allowed)
Most knives with a short, fixed blade that isn’t concealed, will be allowed in checked baggage. This heavily depends on the state/country though. You should check with each state/country you’ll be traveling through, and look up the laws for “concealed carry” there. Some countries limit knives to 3 inches in length, some to five or six inches, and some don’t have any blade length limits. Here, you can find the knife laws for each U.S. state.
Damascus Knives (Allowed)
Damascus knives are essentially treated identically to fixed blade knives, which means that TSA allows packing Damascus knives in checked luggage. That said, knives above a certain blade length are banned in some states and countries. Luckily though, Damascus knives usually fall below this limit, so most of them are legal.
Fake Plastic Toy Knives and Swords (Allowed)
In regards to toy knives, toy swords, and plastic knives TSA is somewhat unassertive. On their website, TSA states that toy weapons should be packed in checked luggage, but some of them might be allowed in hand luggage as well.
If the toy knife is sharp or resembles a real knife, it should only be packed in checked luggage. Blunt plastic knives that obviously look like toys might be allowed in hand luggage as well, but it isn’t certain and it always rests on the final decision of each security officer.
Balisong Trainer Squiddy Knives (Allowed)
Balisong trainer knives, also called Squiddy knives are banned in hand luggage but they’re allowed in checked luggage. According to TSA, they fall under the category of “fake knives and toy knives resembling real knives”, which are banned in hand luggage.
Balisong trainer knives are legal in all US states. They’re essentially plastic butterfly knife replicas without a sharp blade, made for people to practice butterfly knife tricks. That said, they aren’t legally specified in a lot of countries, so if you’ll be flying internationally, they might be confiscated and you might get in trouble.
The Types of Knives That Are Illegal to Travel With
Some types of knives are banned in most countries and U.S. states. Most commonly, they’re banned because they have a concealed blade, because the blade is too long, or because the knife creates stab wounds that are worse than what a regular knife would make. You should avoid packing these types of knives and seek other ways of transporting them, such as USPS or FedEx.
Flick Knives (Illegal)
Flick knives, other known as switchblades or automatic knives, have a concealed blade that shoots out when a button is pressed. These knives are banned in a lot of states and countries, so we wouldn’t recommend traveling with them.
Butterfly Knives (Illegal)
Although butterfly knives are really cool and could be an amazing gift/souvenir, they’re banned in most states and countries.
Misleading Knives Resembling Different Objects, like a Pen or a Lighter (Illegal)
Lighter knives or spy-type knives that look like pens make up for really amazing gifts, but unfortunately, they’re banned almost everywhere. So don’t pack them inside your luggage or you could get into trouble.
Throwing Stars, Death Stars, and Throwing Knives (Illegal)
Knife throwing is essentially a sport at this point, and people who practice it face serious difficulties when traveling to contests because throwing knives and death stars are banned in most states. We’ve heard people using rubber throwing stars and knives for this purpose, which are legal.
Push Daggers (Illegal)
Push daggers have a perpendicular handle, instead of a regular, parallel one. They were popular a few decades ago among civilians as a personal weapon of defense. That said, they’re banned in a lot of countries and states, so don’t try packing them inside your luggage.
Fixed Blade Bowie/Hunting Knives with long blades (Illegal)
Although generally, most fixed blade knives are legal, some with longer blades or rugged edges are banned in a lot of states and countries. Always check with the authorities before packing one in your luggage.
Machetes and Swords (Illegal)
Just a few decades ago, Machetes and Swords were generally allowed in homes for self-defense, but now they’re banned in a lot of countries and states. For instance, in the UK, most machetes are banned completely because they’re longer than 50cm in length. In a lot of U.S. states and other countries, where they’re used as a tool for bush-chopping, they’re legal. So be sure to read the laws before you decide to pack one in your luggage.
Can You Bring Cutlery (Silverware) on Planes?
According to the TSA, cutlery is allowed in checked and carry-on luggage, with the exception of knives in hand luggage. Metal forks and spoons are allowed in hand luggage as well as checked luggage, without any limitations.
If you’re planning on carrying a cutlery set that includes knives, you should either put the whole set in your checked luggage or only the knives and keep the rest in your hand luggage. You should probably opt for the second option if the cutlery set is expensive, as sometimes items tend to “disappear” in checked luggage.
What Are the Knife Rules for International Flights?
When you’re traveling internationally, you should check the knife rules for:
- The airline regulator (for instance, TSA in the United States or TCCA in Canada.)
- All the countries/states you’ll be flying through. For instance, if you’re flying from London (UK) to Dallas (U.S., Texas) with a connecting flight in Atlanta (U.S., Georgia), you have to check the knife laws for the UK, Texas, and Georgia.
Writing knife laws for each country and state is impossible for us to do, so we’ll just cover the most popular airline regulators. You can find the knife laws for some popular countries over here:
- United States knife laws for each state
- United Kingdom knife laws
- Canada knife laws
- Australian knife laws
TSA (Transport Security Administration/USA) Knife Rules
TSA, which controls airlines operating within the U.S., allows round-bladed plastic butter knives in hand luggage. All other knives have to be safely packed inside checked luggage, and no particular type of knife is banned.
IATA (International Air Transport Association/Worldwide) Knife Rules
CAA (Civil Aviation Authority/UK) Knife Rules
CAA, which controls airlines operating within the UK, allows penknives (pocket knives) with blades shorter than 6 cm (2.4 inches) in hand luggage but has banned multitools, even if the blade length on them is less than 6 cm. All other types of knives can be packed in checked luggage without any limitations.
TCCA (Transport Canada Civil Aviation) Knife Rules
TCCA, which controls airlines operating within Canada, allows knives with blades shorter than 6 cm (2.4 inches) in hand luggage, and all other types of knives have to be packed inside checked luggage.
CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Administration/Australia) Knife Rules
CASA, which controls airlines operating within Australia, has banned all knives from hand luggage. You’re free to pack them inside checked luggage.
CAAC (Civil Aviation Administration of China) Knife Rules
CAAC, which controls airlines operating within China, has banned a lot of knives, even from checked luggage. Although they haven’t mentioned much, you can check their knife rules over here. We wouldn’t recommend bringing any type of knife there in your checked baggage unless it’s a basic pocket knife or a kitchen knife.
How to Pack Knives in Checked Baggage
Here’s what the TSA says about packing knives in checked luggage:
“Any sharp objects in checked bags should be sheathed or securely wrapped to prevent injury to baggage handlers and inspectors.”
Your goal is to safely secure your knives so that when the TSA inspectors screen them, they don’t have to open your bag to double-check. If your bag is checked and the knife is packed unsafely, your knife could get confiscated, or you could get sued if the security agent accidentally gets injured.
Here are a few techniques that you can use to safely pack your knives in checked luggage:
- Some people pack their knives in a metal/wooden container, locked with a TSA-friendly lock;
- If you don’t have a container, I’d recommend at least taping the blade with scotch or duct tape;
- If you’ve packed boots or shoes, you can wrap your knife in socks or underwear, and stuff the contents inside the boots;
- Create a DIY container: Cut out two pieces of cardboard, put your knife between them and tape the two pieces together with some tape.
Read Next: 80 Packing Tips For International Travel
How to Keep Your Knife from Getting Stolen from Your Checked Luggage
It’s a well-known fact that many airport employees are on the lookout for easy-to-steal, highly-priced items, such as knives and perfume. Although I’ve never had anything stolen from my bag, most people who travel frequently have. And you basically can’t do anything about it, as most commonly, airlines won’t take responsibility.
For instance, one time my girlfriend had her perfume “mysteriously evaporate” in her checked bag. (Nothing smelled of perfume, so most likely someone just poured the contents in another container.)
So how do you combat the theft of your precious knives? First of all, never pack knives that you’re afraid to lose or are irreplaceable. If your knife is valued at over a hundred dollars, I’d recommend purchasing separate insurance for the contents of your bag or using FedEx.
When it comes to packing, you can’t adequately protect your knives. What you can do is make it harder for the thieves to get to your blade, which will decrease the odds of your knife getting stolen (Hopefully, because they’re too lazy.)
Here are some things that you could do:
- If your knives have a hole in them, use a copper wire to tie your knife to the frame of the suitcase.
- Make it disgusting for anyone to get to your valuables: Put your knife in a plastic bag, that’s full of your dirty underwear.
- Lock your knife in a large metal box, which will make it harder for thieves to hide the stolen knife in their pockets, and slip by unnoticed.
- Store it in a cardboard box and write “Sharp contents inside, but safely packaged. DO NOT TOUCH” on top. Having written “do not touch” works on the thieve psychologically, because he may start thinking you’ve made additional precautions in addition to this one.
What Blade Length for Knives Is Allowed by TSA?
Currently, TSA doesn’t allow any knives in hand luggage, unless it’s a round-bladed or plastic butter knife. There is a misconception out there that knives with blades below 2.36 inches (6 cm) are allowed, and that isn’t true.
In 2013, TSA announced that knives with blades below 2.36 inches will be allowed in hand luggage. But fortunately, this rule wasn’t passed. So as of right now, there is no such thing as a TSA-approved knife. Sometimes, even butter knives are removed from passengers’ hand luggage because the final decision always rests with each individual security officer.
Other Frequently Asked Questions
We get questions about bringing stuff on planes all the time. So we’ve written a lot of other guides, where we answer the most commonly asked questions.
You can check them out over here:
- Can You Bring Laptops on Planes?
- Can You Bring Toothpaste on Planes?
- Can You Bring Umbrellas on Planes?
- Can You Bring Mini Liquor Bottles on Planes?
- Can You Bring Hairdryers, Curling Irons, and Hair Straighteners on Planes?
- Can You Bring Cologne on Planes?
- Can You Bring Plants on Planes?
- Can You Bring Chocolates on Planes?
- Can You Bring Amazon Kindles on Planes?
- Can You Bring Desktop Computers on Planes?