Everyone knows that some items are completely prohibited on planes and in luggage, like flammables and explosives.
But what about knives? Can you bring knives on planes and pack them in checked luggage? And which knives are allowed and which are banned (for instance, kitchen knives, swiss army knives, antique/decorative knives, e.t.c.)?
When reading about problems that people get while traveling, we see these questions being asked countless times. That’s why in this article, we’ll answer all of them, 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 others.
Warning/Disclaimer: This is not legal advice and I am not an attorney. I’m just a travel enthusiast, who’s talking about my own 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?
Since 2001, the TSA (Transport Security Agency) has stepped up its 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 butter knives and plastic knives. This means, that you can freely pack them inside your carry-on, personal item, or bring them in your pocket when going through the 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 or plastic knives.
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, 2020, only butter knives and plastic knives are allowed in cabin luggage.
Can You Bring Knives in Checked Luggage?
According to the TSA, you can bring literally 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, so nobody could get accidentally injured while performing an inspection. If they’d get 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 instance, butterfly knives 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 would recognize that this type of knife is illegal in that specific state, he could call the police, and you could get arrested by the police for carrying an illegal knife.
Do You Have to Declare Knives in Checked Luggage?
Officially, you aren’t obligated to declare knives in your luggage within the U.S. That’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 voluntarily declaring knives at the check-in desk, especially if you’re flying internationally. That’s because often the airline employees themselves get mixed up in the rules, and some countries require all knives to be declared.
Knives are in a gray area. Although you don’t need to declare a knife in checked luggage within the U.S, we’ve heard people saying that their checked baggage wasn’t loaded on the plane, only because the security officers found an undeclared knife in the suitcase. Most people who travel with knives always declare them, and they report having no problems. Which is why we would recommend you to always declare knives even though you don’t need to.
The Types of Knives That Are Legal/Allowed in Checked Luggage
Pocket Knives/Swiss Army Knives (Allowed)
Pocket 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 (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 for packing them in your checked luggage. That said, you should be very careful when packing expensive kitchen knife sets because often knives can 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 blade, or a curved blade, even though it’s blunt, you could get into serious trouble in some countries. So when you’re bringing antique/decorative knives, always check with the local authorities before packing them, including layover/connecting countries. If it’s a valuable knife, make sure to also insure it.
Fixed Blade Knives with Short Blades (Allowed)
Most knives with a short, fixed blade that isn’t concealed, folding, or push-type 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.
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 in 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.
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 (Texas) with a connecting flight in Atlanta (Georgia), you have to check the knife laws for the UK, Texas, and Georgia.
Writing the 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 most 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 butter knives and plastic 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: 75 Packing Tips For International Travel
How to Keep Your Knife from Getting Stolen from Your Checked Luggage
It’s a well-known fact, that there are many airport employees who 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 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.
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: