Thinking about bringing your favorite plant with you on your flight?
Then you’re in the right place because in this article we’ll tell you everything you need to know about taking plants on planes – is it allowed, what are the differences between domestic and international flights, and how to properly pack them.
Some of the things that we’ll talk about here are really important, especially if you’re flying internationally.
Can You Take Plants on a Plane?
According to the TSA (Transport Security Administration), plants are perfectly fine to bring on planes. You can pack them safely inside checked luggage or hand luggage, and long as they fit the airline size and weight restrictions, and the soil doesn’t contain too much liquid. The soil can be damp, but you can’t transport plants and saplings with the roots soaked in a water container.
If you want to bring your plant on the plane, it will have to fit the carry-on size requirements, which, most commonly, are 22 x 14 x 9 inches. Plants larger than that will have to be checked-in because they won’t fit inside the overhead compartments. For checking in, your best bet would be to pack your plant inside a hardside checked suitcase, to avoid any damage. Checked bags are usually up to 32 inches in length, so you should be able to fit pretty large plants in there.
When going through the security, plants will have to be screened through the x-ray machine. If you don’t want your plant to go through the x-ray machine, your best bet is to leave it home, because screening all of your items is mandatory. Only a few items are allowed for manual inspection, like prescription medicine or baby food.
Additionally, TSA controls only the U.S. airspace. If you’re flying internationally, you should also look at what other airline regulators say, as well as the airlines themselves. However, we looked around and didn’t find a single airline or airline regulator that has banned plants on planes, so you’re most likely good to go.
The only institution that has strict limitations for plants is the customs, so be sure to read the next two sections about traveling internationally vs. domestic.
Bringing Plants on Domestic Flights
Traveling with plants within the U.S. is usually pretty straightforward. There are little restrictions because on most flights you don’t even have to go through the customs. So if you’re traveling within the mainland U.S., you’re usually free to bring any plants onboard.
But there still are a few restrictions when traveling domestically. Some plants require additional permits when traveling to certain states, like California, Arizona, and Florida. But as many people suggested, rarely are there any agricultural inspections in airports on domestic flights, so you’re usually good to go even if the agricultural department doesn’t allow bringing in specific plants into the state.
That said, bringing pants to or from Hawaii, Puerto Rico, or the U.S. Virgin islands is much more restricted. Although they’re within the U.S., many plants or pests from there could cause a serious environmental impact in the mainland. So if you’re bringing plants from any of these states, treat them as bringing plants on international flights.
Bringing Plants on International Flights
Traveling with plants on international flights unprepared is usually a bad idea. On international flights, the customs limit plants only to a few species, which aren’t invasive and wouldn’t cause harm to the ecosystem.
But even if you’re allowed to bring a specific plant through the customs, you’ll have to follow additional rules:
- Plants have to be bare-rooted and pest-free, which means they’re stripped from any soil and transported in a towel or a damp newspaper.
- In the U.S., you’re allowed to bring 12 or fewer articles of allowed plants without a permit.
- Some plants have additional restrictions: Permits, post-entry quarantines, ESA or CITES documentation, and additional treatments.
- You’ll need a phytosanitary certificate from the country of origin.
- Plants have to be free of insects.
- Plants that look sick will have to be thrown out.
If you want to bring specific plants into the U.S., your best bet would be to contact USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) directly and ask if that specific plant is allowed and what are the requirements. You can call them at (301) 851-2046 or (877) 770-5990 (toll-free), or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The only instance where traveling with plants internationally is somewhat easy is if you’re traveling with plants within the European Union. Only invasive and endangered plant species are banned. So if you’re traveling with somewhat common plants within the EU, you shouldn’t worry too much.
Read Next: 75 Packing Tips For International Travel
How to Pack Plants for Airplane Travel
Whenever you’re bringing plants on a plane, you must do a good job at packing. You see, plants are fragile, and if you don’t do a good job, they’ll die during your flight.
You can pack plants in hand luggage and checked suitcases, depending on your situation. The easiest way of transporting plants is usually bare-root, however, for shorter domestic flights, you might want to keep the soil instead and bring your plants as hand luggage.
How to Pack Plants Bare-Root for International Flights
If you’re flying internationally, the customs always require the plant to be transported bare-root. That’s because they can’t predict what pests and insects lie in the soil. Potentially, there could be hidden infectious pests inside, which could be catastrophic for the environment.
Here’s how you do that:
- For larger flowers and bushes, it’s advised to cut off all the excess parts, just like you would normally do before the winter. How much you can cut depends on the plant type, so do your research. This will save up some space in your suitcase, and there will be fewer plant parts to damage.
- Take your plant out of its pot, and try to get rid of the soil manually. Use your hands to get rid of as much soil as possible, but be gentle not to damage the plant.
- Use a bowl full of water for washing off all the excess soil from the roots. Wash off till there’s no soil residue left because it isn’t allowed through international customs.
- Use a towel to remove any excess moisture from the roots. You don’t want to leave the roots completely wet, because then the plant might become bad after a few hours. You want the roots to be only slightly damp before packing.
- Take a zip-lock or a regular plastic bag, and wrap it around the roots, so they don’t dry out during your trip.
- Wrap the whole plant in a newspaper to keep it moisturized and to protect it during your flight.
- If packed inside a suitcase, place your plant near soft items, and, if possible, in a plastic or cardboard container to avoid it from getting squished.
This setup should be good enough for 24-48 hour flights, depending on the type of the plant.
How to Pack Plants for Domestic Flights
For domestic flights, there’s no need to transport your plant bare-root. But if you want to, you can do that anyway to save some weight and space.&
Here’s how you transport plants with soil in your hand luggage:
- Make sure that your plant, together with the pot, fits the airline size requirements for hand luggage. Most commonly, it’s 22 x 14 x 9 inches.
- Before going through the security, try to keep the soil somewhat dry, because liquids are restricted in hand luggage. If the flight is short, it’s best to water your plant the last night.
- Cover the soil in the pot with a few newspapers, to avoid soil from spilling out and creating a mess. For additional protection, wrap the pot in a small plastic bag.
- To protect the visible part of the plant, wrap it fully in a newspaper. Do it carefully, though, to avoid damaging the leaves and the stem.
- Place your plant in a plastic bag, and you’re good to go. If it’s small enough, you may be allowed to pass it as a personal item and place it under your front seat.
- If you’d rather pack your plant inside the suitcase, make sure to surround it with soft clothes. Also, remember that when you place your suitcase horizontally in the overhead compartment, some soil might spill out from the pot.
Airlines and the airline regulators (TSA) treat plants like any other items, and they’re allowed on planes.
The only problems start when you have to go through the customs on international flights. Most plants are banned from bringing in, you’ll need additional permits, and they’ll have to be transported bare-rooted.
Although it’s possible to bring plants on international flights, we’d recommend sticking only to domestic flights. Bringing a few flowers for planting in your garden from your mom across the states is totally fine, but if you’re planning on bringing exotic plants back from tropical climates to plant in your greenhouse, you might get a headache from all the paperwork and restrictions.
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: