One of the questions I see most often on pen forums is whether it’s safe to take fountain pens on a plane, and how to travel with pens so they won’t leak — whether from changes in air pressure or jostling.
I’m not much of a jet-setter, but in the past twelve months I’ve taken maybe 18 flights. Over the next few months I have another six booked. Every single trip I take, I have multiple pens with me. So I have a thing or two to say about this topic. Here goes.
1. You can travel with fountain pens!
Let’s put this one to rest. You don’t need to leave your pens behind. I have never suffered a leak from a pen on a flight, even though I love to write mid-flight. I’ve never had the TSA strip-search me because I have pens in my luggage. You just need to take a few basic precautions.
2. Keep your pens on your person
Never put your pens in checked luggage. This should go without saying. Your suitcase could be any way up, it gets frozen, shaken, squished, dropped and all manner of unspeakable things happen to it. It’s a disaster for pens. Do not keep pens in checked luggage.
3. Keep your pens upright
This is the key. Your pens are in your carry-on. When you get to your seat, take your pen case out of your carry-on, put the bag in the overhead and put your pen case somewhere safe where it will keep the pens upright, nib up. Whether that’s your jacket pocket, the pocket beneath the tray table, or between your leg and the armrest. Keeping your pens upright means the ink stays in the barrel, and only air moves around with changes in pressure.
4. Choose the right storage
It’s much easier to keep your pens safe, together and upright if you have the right case. For me, a Nock Sinclair works perfectly: it’s just small enough, it zips shut so I know my pens won’t get lost, and it holds enough pens for a trip.
5. Refill before you set off
The only problems I’ve had with fountain pen equipment on a trip is when ink bottles leaked in my checked luggage (good thing they were double-wrapped in ziplock bags, packed especially for the trip). I always completely fill the pens I take with me, for a few reasons: first, the less air in your pens the less changes in pressure will affect them. Second, it means you can get more writing done without having to worry about carrying separate ink bottles. If you must carry refills, consider a travelling inkwell designed especially for the purpose.
6. Paranoid? Pick travel-proof pens
If you’re really worried about leaks, or about running out of ink while away, choose a pen with an ink shutoff valve. At the budget end of the market, this includes the Opus 88 range. In the middle, a Pilot 823 would be a good choice. And at the top end, a Conid. With the valve closed, the main ink chamber is sealed against leakage and you don’t have to worry.
7. Check your insurance
I don’t know about you, but I’m always paranoid about leaving my passport, phone, wallet or pens in an airport bar, or getting mugged somewhere super dangerous like Canada. When you’re carrying hundreds or thousands of pounds worth of pens on your person, it might be worth checking that your travel insurance has got you covered in the event of loss or theft.
8. Take the opportunity to shop
Maybe consider leaving an empty slot or two in your pen case when you head to the airport. As well as the joys of airside discounts on Montblanc and other luxury brands, a trip to a new country may give you a chance to experience pens you can’t get at home, or even just an excuse to splash out on a souvenir.
9. Remember: inks are liquid
If you buy inks while abroad, remember that they’re liquids. If you take them in your cabin baggage, they have to fit into a clear plastic bag just like your toiletries. And I’ve already shared my experiences with inks leaking in checked bags. You have been warned!
Choosing which fountain pens you’ll pack for a trip is one of my favourite things to do. If you take just a few basic precautions, travelling doesn’t have to be a worry.