Pocket Knives and Airports - TSA Knife Rules

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There are few things more handy or functional to carry than a pocket knife. Whether you need to slice open a package, cut a fishing line, or peel an apple, a pocket knife is a stellar tool.

But what happens when you're heading to the airport with your pocket knife?

We break down the state of security regulations on knives and some TSA-friendly knife options.

Security Regulations for Pocket Knives

TSA logo

Everything about security at airports changed dramatically after the events of September 11, 2001. In the wake of the terrorist attack, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was created by President George W. Bush to prevent similar attacks using planes in the future.

Part of the TSA’s efforts to improve security and safety on airplanes was to drastically increase the number of prohibited carry-on items at airports, including the pocket knife.

And, despite an attempt by the TSA to remove the ban, pocket knives remain on the list of prohibited carry-on items.

I thought the pocket knife ban was repealed

For a brief and wondrous moments, the ban on pocket knives on planes was repealed.

In early 2013, the TSA made a historic announcement that small knives were once again going to be allowed on planes. However, after receiving blowback from the public and strong resistance from the Association of Flight Attendants, the TSA decided to abandon the plan to allow small knives onboard. You can read more about the saga in our blog post detailing the whole incident.

In short, regardless of how small it is, you are not allowed to carry any knife into the cabin of a plane.

There is still some good news, though. You are allowed to check a knife in your luggage. Of course, if you're in the habit of putting your pocket knife in your pocket, there's a good chance you'll forget and end up walking through security.

What happens if my knife doesn't meet requirements at security?

Don't worry, you won't be arrested or charged with breaking any law. TSA classifies banned items in two different sections, prohibited and unlawful. Prohibited items, such as pocket knives, are items that are completely legal outside of the airport. If you accidentally go through security with your pocket knife, you'll likely be given four options:

  1. Take the item back and check it in your luggage
  2. Give the item to someone who is seeing you off, if they are still at the airport.
  3. Take the item to your car
  4. Mail the item; TSA often has mailing supplies at security.

If I just leave my knife at security, what will happen to it?

Interesting question. The TSA wrote a thorough response to this question on its blog in 2009, as a result of a report by CNN that some discarded items were being sold on eBay. Knives remain one of the most confiscated items at airport security.

According to TSA, this would only occur if the items were donated to a non-profit, which then sold them. TSA regulations deem all items left at security property of the federal government. Items are either destroyed or distributed to various non-profit or relief agencies.

What are the five best TSA-approved knives and tools?

Unfortunately, no knives are allowed on planes. For example, even though Spyderco created the unique-looking Roadie to comply with the brief ban repeal, it is not allowed on a plane.

In fact, even those few tools that are called TSA-approved are still highly susceptible to confiscation. While there should be a definitive standard for what’s allowed and what’s not, whether a tool is let through is at the sole discretion of the TSA agent you’re encountering at the security checkpoint. If your TSA agent is a bit more conservative, even these tools may still be taken away without warning.

With all that being said, these are five tools that can be taken on board a plane officially.

1. Gerber MP600 Bladeless Multi-Tool

First up is the Gerber MP600 Bladeless. The general rule of thumb is that if it has a blade, it’s going to be confiscated. So Gerber created a bladeless version of the renowned MP600, specifically for compliance with “No Knife” policies at hospitals, government buildings, and even airports.

There are 14 different tools, but be extra careful of the scissors and removable RemGrit saw.

2. Cha-O-Ha EDC Card Special Edition

EDC cards have become increasingly popular over the years. For the most part, these thin wallet-sized metal cards adhere to the rules of the TSA. The EDC Card is one of the best TSA-compliant cards out there.

This special edition version is made with S35VN and is packed to the gills with functions. It has 23 hex wrenches — both metric and imperial — and rulers, drivers, pry bar, and much more. The Cha-O-Ha site says the tool is TSA-compliant, and it’s hard to see how an agent could justify taking this away (though some will still try).

3. Swiss+Tech Micro-Max 19-in-1 Multi-Tool

If you want a really functional multitool you can take on a plane, check out the Swiss+Tech Micro tools. These tools have been around since 1996 and were touted as an innovative and compact multitool. These have been expanded to feature more toolsets and better designs.

One of the best is the Micro-Max 19-in-1. This multitool boasts 19 different tools that fold up easily into a pocket-sized slab for everyday carry. The best part of this tool is the countless people who said they’ve taken this through airport security without even a glance from TSA agents.

4. Gerber Shard

When it comes to TSA-compliant tools, the smaller and simpler the better. There are fewer things that can trip up inexperienced agents. The Gerber Shard is the perfect example.

The small tool is made of a single piece of steel with titanium nitride coating and fits right on your keychain. For being so small and unassuming, it has seven functions — pry bar, small and large flathead screwdrivers, cross driver, lanyard hole, bottle opener, and wire stripper puller. Gerber even says it’s airline safe.

5. SOG MacV Tool

The SOG MacV Tool is an interesting multitool with some cool history. The skull design is a tribute to the original MACV-SOG (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group) that the company is named after.

This keychain tool is made from stainless steel and features 12 components, such as a pry bar, bottle opener, drivers, line cutter, blade sharpener, wrenches, and lanyard hole. SOG specifically says that you can take it anywhere you go “as it complies with TSA regulations.” Still, you should be cautious at airports since agents might not like the look of the design.

What if I don't have any pocket knives?

Well, then you clearly don't have much inclination to taste or handiness. Luckily, Knife Depot carries a huge inventory of pocket knives, all backed with a 60-day money-back guarantee.

And if you're not convinced you need a pocket knife, read this article about 6 things a pocket knife is handy for.