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Friday, August 31, 2012

FP101- Flying With Fountain Pens





When flying with a fountain pen, it's really all about the volume of ink and the orientation of the pen. The pressure changing in the cabin affects the pens, especially during takeoff and landing so during those times you'll definitely not want to be using them! There are a few pieces of advice I can give when flying with pens:

  1. If you can, just clean them and keep them empty before flying, it's the only 100% guaranteed way to avoid an ink spill ;)
  2. If you fly with your pens inked up, keep them stored with the nib pointed up. Any air in the ink chamber will remain near the nib this way. The reason ink leaks during flight is because the pressure in the airplane cabin drops as you leave the ground and go up into the air. This means the pressure in your pen is higher than the surrounding environment, and when that happens...it wants to equalize. There's only one place for the air to go, and that's through the nib. And if there's ink between the air in the ink chamber and the nib, then the ink is going out! So if you keep your pens pointed nib up while flying, this keeps the air bubble in the pens at the nib.
  3. Keep your pens as full as you can if you keep them inked. Where you get into trouble is when you have some ink and a lot of air, as the more air there is in the ink chamber, the more likely it is to leak (for the reasons in #2).
  4. The biggest risk of leakage is during takeoff. Planes don't pressurize the cabin until about 6,000ft elevation, so the air pressure is dropping rapidly from the time you leave the ground until you hit 6,000ft (or somewhere close to that, it probably varies by plane). Once you reach about 6.000ft elevation, the cabin maintains pressure at that level and you're good from there on up. Using a pen while descending isn't nearly as big a risk as the air pressure is increasing as you drop, so the ink in your pen is being forces back into the pen.
  5. Ink bottles are fine, air pressure difference will equalize as soon as you open the top, and since the air will always be at the top when you open it, the risk of leakage is very low. You should probably be more worried about physical damage to your glass bottles due to the baggage handlers! Just be sure to pack your bottles well.

So there you go, keep them either full or empty, and keep the nib pointed up and you'll be okay :) And if you want to be really safe, put them in a ziploc bag that way if the worst happens and you do get a leak, it's contained :) Have a good flight!

Check out all of the other Fountain Pen 101 videos here.

Materials used in this video:
Write On,
Brian Goulet

26 comments:

  1. The note about the ink bottles applies to most ink bottles, except those from P.W.Akkerman. In those bottles, there CAN be air underneath the ink. If you take one of those from a low elevation to a higher elevation (e.g. you bought it in The Hague, which is at sea level, and took to mile-high Denver), you need to make sure there is NO ink in the top part of the bottle, above the ball. If there is any ink there, it will come flying out when you first open the bottle. Hasn't happened to me, but there have been reports of this on FPN.

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  2. I flew back and forth from Chicago to Zurich in the '70s with a Parker 45 (filled with a permanent black Quink cartridge) in my shirt pocket. I even used it while flying. I didn't have the slightest problem with it.

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  3. I don't hear a lot about problems in flight, it's mostly questions I get from curious individuals. I've flown a couple of times with pens myself, using various stages of care with them, and haven't experienced a leak yet myself (though the possibility is there).

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  4. Yeah, I can imagine that being about the worst ink bottle for transportation ever made! It's very cool though.

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  5. I always fly with my pens empty (why take a chance?). However, I did not empty my pens on a recent long car ride that went up down several thousand feet in elevation. My TWSBI didn't hold her ink very well. It's amazing what a mess just a few ml of ink can make!

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  6. I've been flying a lot lately, mostly back and forth between the US and London, and my observations have been a) I'm just fine with modern pens of relatively decent quality, no leaks, so I carry those for in-flight work; b) vintage pens are always a problem; my 50s era Pelikan leaks about 30% of the time, but anything older of any maker leaks about 80% of the time; c) the higher transatlantic flights are worse; d) using a hard-sided airtight container (hard enough to not deform as pressure changes) works a lot better if you keep it closed during flight. I've been playing with portable cigar containers as the cigar people are as freakish about their goods as pen people are :) Haven't quite found the perfect one yet.


    Newer aircraft, such as the new boeing dreamliner, are built to stand up to higher, closer-to-normal, air pressure during flights, which should improve matters. And on a brighter note, my dual perforated eardrums mean that they don't pop, even if my pens do.

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  7. I started using fountain pens in between trips that included flying. I was worried about what would happen. Serves me right for listening to ball point users, huh? Thank you for the advice and video, Brian. It fixed all my worries. I am intrigued by DRS' idea with the cigar tubes.

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  8. Good to know. The TWSBI is the one pen I don't worry about due to its air tight cap.

    I've had my full TWSBI in the unpressurized cargo hold with no trouble but I may be pushing my luck.

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  9. I fly with my Lamys and Platnums nibs up and have not had a problem with them. The TWSBI with it's air tight cap has been fine horizontal. It's even been in the unpressurized cargo hold on a 3 leg trip. But I might be pushing my luck with this one. I would recommend a ziplock bag as a second barrier.

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  10. Do you remember how the pen was being stored? If it wasn't nib up, then I could see that being a problem, especially since the TWSBI's have a pretty large ink capacity.

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  11. Thanks for sharing your experiences! I suppose that pens before the 50's weren't really designed to be sealed that well since very few people flew back then. Of course once people started flying more, leaking became an issue with the pens of the time, and the newly developed ballpoints became more appealing. I imagine there's no small correlation between the increase of air traffic and the popularity of ballpoint pens. Of course pens are better now though, like you've mentioned. Planes are better too, for that matter!

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  12. In a way, everyone has you to thank for this video ;) I've been asked about flying with pens a lot and always been able to answer it in an email, but you asked just the right questions that helped me to lay out some good show notes for me to put together what I consider to be a pretty comprehensive video on the subject of flying with fountain pens. You just happened to email me at the right time when I was in the zone to put it together : )

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  13. Actually, the cargohold is pressurized just like the cabin is, so from that standpoint there will be no difference whether you check or carry-on. The bigger 'risk' when checking a pen into a bag that's placed in the cargohold is that you have no idea what orientation the pen will be, and there's a really good chance it won't be nib up...at least carrying the pens on, you'll be able to control your pens' orientation. So I would say, any pens you check, empty them out first (or put them in a sealed bag).

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  14. Just to put a damper on things. You didn't mention ink cartridges and flying. I know there's not much you can do about getting rid of air in a cartridge, similar to a eyedropper pen. Would be advisable then to avoid taking a cartridge-d (don't know if that's a word) pens on planes.
    The advantage to the cartridges for flying is that you don't have to worry about the bottle and can change the cartridge when the need arises.

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  15. Brian, thanks so much for the video! I fly a lot with my pens but I always fly with them uninked, or make sure they stay upright. My main problem is traveling with ink, because I can't bear to be without 2-3 ink colors, and cartridges don't do it for me. I use your sample vials or a Nalgene bottle (scored some 15 ml bottles off Amazon recently), and your ink syringes to put ink in them, and then also to fill the converters when I get to where I'm going. It also works for most piston fillers. The first time I did this I had a leak from one of the vials, but I had wrapped them up in paper towels and double bagged them in Ziplocs, so nothing got stained. The other times I just make sure the cap is screwed on tight and I haven't had any leaks, like you say in the video! (All this in the checked luggage.) My husband thinks it's hysterical to see me preparing my ink stash for travel. He just doesn't get it!

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  16. With ink cartridges, it's the same principle as the eyedropper. But, it's a much smaller volume of ink/air you're dealing with, so the risk is lower. Keep the nib up and you should be okay.

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  17. Haha, that's awesome :) Yeah, the ink sample vials are also a great way to transport the ink, I can't believe I forgot to mention that! :P I've heard of others using the Nalgene bottles with success, that's another good way to go.

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  18. The cargohold is pressurized, so in that respect it'll act the same in your checked bags as if you carry on.

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  19. I purchased a bottle of Pilot Iroshizuku ink from Fahrney's when I was in Washington, DC a couple months ago. I thought it was well packed in my luggage but the bottle broke anyway and there was a huge dent in my luggage near where the bottle was stored. Fortunately, only a small part of the luggage was stained by the ink. I'm so sad, though, that my expensive "treat" for myself was ruined. But for the "no liquids" rule on airplanes, I would have stowed it in my carry on. Sigh.

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  20. Aw...that stinks! That's a hefty bottle too, it must have really taken quite a blow.

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  21. Michael GrazianoApril 9, 2013 at 4:51 PM

    Another thing to bear in mind is that while pretty much all modern jets have pressurized cargo holds they aren't always heated (so how warm the cargo area is depends on how the engineers designed the airflow inside the plane: on a short 1-2 hour flight this may not matter, but if you're going across an ocean the cargo area may get cold enough to freeze the small volume of ink in a pen).


    Because of that I'd definitely second your advice to empty out any pens that are going into checked luggage - landing and discovering a cracked barrel could wreck your trip...

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  22. Hmmm, I hadn't thought about that! I know the cargohold is pressurized, but I didn't think about heat. Yeah, it's definitely best just to empty the pens, if practical.

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  23. My traveling pen is a Visconti Opera with the dual chamber piston fill. I wish Visconti would make this fill system more widely available. When you unscrew the piston cap at the bottom, it unseals the storage chamber and you can tip the pen point down to fill the writing chamber. The reverse readies the pen for flight. No extra ink storage to carry because it's in the pen.
    I also have two Visconti travel ink pots that have worked very well. Some pens don't seal well against the tapered insert at the top of the pot, so you have to be careful which pens to try filling. Testing the seal can be messy.

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  24. Ramaswamy RamanujamOctober 10, 2014 at 3:05 AM

    Wonderful discussion;Useful indeed.

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  25. Else-Maria TennessenApril 15, 2015 at 2:27 PM

    Really great video, thanks! I'm taking an air trip soon and want to take a pen...now I can do so with confidence!

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  26. In general cargo holds are at least not freezing. The airlines carry pets in the hold. I've flown two kitties from DC to London and back w/o freezing -- tho one time the cats were bumped because the hold heater was broken.

    Anyway, your clothing is pretty good insulation for many hours.

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