Flying with knitting needles: Not in Bangkok!


I’ve come to accept that the “surprise and delight” of airport security is often far more surprising than it is delightful. Still, I was not entirely prepared for the scene at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport recently when security officials decided that knitting needles were too dangerous to fly. Oh, and we were cutting it close to boarding time and had already checked our bags. That added a layer of complexity to the idiocy.

Yes, the needles in question are metal. They showed up on the X-ray as we headed to the gate. They even have small points on them, though hardly what anyone would consider sharp. And the three levels of inspectors drawn to the scene were having none of our protests. These knitting needles previously cleared security in dozens of other countries (most likely including prior trips to Thailand, though I’m not 100% certain of that). It would not happen on this afternoon.

And so, facing a shrinking timeline in which to deal with the situation I took the offending knitting and headed back to the check-in desk. I didn’t have much of a plan, other than to make sure the kit flew to Chiang Mai with us. Maybe the folks working the counter would have a spare box or envelope to put the knitting in. Probably not, but that was one option I was considering. I’ve also managed to have airline staff handle such “dangerous” items on my behalf and secure them on the flight deck for a trip. Similarly tipped hair sticks made the trip from Manila to Bangkok in that manner a decade ago. A corkscrew (that flew scores of flights previously) once traveled as checked “baggage” from Singapore to Perth for similar reasons. And I managed to convince an airline to carry my “prohibited” duty-free liquor as checked baggage when it was denied boarding to the US in Seoul since it was purchased in Manila.



The good news was that the check-in counters were still open. The bad news is that I wasn’t so sure about my ability to convince the agents. And I was probably the last person they’d talk to before closing down; we were under an hour to departure at this point. I took a gamble that another passenger might be more sympathetic to my struggles than the staff, so I asked for a favor.

Lynn was the last passenger to check in for the flight. She was in front of me in the line with a pretty small bag. But at least it was a bag. I tapped her on the shoulder and pleaded my case. Security was being stupid and we were all going on the same flight anyways and it was just some very light yarn and needles that would barely take up any room. Would she mind tucking it into her bag and return it to me in Chiang Mai? Inflight drinks on me if we had a deal.

She was amenable to the idea, but also didn’t plan to check the bag. It was small and light and she didn’t want to pay the THB459 (~$15) fee. The agents were not into that game, however. They insisted on weighing the bag and the 7Kg limit worked in my favor. The knitting was stowed, the bag tagged and we hustled back to security and the gate. At this point it was after the posted boarding time for the flight.



Turns out the timing wasn’t much of an issue. The inbound plane hadn’t arrived yet and boarding wouldn’t start for 15 minutes. But that didn’t matter much as we managed to make it all work.

Amusingly, the hardest part was my paying out on the drinks portion of the deal. I had offered a beer initially; she countered with wine. Sure thing. Thai VietJet Airways doesn’t serve alcohol in flight. So Lynn chose the coconut water option. By the time the crew got to my row that was sold out. Strike two. At that point I asked the flight attendant to simply give the passenger in 30-C whatever she wanted and I’d pay for it. It took a few tries but eventually the message was delivered, as was a cup of coffee for 50 baht.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

14 Comments

  1. What is the number 1 security question asked at airports? “Have you accepted anything for travel from a stranger since arriving at the airport?” You New “friend” was an idiot.

    1. Pretty sure it was clear that a ball of yarn and some knitting needles are not a threat to anyone anywhere. And most people are able to reasonably discern between real threats and FUD.

      1. Except that the new friend probably had no way to determine if there was any substance hidden inside the hollow knitting needles. Knitting needles a physical threat? No. But, accepting anything, no matter how innocent is seems, from a stranger in an airport is just asking for trouble. An experienced world traveler should know better than to ask a stranger to put something in their luggage for them. And the person who gullible enough to believe the nice woman with the knitting needles is an even bigger fool.

        1. These are size 3 needles. They’re about an eighth of an inch in diameter. There is no hollow to hide contraband in. I appreciate your concern for aviation security but sometimes reality is a better place to be.

          Also, I am a guy, not a woman.

  2. Stories of cloth soaked in liquid LSD or somesuch were circulating in the past. I’d definitely think twice about accepting yarn.

    1. And had she said no I’d have come up with a different plan.

      I am mildly bemused by the paranoia, though.

  3. I knit as well and goddamn you never know what’s going to happen in other countries even when needles are allowed. When overseas travel is happening for me-I stay away from my metal needles and the ebony and go bamboo so if I have to toss-at least I’m not out $$$

    1. I’ve been carrying knitting on airplanes for 18 years and this is the first time it’s ever been a problem! But yes, I will also go bamboo in the future. I guess. I love my Addi turbos so much, though! 😉

  4. Glad it worked out. As I think about this, I’m so trained not to accept anything to check that if you (as a stranger of course) had come to me, I’m pretty certain I would have apologetically refused. Not to be a jerk, just so trained not to accept anything. Sad that our security culture breeds such negativity.

  5. @matt lindenberg Sad to say, but I think my response would have been exactly the same as yours. We are so conditioned nowadays not to accept anything from a stranger that something as seemingly (and actually) innocent as someone asking you to accommodate knitting needles and yarn becomes an issue.

    Seth, while you may be mildly amused by the paranoia, in this particular case and in that part of the world, I’m not sure it is unwarranted. 🙁

    Glad you managed to work it all out, though!

  6. The amount of times I’ve almost lost needles! I’ve come up with what usually works now, which is to use interchangable needles, and put the tips in my wallet. It’s big enough that they fit easily, and the needle sizes I usually use (3-5mm) are small and light enough that they’re fine. I’ve such a fear of being stuck on a long flight and not having it to bring with me though!

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