Will My Pen Leak or Explode on an Airplane?
Updated: Oct 29, 2022
There really isn't any reason why you can't travel with your favorite pen whether it be a ballpoint pen, rollerball pen, or fountain pen. If you're traveling by ground, your biggest worry may be leaving your beautiful pen behind in the hotel room or wedged below your butt in the rental car seat. However, if you're traveling by air, you have a couple of other things to consider. First, as we all know, the TSA frowns upon transporting weapons. So, if you aren't transporting a lethal looking tactical pen, a TSA agent will likely find sufficient joy just searching the rest of your most personal possessions. That leaves worrying about a benign ballpoint pen, rollerball pen, or fountain pen leaking or not functioning properly. Why? The liquid and gas within a pen increases in volume with reduced air pressure. The expanded ink and air seek the easiest path out of the pen and that's through the tip and on to your shirt. With increased air pressure, ink and air are compressed leading to dysfunction like skips or a completely stubborn cartridge.
So, let's start with ballpoint pens. Whether it's an "inexpensive disposable" ballpoint pen or perhaps a very nice ballpoint pen from Parus Pen ...uhmmm.... you shouldn't have an issue with a ballpoint pen. It's not saying something out of the ordinary can't occur, but ballpoint pens contain a more viscous ink less affected by changes in air pressure. I've flown many times with my own ballpoint pens and have never had a problem.
If any pens will help your local dry cleaner put their kids through college, it's the rollerball pens and fountain pens. One of the problems is these writing instruments have less viscous ink eager to respond to changes in air pressure, most dramatic during take-off and landing. What to do? Here are some options. One, bring a solid like a crayon or pencil. Two, play it 95.6% safe and bring a nice ballpoint pen. Three, laugh in the face of danger and bring your rollerball pen or fountain pen.
If you choose the latter, consider the following tips:
A full fountain pen has little if any air to change in volume. An empty fountain pen has no ink to please your dry cleaner.
Keep rollerball pens and fountain pens capped when not in use and in a sealed bag--common sense, right?
Keep the tip of a fountain pen or rollerball pen up if you're just sitting there daydreaming and digesting whatever that was they gave you for lunch.
Buy a fancy airtight case made for cigars because who wants a bloated cigar? Yes, I know these cases are for humidity control.
Find a pocket protector that coordinates well with your suit.
Think like a scout and be prepared to remove ink stains by reading my post Does Ballpoint Ink Wash Out of Fabric?