Thirty years ago, passengers and crew were allowed to light up during airline flights, and non-smokers were forced to put up with it. That all changed when pressure from a flight attendants’ union convinced U.S. authorities to change the rules in the late 1980’s. By 1990, cigarettes had been prohibited on most domestic flights, and within a few years smoking was completely banished from virtually all airlines around the world.
By the time e-cigarettes became popular, indoor smoking bans had banished cigarettes from most airports too (except for some with smoking lounges), and people were accustomed to not smelling or seeing smoke — or anything that looked like smoke — during air travel. But smokers still exist, and nowadays so do vapers. We travel too, and airlines and airport security staff know that we need to be accommodated.
If you’re a regular nicotine vaper, air travel is pretty straightforward. The process of flying with vaping gear is relatively simple, and you won’t have any problems as long as you follow some basic rules and know the procedures. (Cannabis vapers, see the last section for your slightly more complicated routine.)
Although we’re referring specifically to Transportation Security Administration (TSA) regulations for traveling with vapes, the rules of air travel are mostly the same around the world. Because of terrorism-era security threats, the processes and requirements have become standardized. Our advice for vapers will apply almost everywhere you go, but there can be rare exceptions. Be sure to check with the airline you’ve chosen before you fly, and investigate the laws and rules regarding vaping in the places you’re visiting. Some countries have banned vaping – in which case flying with your vape pen might be the least of your worries!
Because of concerns over explosions and fires caused by lithium batteries in the cargo hold, electronic devices have to be carried on the plane with you. You can’t pack them in checked baggage. The same goes for vape batteries. This is mandated worldwide by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). If you forget and your luggage is x-rayed, you’re liable to lose that mod and extra batteries, and find your nice new suitcase roughed up. Or they might just pull your suitcase off the plane and leave it at the departure airport. So take vape devices in your cabin luggage (or in a pocket).
Here are some airline policies regarding flying with e-cigs and batteries:
You can pack e-liquid in checked baggage if you like. If you pack bottles in a bag that also contains clothes, you should double bag the e-juice using Ziploc-type bags. Imagine arriving for a week of business meetings to find your suits soaked with 200 mL of smelly e-juice. However, an advantage of keeping e-liquid in checked bags is that there’s no size limit for the bottles.
Some vapers use e-liquid with a higher-than-normal nicotine strength when they travel, so they can take fewer bottles and refill less often. If you’re traveling to the UK, EU or Israel, be aware that the e-juice nicotine limit is 20 mg/mL. If you vape something stronger than 18 mg/mL, take it with you, because you won’t find any there!
Most vapers take e-liquid aboard in their carry-on bags, packed with other liquids. If you do that, all liquids (and gels and pastes, like toothpaste) must be packed in a single 1-quart clear plastic bag, which you will have to remove from your luggage when passing through security. No liquid container carried onto the plane can be larger than 100 mL (3.4 oz). It’s best not to take full, sealed bottles, because the pressure in the cabin will expand the liquid, and if there’s no space in the bottle it may leak, or even force the plastic seams of the bottle to split.
That same cabin pressure can cause tanks to leak too. If you’re able to completely close the airflow, do that, but many modern tanks never fully close. Your best bet to avoid leaky tanks is to leave them empty till you arrive at your destination, and use something simple in the meantime, like a pod vape or a cigalike.
Lots of people take e-cigs on airplanes these days, so airport security staff are pretty much used to them by now. There’s no need to be nervous about passing the TSA checkpoint! Remember that all electronic devices and lithium batteries must be carried onto the plane, and must go (along with the traveler) through security screening.
For the TSA, vape pens and mods are viewed as just another potential security threat. To prove that your gigantic 200-watt touchscreen vape mod isn’t an explosive, they may ask you to turn it on, so make sure any device you carry onto the plane is charged. That probably won’t happen with smaller devices like vape pens or pod vapes, but since you’re not allowed to charge devices on the plane anyway, it’s best to prepare by charging everything before you leave.
By the way, once you pass through security, you may want to remove batteries from mods to prevent accidental firing on the plane. If you remove the batteries, or if you carry extra batteries in your bag, please keep them in a plastic battery case to prevent them from making contact with each other or metal objects in your luggage.
Finally, if you insist on carrying a coil-building kit wherever you go, be prepared to explain why you’re traveling with spools of wire, screwdrivers, and wire cutters — which looks suspicious. It might be better to bring some pre-wrapped coils if you’re flying — especially to countries where vaping may be an unfamiliar practice. Or maybe it would be wise to just use something simple for a few days.
Vaping in common areas and restrooms in airports is forbidden. Although not regulated (in the U.S.) by federal law, smoking (and vaping) has long been banned in airports. That leaves you with a few choices, and none of them are very attractive.
You could break the rules and risk a ticket, or even being ejected from the airport, which would mean missing your flight and defaulting on the price of your ticket. Yes, we all know the tricks of stealth vaping, and we know people who break the rules regularly and never get caught. So, if that seems like a good idea, you can roll the dice.
A safer option is to use smokeless tobacco like snus, or NRT products like nicotine gum or lozenges. Are these as satisfying as vaping? Probably not, but they’re not going to get you in trouble with the airport security staff either.
Some airports still have designated smoking rooms, which typically look like smoke-filled aquariums. If you’re lucky enough to be waiting in an airport with a smoking lounge, pop in and have a vape. The smell might make you sick, but it’s probably worth it if you’re looking at several hours without being able to vape. Some smoking lounges have electrical outlets for charging your devices. Atlanta, Las Vegas and Washington Dulles are among the airports that still have these surreal tar-stained fish tanks.
You probably don’t need to even read this section. If vaping in the airport isn’t allowed, surely vaping on a plane is prohibited too, right? Right. Can you bring a JUUL on a plane? Yes, but that doesn’t mean you can vape it. In the United States — and in every other country we know of — it is illegal to vape on an airplane, and you face the same penalties you would for smoking.
That could mean being arrested and fined, or jailed when you reach your destination — or even forcing an emergency landing, which means the fire department and emergency responders meet the plane on the tarmac. Imagine how popular you’ll be!
You might have the urge to hit the airplane bathroom for some quick stealth vaping after a couple hours in the air. You should think twice. The smoke detectors in airplane restrooms are remarkably sensitive. They don’t actually detect smoke, but rather any particulate matter that is denser than air. Country singer LeAnn Rimes once set one off by spraying her hair with dry shampoo. So you might as well think of them as vape detectors.
Yes, there are lots of stories about vaping on planes with no problems — and even stories about setting off the alarm and nobody noticing! But you might not be so lucky. You might be the vaper who spends his vacation in a foreign jail and has to get a second mortgage because he’s on the hook for the full cost of an emergency landing response. Are those nicotine lozenges sounding better yet?
For the most part, the same rules apply to weed vape devices as e-liquid devices. Any vape that uses a battery (and any extra batteries) must pass the security check and travel with you on the plane. The big difference is that, generally speaking, you can’t take cannabis itself on a plane. (There are now exceptions to this, as we’ll see.)
In most countries, marijuana is illegal, and so are its various concentrated and edible forms. In many cases, even the residue of cannabis flower or concentrates is illegal to possess. That means if you want to take your dry herb vaporizer on a plane, it better be really clean. So before you fly, get out the Q-Tips and isopropyl alcohol and thoroughly scrub every millimeter of the vape, including the herb chamber, air path, mouthpiece, and even the outer surfaces. Soak loose pieces like screens in alcohol, or better yet, take new ones.
If you’re not certain that a drug-sniffing dog can’t detect a molecule of cannabis on your weed vape, don’t take it with you. Remember, you’re going to have to repeat the cleaning procedure when you fly home too. And if you’re not traveling to a country where cannabis is legal or at least tolerated, remember that your dry herb vape or oil pen may itself be viewed by authorities as contraband, and possibly the basis of a criminal charge. Even in countries where pot use is tolerated, there may be laws prohibiting paraphernalia. Even if authorities wind up letting you (and your vape) go, you might be in for an uncomfortable search and a long interview with security staff or police.
According to the TSA, their officers are not specifically looking for drugs. But if they see them, they won’t exactly just let them pass through.
“TSA’s response to the discovery of marijuana is the same in every state and at every airport — regardless of whether marijuana has been or is going to be legalized,” a TSA spokesperson told USA Today.
When TSA inspectors find cannabis flower or hash oil during the security check, they alert airport security, which generally means local police. The police will proceed according to local laws and customs, which might mean handcuffs and an arrest in some places, or shrugged shoulders in others.
At airports in some of the U.S. states that have legalized recreational marijuana, the local authorities will let you proceed to your flight with your stash, as long as you aren’t carrying more than the legal state possession limit. According to Merry Jane, examples include:
It doesn’t work that way everywhere though. At Denver International Airport, cops will confiscate the weed before sending travelers on their way. And at Nevada airports, despite statewide legalization, carrying cannabis in the airport is illegal and violators are cited. At Portland International Airport, you can carry legal weed onto the plane only if your destination is within Oregon or in another legal recreational state, or if you have a medical permit. Otherwise, you have to discard it in Portland.
The catch to these policies is that they only cover part of your trip. If you’re traveling to a state where cannabis possession remains a crime, you can be charged when you reach your destination. Remember that once your plane takes off, you’re in federal airspace. The legal weed you bought in Seattle will still be legal after you exit the plane in Boston, but during that 3,000-mile flight you’re carrying a federal Schedule I narcotic.
Be cautious. And remember that the same rules apply to all forms of cannabis. If you’re not allowed to fly somewhere with a bag of weed, the same restrictions apply to flying with oil cartridges, wax and other concentrates, and technically even CBD, which federal drug authorities still view as an illegal cannabinoid.
On Oct. 17, 2018, cannabis was legalized in Canada, and traveling with weed in Canada became legal too. As long as you’re flying within Canada, possession and transport of up to 30 grams of cannabis flower on a plane is absolutely legal. However, it is absolutely illegal to take cannabis from Canada to another country – and that includes even the U.S. states with legal pot. Attempting to cross the Canadian border in possession of marijuana is a crime in Canada, and if you’re flying to any American state it’s a U.S. federal crime too. The weed you vape in Canada needs to stay in Canada!
Vapers have become an accepted part of travel culture, and with a little knowledge about the rules and norms of air travel, we can co-exist with our nicotine-free (or cannabinoid-free) brethren in the friendly skies. If you’re a vaper taking a trip, some judicious planning will help your experience go smoothly.
But there’s no need to worry. Remember, airport and airline staff have been dealing with vapers and vape gear for over a decade now, and so has the TSA. As long as we respect airport and airline rules and procedures, we’ll get respect in return. So, see you in the clouds!