How to Fly with Your Props

Are they going to confiscate my props?!

Domestic or international travel – this is the one question sure to cross every object manipulators mind as they pass through airport security. The prop manipulators struggle with TSA is real… or is it? For many travelers countless hours have been stressed over losing props to airport personnel only for it to turn out a non issue. But then you’ll hear a story of a friend who was fined for an oversized object, or who’s Russian balls were cut open only to find salt, and tears – and then the anxiety sets. I get it, our props are our livelihood (or life force), and the mere though of them being taken away without reason truly sucks. You’ve got enough to focus on while traveling, let’s take some of those TSA worries away – as long as you’re prepared and confident you’ll be flying with your props worry-free.

Checked Luggage vs. Carry On

99% of the time I will always pack some kind of juggling prop in my carry on. Why? So I can juggle during layovers, duh! There might also be a little bit of anxiety of -my bag being lost with all my juggling props- mixed in there too. Any props that fit into your carry on bag should be good to fly and hoops that coil down can be clipped onto bags and stored in the overhead bins.

On the rare occasion I don’t carry on any props it’s because I’m taking a short flight, with no layovers. However, if you’re carrying a large quantity of props, or props of irregular size i.e contact staves, you’re gonna have to check them into the hold.

When checking luggage it’s a good idea to invest in a quality gear bag. It doesn’t have to be too fancy, just something the right size, preferably with zippers so you can rest easy knowing your props are being stored securely. Ski and lacrosse bags are great and many airlines have special policies for them already in place. Also, consider the material of your props while packing – things like non-carbon fiber staves could bend or break when the aircrew are throwing them about so you may want to additionally padding or package your props to prevent damage.

Always be sure to note the oversize luggage and weight requirements of your airline before you fly – the last thing you want is to be stuck with a big fine on your first day of your trip. Lastly, when you’re picking up oversized checked bags keep an eye out for the special oversized section – you’ll usually find your bags there, not on the general carousel.

Transportation Security Administration (TSA)

I’ve traveled with clubs, Russian balls, bean bags, sock and contact poi, SIL-X contact balls, fire poi and torches, and not once have I had a juggling prop confiscated by TSA. I have had my bag searched, been questioned, asked to juggle, sure, but never have they taken my props away. Still – going through security carry can be a stressful experience so just remember – verbiage is everything.

Words like: toys, props, equipment, performance piece, apparatus, and convention are going to go over much better than words like: fire, clubs, staff, martial-arts, or festival.

You have nothing to hide so there’s no reason you can’t explain yourself calmly and politely. It might be a bit difficult if you don’t speak the language where you’re traveling – but that’s where a brief demo should alleviate any tension.

Fire Props

I strongly recommend you check your fire props! Security scanners can detect trace amounts of flammable materials, exposed metal will show up on the x-ray, and it’s really not worth the hassell explaining yourself to TSA. If you’re not checking a bag and they must go in your carry on so be it. Either way you’re going to want to follow these steps:

Burn off any excess fuel, air them out and make sure they don’t reek, then use baby wipes to remove as much sooty residue as you can, wrap or cover your wicks, and if the props are small enough, put them in a plastic bag. Consider including a business card or a label reading “Juggling Equipment.”

Just remember…

Results may vary depending on airport, airline, destination, and heck – even who’s working security that day! The majority of the time you won’t run into any issues, but as always, use your best judgement. PS – I’m not responsible for any confiscated props!

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