According to the TSA, you can bring magnets onto an airplane in your carry-on or checked luggage.
However, you can only bring magnets that don’t generate a strong magnetic field.
Here is a list of items that contain magnets or have magnetic properties that you can take on a commercial flight:
- All types of fridge magnets
- All types of magnetic toys, including magnetic building tiles
- All board games that use magnetic tables or pieces, like chess and others
- Magnetic puzzles
- Magnetic hooks
- Magnetic adhesive sheets
- All types of magnetic charging cables
- Magnetic clips
- Magnetic knife strips
- Magnetic tools
- Magnetic spice racks
- Magnetic spoons or measuring cups
- Magnetic pens or pencils
- Magnetic jewelry
- Magnetic shoe inserts
- All types of magnetic cases for laptops, tablets, or smartphones
- All types of consumer electronic devices that contain magnets, like PC parts, digital cameras, smartphones, tv sets, speakers, and headphones
Related: Can you take a GoPro on a plane?
As you can see, all items that contain small magnets are safe for air travel.
Are magnets dangerous for plane safety?
The TSA states that you can bring magnets onto a commercial flight if the magnetic field is not greater than 5.25 milligauss at fifteen feet.
Another rule says that if the field strength is 5.25 milligauss or more at seven feet away from the package, then the package must be labeled as “magnetized material.”- source.
Keep in mind that for both rules, the distance is calculated from the package and not the magnet itself.
In other words, you can bring a stronger magnet, but you need to pack it in such a way that the strength of the magnetic field is reduced.
I understand that these numbers don’t mean much to the average person, so I decided to contact three random sellers of small neodymium magnets on eBay to see what they have to say about these rules.
None of the three sellers had heard about them, but they assured me that their clients traveled with this type of magnet on planes without any problems.
Tiny neodymium magnets will pass security screening at the airport.
I am not surprised that the sellers had never heard about these rules because, for a magnet to generate more than 5.25 milligauss at fifteen feet, it needs to be able to generate a powerful magnetic field.
I did learn something interesting from one of the sellers but more on this later.
Now to answer your question: it seems that magnets don’t pose a significant risk to aircraft safety. Airplanes have all of their electronic devices shielded from magnetic interference.
To put things into perspective, some European airlines don’t even mention magnets on their list of dangerous items.
If you call the airlines and ask questions about bringing a magnet on one of their planes, they will say: “If it is not on our prohibited items list, then you can bring it on board.”
However, I can tell you that if you try to bring a powerful magnet, they will stop you at security screening.
Strangely enough, when boarding some of these planes, you will see a “No Magnets” sign displayed at the airport, yet when you call the airline, they say it’s not a problem if you bring a magnet with you.
So if magnets are not dangerous for commercial flights, why do we have rules for them?
The answer is simple. Old planes didn’t have their flight instruments shielded from magnetic interference, as rules were more lenient in the past.
To put things into perspective, a 747 cockpit contains dozens of magnets and other devices that, during the flight, create a magnetic field that exceeds 5.25 milligauss.
If you want to know the intensity of the magnetic field inside the flight deck of different airplanes, you can find a research study here.
The only logical reason for banning strong magnets on commercial flights is that all airplanes must have at least one magnetic compass.
The fact of the matter is that if all navigation instruments stop working, the magnetic compass could be used as a backup.
The only problem is that strong magnets influence the compass. Even a small magnet near a magnetic compass could make the airplane miss its intended landing place by hundreds of miles.
The chances of a commercial airplane losing all navigational sensors are close to none nowadays, but it’s not an impossibility.
For example, a strong solar storm can disturb GPS and other navigational instruments, making the pilots rely only on the magnetic compass.
How to know if you can bring your magnet on board
Measuring the magnetic field generated by a magnet requires a special device, and if you plan on bringing magnets onto a commercial flight only once in a blue moon, then buying one is not worth the cost.
If you need a device that measures magnetic fields, here is a link to a product that will get the job done without breaking your bank.
Remember, though, that these devices register all kinds of magnetic fields, such as ones from smartphones and other electrical devices.
If you want accurate readings, it’s better to take the measurements outdoors and at least fifty feet from any electrical grids.
Smartphones come with a magnetic sensor, but it is a cheap one that can’t take measures in the milligauss range.
Installing an “EMF Detector App” from Google Play or Apple’s App Store and using it to measure your packed magnet will always give faulty results.
Speaking of erroneous results: One of the sellers from eBay suggested that after I packed the magnet, I should check the magnetic field strength by tapping the package on all sides with a needle.
The idea is that if the package attracts the needle, the magnet is too strong to bring onto a commercial flight.
This is not an adequate method to check for the intensity of magnetic fields, but your package has an excellent chance of passing TSA inspection.
Should you bring one giant magnet or many small ones?
If you can choose, always bring many small magnets instead of a big one. This is because small magnets can be positioned with the north pole of one next to the south pole of another.
It means that the magnetic fields of the two magnets partially counteract each other, significantly reducing the overall magnetic field.
If you bring one giant magnet, you can only partially shield the magnetic field with different ferrous materials, but you can’t efficiently counteract its magnetic field altogether.
What about rare earth magnets used for “magnet fishing?”
“Fishing” magnets are one of the strongest magnets you can find on the market nowadays.
Most of them can’t be brought onto a commercial flight.
I advise you to contact the supplier and ask if you can travel by plane with one.
If magnet fishing is your hobby, you may be forced to travel by car unless you use tiny magnets.
Large “fishing magnets” should not be kept in the trunk of your car.
That’s because the fuel tank is under the trunk, and inside it is the fuel pump. The fuel pump on modern cars is located under your trunk or backseats.
You should check online where your fuel pump is located and avoid placing strong magnets near it because it will get damaged, and you’ll be stranded when that happens.
Also, depending on your car model, replacing a fuel pump starts at $300. Don’t store your “fishing magnet” near your fuel pump.
How to pack your magnet for air travel without spending money?
When packing, you need to understand certain concepts to reduce the magnet field strength to a minimum.
Materials used for packing a magnet matter.
Ferrous materials like steel are the only ones that efficiently reduce the magnetic field strength.
The shape of the steel container does not matter, but its thickness does. The thicker the steel plate, the better.
Because the shape of the container does not matter, you can utilize two boxes of different dimensions, like the ones used to store tea or coffee.
A small box within a larger box should do the trick for most magnets.
Wrap the magnet in paper or bubble wrap, then place it inside the smaller box.
Try to position the magnet in the first box’s center. Next, wrap the first box in paper and placed it inside the second box.
You could wrap the second box if you like.
Basically, you will have two sheets of steel between the magnet and the exterior with a small “air gap”. This method will not work for big neodymium magnets.
Can you bring industrial magnets on a plane?
No, industrial magnets that generate a strong magnetic field can’t be brought inside an airplane.
Heavy-duty industrial magnets are moved around the globe by ships only.
Right now, there isn’t a single airplane capable of carrying industrial magnets.