After being “locked-down” in our homes for over a year, Americans are eager to get out, go trekking and explore the world. Air Travel numbers are going up as retirees, students and global trekkers make plans to go to Europe, South America and Asia in search of their next adventure. But to get there, you’ll need to fly. One of the biggest questions we are asked is about whether walking poles are allowed on airplanes, and how to get them on.
There are many reasons why travelers would prefer to use their walking poles for travel, through the airport and on the plane. With escalators, long walkways, and even shopping malls, airports are huge, and are part of the reason for making travel exhausting. In addition transfers can make it more rushed and hectic. Walking poles, especially for travelers who are experiencing knee, leg, muscle, back and other pain help greatly with reducing impact and making travel more light. They help distribute the weight load, especially if you are carrying a backpack. Walking poles can make the difference between an enjoyable trip and regrettable trip, when encountering long walks, escalators, tall stairs and other difficult barriers.
While it is understandable to want to have walking poles handy during the entire flight travel duration, the allowance for them by security officials can be restrictive.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has an official list of allowable carry-on items. From the surface, walking poles are not an allowable carryon item. The true nature of the rule is designed to restrict any objects that are sharp and rigid, that could theoretically be used as a weapon or tool for dangerous activity. Wheelchairs, canes, crutches, and walkers are all allowable items however. So what difference do they have? Apparently, it is the combination of being rigid AND sharp that makes TSA cautious of allowing walking poles. So far, their assumption is that walking poles are for recreational activity assistance, like hiking, trekking, and backpacking. And because most walking poles have a sharp carbide tip at the end, even if covered in a rubber tip or feet, these poles could be used for threatening and offensive activities, along with the possibility of carrying unwanted items inside the body of the pole.
However, there can be a wide range of interpretations of this rule, depending on the airport, management of the local TSA staff team, and the individual TSA officer. They are federal employees and are incentivized to be more cautious than not.
You can read the official TSA statement on walking poles for travel here: https://www.tsa.gov/travel/security-screening/whatcanibring/items/hiking-poles
Case Study survey
Earth Trek Gear’s travel walking poles are designed specifically for global travel and outdoor and city treks. This is partly from their short length, when folded up, allowing them to be fit inside of a backpack or daybag. Purchasers have regularly reported back to the company whether or not their poles were allowed as a carry-on item onboard the airplane. Results have been mixed.
- Some customers have mentioned that they were able to easily bring their walking pole through the security check-point with few or no questions asked.
- Others anticipated the occasion, and had a doctor’s note ready describing the pole was advised for health and support reasons.
- Some did not have a doctor’s note, but described and reasoned with the security official at the checkpoint, and were allowed to take the walking pole with them.
- Other walking pole users were unfortunately forced to trash them in the security check line.
- And lastly, many travelers with walking poles simply did not want to take the chance, and checked them inside the checked baggage.
These varying results left us to wonder what is the recommended course of action. While some people’s tolerance for risk is great, we recommend that all walking pole users place their poles into their checked baggage. It is the safest course of action for travelers. It eliminates the risk of having to give up the pole at the security checkpoint.
One course of action, especially if you need walking support throughout the airport, is to rent a wheelchair at the airport up to the gate. Or simply bring a cane, along with checking your walking pole.
If you do insist that you want to try to bring your travel walking pole on the plane with you, it may be better to first try to obtain a doctor’s note, recommending the use of a walking pole. As walking poles become more accepted as a general walking and travel support tool, rather than just a piece of hiking equipment, more knowledge with TSA will assist them in making those decisions.
Canes vs. Walking Poles
Canes are visibly different, with a thicker body, and handle that supports pressure from down-grip, as well as a wide flat rubberized foot. Canes have a clear reputation for walking support, and are especially associated with certain elderly lifestyles.
However, walking poles, or trekking poles used for everyday walking do not carry that reputation. Their thinner body and tip, and upright handle, look more sporty. Walking poles have more benefits that just looking more sporty. They allow a wider stride than canes, and their feet are curved or rounded, allowing for greater flexibility and mobility. Walking poles are better for long travel, hikes, exploring, and great distances of transport. This is why they are questionable with some TSA airport checkpoints. It’s all based on their interpretation at the time.
Some ideas for getting through the airport include making your walking pole look like a cane at the time being, only using one pole to be lower profile, or even going as far as taking other “medical-looking” equipment to generate sympathy and concern from security officials. While all of these may work, it can still be stressful.
When travelling with walking poles, be sure to get collapsible ones, specifically foldable walking poles. If you are able to bring your walking poles on the airplane, it would be wise to fold up the poles and stow them in a carry pouch prior to boarding the plane itself. This is due to the tight space and difficulty folding them up in the cabin. The loading ramp, while waiting in line, is a good place to do this. You’ll be able to utilize them all the way up to the airplane door, maximizing the use.
Overall, if you can handle getting from the bag check all the way to the loading gate, without the support of your travel walking pole, you can simply check them in your checked baggage, and not worry about it. Once you get to your destination, you’ll have an entire trip to use your walking poles, and enjoy exploring the cities, national parks, sights and spots that you came to visit. A walking pole for travel will guide you there.
About the author: Mike Cutler writes on active senior lifestyles and is a healthy lifestyle Blogger as well as product tester for earth trek gear. He lives with his family in Reno NV and enjoys going to the Sierra Nevada mountains for hiking and family activities.