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Air Travel with Leather Gear

It is perfectly okay (and legal) to travel with leather clothing and related items, and even wear a pair of leather pants, leather shirt, jacket, and boots on the plane (give the cabin attendants something nice to look at!) Don't worry about the TSA boys getting all uptight. They have lots of other things to worry about and mostly do not care what you pack, carry on, or wear as long as it is within the limitations and allowances as listed on the TSA website.

Some guys traveling to leather events tend to bring everything they own with them, and do not have fun because of struggling with all their stuff. They also get charged extra fees sometimes by the airline because the weight or size of their luggage exceeded the carrier's baggage allowance.

These tips were developed on inspiration from a guy who sent me an email asking me to share my personal experience learned by traveling more than 2 million actual air miles all over the world. These are my personal opinions about what has worked for me. Your experience may be different. The content is about domestic travel within the U.S., though I have a few international travel notes and metric measurements here as well. My opinions do not represent official positions of any airline or U.S. government agency.

Getting Through Security

First things first: see the note below about what to pack in checked luggage, and what you can carry on with you on the plane. The carry-on items will need to clear security when you go through.

For "regular" security screening:

  • You CAN wear full leather (pants, shirt, jacket, belt, boots, gloves, hat) onto the plane; however, you will have to take off some of these items and put them in a tray to run through the x-ray. This includes a jacket, belt, boots, gloves, and a hat.
  • Since security screening equipment that you have to pass through cannot "see" through leather, expect to be asked to step aside for wanding and a pat-down. Leather actually causes the magnetometer or millimeter wave advanced imaging machine to "light up".
  • Since chances are very high that you will have to be patted down, be courteous to the TSA agent and he/she will be courteous to you. Don't complain, whine, or say anything about being hassled. They are doing their job to screen for guns and other items that someone could harm others with. They are NOT hassling you because of sexual orientation. Honestly, they don't care.
  • While being wanded or patted down, you can NOT go fetch your stuff that went through the x-ray on the belt. Just keep your eye on it, but don't make sudden moves to try to get it. Those kinds of moves make the TSA boys really nervous and they may caution you firmly not to do that.

For "TSA Pre-Check" security screening:

If you are among those whose boarding pass says "TSA Pre", then your security screen will be a little lighter, but not that much for a guy in leather.

  • If you are wearing tall boots, even if the boots do not have metal on them, you still should remove them and put them on the x-ray belt with your carry-on items. Why? The magnetometer will sense a huge mass (the tall leather) on your legs and since it can't "see" through leather, you will be asked to remove the boots anyway. Just plan on doing that at the start so you do not delay others behind you.
  • Take off a leather jacket. Even in TSA PRE, the only kinds of jackets that get through are something like a light windbreaker.
  • Since security equipment can not "see" through leather, still expect to be directed for a pat-down as described above.
  • If you are wearing a belt made of leather and not adorned with studs or a large metal belt buckle, you should be able to keep it on while walking through the magnetometer.
  • While you may not have to take a computer out of a carry-on bag, you still will need to separate and run leather items through the x-ray: boots, jacket, and hat.

Security screening may take some time depending on the number of people waiting, number of security stations open, time of day, airport, and other reasons. Because these necessary screenings may be time consuming, keep one thing in mind: do NOT be "the guy" who slows the entire process down. Plan ahead, be courteous, and do not cause unnecessary delays.

What to wear on the plane

A little known "secret" -- if you want to bring a bulky/heavy motorcycle jacket -- wear it. Take it off at security and run it through the x-ray. However, if it is worn onto the plane, it does not count as extra carry-on luggage. You can take it off when you get settled at your seat.

Same is true with boots. Wear the biggest, heaviest boots that you are planning to bring, if you can take them off reasonably easily before going through the magnetometer at security. That takes the weight off your shoulders in carrying them in luggage, and also then those boots do not "count" as luggage so you can preserve space in checked luggage.

However, I stress the point about "if you can take the boots off reasonably easily...". Obviously, if you need someone to help you take boots off at the airport, that ain't gonna work. For example, I really like Dehner patrol boots and tall Wesco boots, but those types of boots fit me tightly and I cannot take them off without a boot jack or help from someone else, which would unnecessarily delay lines at security and make people angry.

Another reason you want to be able to remove your boots is if you are on a flight lasting more than three hours. To avoid DVT (deep vein thrombosis), which can throw a clot and kill you (especially if you smoke), take your boots off at your seat so you can bend your knees, wiggle your toes, stretch your ankles, and keep blood flowing in your legs. By all means, do NOT wear boots that go above the knees while on a long flight. The boot pushing against the back of your knee will slow blood flow, and DVT could be a deadly result.

Packing for carry-on bag and "personal item"

You are allowed to carry one piece of luggage and one "personal item" with you on the plane. The safe maximum size for the luggage is 45" -114cm (L+W+H), in the form of a 22" x 14" x 9" bag. The maximum weight allowed is 50 pounds (22.7kg). After packing, weigh it -- the airline agents will and you could get hit with an unexpected "excess weight" charge if it is over 50 pounds, and be required to check it because they do not allow bags heavier than 50 pounds to be carried on the plane. (Note: some airlines have even more restrictive rules on allowable weight to be carried onboard. Check with your carrier!)

If you have custom leather gear that would be expensive to replace, put the custom gear in the carry-on bag. I carry on a complete change of clothes, socks, underwear, t-shirts, and then a few leather items (shirt, vest, pants) that I might want to wear right away. That way if my checked luggage does not arrive, I have at least something more than the clothes on my back to wear until my luggage is found. (Note, it is common for me to wear leather jeans when I fly. I have never had anyone make a remark other than a compliment.)

That "Personal Item" may include a back pack, which is a nifty way to carry more gear with you. T-shirts, vests, gloves, a book to read on the plane (or electronic time-passer like an e-Reader, iPod), etc., are good items to consider packing here. If you have prescription meds, carry them in this bag as well. I also carry my digital camera in this bag, too, as well as my cell phone and its charger. I also pack my Muir Cap in my backpack in my carry-on bag. This cap is irreplaceable, and I would be mighty upset if it were in my checked luggage and was lost. If a tablet or laptop computer is a must-have, see if you can squeeze it in to your carry-on bag with your essential garments. Otherwise, the device and its case with cords and attachments will serve as the personal item.

Rule on Lithium Batteries: You are not allowed to carry spare lithium batteries (used to power most consumer electronics such as cell phones, computers, PDAs, etc.) in checked luggage. You can carry spare batteries in carry-on baggage as long as they are in a plastic bag. If not, they will be confiscated at security. Read the page on the TSA website about this rule here.

Packing for checked luggage

Information updated January 4, 2012: Airlines have differing amounts of luggage that may be checked for free and for extra charges. The fees change regulary. Check with your carrier to find out what the charges are today -- they may change tomorrow. Baggage must be equal or less than these size and weight restrictions:
  • One piece of checked luggage, size: 62" - 157cm (L+W+H), such as in the form of a wheeled suitcase of 26" x 24" x 12". Remember that stuffed outside pockets of a suitcase add size to the height dimension. (Noted above, carry-on bag size max is 45" - 114cm).
  • Weight: 50 pounds (22.7kg). Previously, 70 pounds (31.7kg) was allowed. If a bag weighs more than that, even if it is at or under the 62" limit, a fee from US$50 to $100 for each bag over 50 pounds may be charged, depending on the airline.
  • Number of bags: Most major air carriers charge for checking bags. Some carriers allow one free bag, then charge from $25 - $50 for each additional bag. Other carriers charge for the first bag and even more for the second. Check with your carrier on these additional needling ways they'll get you to pay them more. Most carriers allow those with status (silver, gold, platinum) to check one or two bags for free. But be forewarned: if you're traveling to a multi-day event like IML or MAL and want to bring your gear and toys, you may need two bags and will likely be charged extra for the second piece.
  • Recommendation #1: Pack smart (less is more)

    Leather is heavy. Tall boots are heavy. A pair of tall boots, leather breeches or jeans, shirts, jacket, and vests plus the weight of the luggage itself can be more than 50 pounds!

    You really do not need to bring as much leather gear as you think you may want to bring. I remember back in 1993 when I flew to San Francisco for the Folsom Street Fair, I brought practically all the leather I owned at the time. I did not wear all of it and was saddled with all that weight in carrying it (before luggage with wheels was widely available). I learned that "less is more" and when I have traveled by air to attend events where leather is de rigueur, I planned a few "ensembles" of leather shirts, pants, vests, and boots that I could mix and match, and would appear to have on a different outfit each time. A leather shirt with a leather tie looks different from that same shirt open-collar with a vest. Denim jeans over boots looks different from breeches inside those same boots. You get the idea.

    Recommendation #2: Metal

    Place all the stuff with metal in or on it (metal rimmed hats, hand cuffs, suspenders, harnesses, flashlights, cock rings, boot chains) and toys (paddles, gags, etc.) in luggage that you will check. Do not lock the luggage. Yeah, the TSA folks have the right to open it, but if they do, they open it behind closed doors and all they look for are stuff that can blow up a plane or contraband (like illegal drugs). If luggage is inspected, you will find a paper card inside as shown here. (That has happened to me a lot.)

    Recommendation #3: Toys

    I have heard from guys who travel with paddles, gags, handcuffs, tit clamps, dildoes, whips, floggers, or other such toys that even if luggage were inspected, they have not had a problem and nothing has been confiscated by TSA. (It IS different if you're traveling outside the U.S.) Put all toys in checked luggage. You really do not want a narrow-minded TSA person at security to see these things in the x-ray or during hand inspection at the security station. While these things are legal items, some inspectors who do not understand leather fetish gear can ask numerous questions causing a long delay and perhaps a missed flight.

    A note about police batons (billy clubs): while it is legal to carry a baton in checked luggage (but not in carry-on luggage), in many states, cities, and in Washington, DC, it is not legal to carry or wear one with a uniform on the street unless you're a bonifide cop on duty. If you have a baton, leave it at home, or at least leave it in the hotel room. Do not wear it on the street.

    Recommendation #4: Uniform shirts with insignia

    If you have uniform shirts made of leather or cloth onto which insignia (patches) of official police or other agencies have been applied, pack the shirt(s) in checked luggage. While these are perfectly legal items to have in carry-on luggage, some TSA agents are former military or cop-wannabes, and most do not understand fetish uniform gear. They can accuse you of impersonation (which is hard to justify if you are not wearing the uniform), and just be jerks. Avoid a conflict -- put these items in the suitcase.

    Recommendation #5: Protect Leather During Transit

    For leather in checked luggage, wrap plain white (non-colored) tissue paper around the leather gear, so the leather will not stick to other leather. If leathers have been treated with Lexol, for example, residue can cause leather to stick together. I have learned the hard way to wrap paper around my gear in luggage -- I had a leather shirt stick to a pair of leather pants once, and when I pulled them apart, the pants had a patch where the shirt had stuck that never looked right. Somehow the finish of the leather got damaged and could never be fixed no matter how much I conditioned the leather again.

    Recommendation #6: Boots

    Put boots and other large items in checked luggage. This is especially true for boots with metal attachments like taps or harness rings. Use good judgment, though, because if the airline loses expensive boots like Dehner patrol boots, you will be S-O-L and quite an unhappy leatherman. It might be a consideration to bring boots like Chippewa Hi-Shine boots if you have them, because they are less expensive to replace if lost.

    Recommendation #7: Toiletries, Cigarettes, and Cigars

    Put toiletries in checked luggage, such as toothpaste, shaving cream, etc. While it is possible to carry less than 3oz of liquid toiletries in small bottles held in a 1-quart clear plastic bag, that does not always work. They will not accept a rolled-up tube of toothpaste, for example. Do not try to fight it -- if luggage will be checked anyway, put the toiletries in the suitcase and not a carry-on. (And please, if you're going to a leather event, leave the cologne, scented after-shave, and other smelly stuff at home.)

    Many states have laws that prohibit transportation of more than two cartons of cigarettes over state lines. There also are restrictions on cross-border transportation of cigars, as well, but varies by state. Put a reasonable amount in checked luggage, and if you want more, help out the local economy by buying smokes locally.

    What not to pack or try to bring with you

    Do not bring poppers (See this guy's true story), pot, meth, or drugs of any sort, either in checked luggage or (worse) in carry-on bags. Period, end-of-story. Do not be stupid. While isopropyl, amyl, or butyl nitrate (the chemical substances that are the active ingredients of "poppers") may be legal to sell under another name for non-inhalant use, these chemicals are highly volatile and flammable, so they constitute a hazardous material on an airplane. Such materials may not be brought onto an airplane in your carry-on luggage or placed into checked luggage.

    The only drugs you should have with you are those prescribed by a physician to you (your name is on the label) and that are in the original container as provided by a pharmacy. Sensitive "sniffing" equipment and/or drug-sniffing dogs are used in airport baggage handling areas and on airport concourses. If hazardous materials or drugs are sensed in luggage by the keen nose of a dog or an electronic "sniffer," the bag will be searched and you may find yourself "taken aside" by law enforcement agents at the airport. The risk of getting caught is significant.

    A few more points

    Plan to lug your own luggage (wheels do not work everywhere)

    Many places still are not completely accessible, and have stairs and other areas where you just have to pick up luggage and carry it. Wheels on luggage are great to have, and work in most places, but when you get into situations such as on subways, old sidewalks and streets, and even some older hotels, you will end up having to lift and carry luggage up and down stairs. So that's another reason to "pack smart" (see above).

    Include contact and itinerary information in all luggage

    Write or type your name, home address, and home and cell phone numbers as well as the name of the place(s) you are staying with the street address(es) and phone number(s) on a sheet of paper, and put it inside each piece of checked and carry-on luggage so it is the first thing someone else would see if the bag is opened. This information will help reunite your bag with you if it does not come out at baggage claim or you are distracted by that gorgeous hunk and leave your suitcase in the taxi when you get out at the hotel. (I saw that happen in Chicago while attending IML.)

    It is one thing to have your baggage receipt scanned by an airline baggage service agent to try to track your missing bag, but if the airline's bag tag and your outside I.D. got removed from the luggage during transit, the information on your itinerary inside your luggage will probably be the only thing that will positively identify your belongings and make it possible for them to be returned to you. (I have had this happen to me twice. Each time the airline representative said my itinerary inside the luggage was the only way they were able to return my bags to me since the outside ID and bag tags were torn off in transit).

    International travel note

    If you are traveling outside the United States, be cautious about the toys and accessories that you bring. For example, it is illegal to bring handcuffs into Australia or New Zealand, or a dildo (or anything that implies homosexual sex) to an Islamic country. Do not chance it; leave the toys at home.

    Enjoy the travel, have fun, and be safe!

    Disclaimer: my personal address and phone numbers in the itinerary above are fictitious. If you would like to reach me, or have comments or something else to add to this page, write to me here.

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