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Can You Take a Lighter or Matches with You on a Plane?

Working out what you can and can’t bring with you on an airplane can be a nightmare. And for passengers who are smokers or going camping when they arrive, buying lighters abroad may prove inconvenient. So what exactly are the rules, and what might happen if you ignore them?

Surprisingly, passengers are allowed to take a lighter or one book of matches with them when travelling by air. Lighters and matches are not allowed in checked luggage or hold baggage and must instead be kept on the passenger’s person in the cabin, inside a transparent and resealable plastic bag for the duration of travel.

Certain varieties, such as strike-anywhere matches, arc lighters or plasma lighters are still however forbidden to be carried on a plane. So be sure to check whether your kind of lighter is allowed before travel, or if going through security stresses you out at the best of times, potentially consider buying a cheap disposable lighter once you land.

The Restrictions

Lighters have previously been banned in the USA for security reasons. During an attempted bombing, the perpetrator used matches to try to light the explosive and was unable to do so before he was caught. Many officials suggested that, had the individual used a lighter, he may have been successful.

But since this rule was placed, authorities determined that the ban occupied so much security time and money that enhancing other areas of security, such as detection of improvised explosive devices, was a much better use of resources and subsequently lifted the ban.

Now, the TSA states that lighters are allowed to be carried on the person, provided that they are either disposable or Zippos. Arc lighters, plasma lighters, electronic lighters, or e-lighters are forbidden as well as torch lighters, gun lighters, or anything that might look like a weapon. Click here for a closer look at what lighters you can and can’t bring with you.

This is not the case all over the world. Although ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) may set rules for aviation among its members all across the world, various countries may decide to implement tighter restrictions.

Prohibited items on Singapore Airlines
Singapore Airlines Prohibited items on Singapore Airlines flights

For example, in some countries you are allowed to take reusable lighters in your checked baggage, as long as they remain empty of fluid and are stored in a DOT (Department of Transport) approved case, but in countries such as China they are forbidden completely. So make sure to check your airport’s security advice before you try to shut your suitcase!

Why Can’t You Check In Matches and Lighters?

Although organisations such as the TSA allow passengers to take one book of matches in their carry-on, this may seem a little counterintuitive if you are not familiar with the reasons why they are not allowed in checked baggage.

While many might think that ‘out of sight is out of mind’, the truth is that carrying dangerous goods in the luggage compartment of a plane has several risks associated with it. As soon as matches or lighters enter the baggage hold, they essentially become inaccessible to the crew.

In the cargo hold, if your lighter started a fire at the bottom of a pile of bags it may take a little while for the fire alarms to detect its presence. In times past, cargo fires have been discovered first by cabin crew members who found the floor below them was incredibly hot and smoke was beginning to rise from the floor.

Once alerted to a cargo fire, the crew then have to rely solely on the command of the fire detectors, and after extinguishing the fire blindly there is no way for the crew to tell whether they have been successful in suppressing the fire.

By keeping these fire-producing items on your person, these threats can be mitigated somewhat. The idea is that the passenger would know within seconds if something in their pocket had caught fire. They would then be able to extinguish the fire rapidly, causing minimal damage to other persons and property.

An Allowance Left Over From Times Gone By?

Not so many years ago, you were allowed to smoke on planes. In fact, many planes flying around today still have ashtrays in the cockpit and toilets! And on some private jets you may still be allowed to smoke.

Many readers may think that these ashtrays and the ability to take matches with you on a plane are leftovers from these times, where the lawmakers simply forgot to ban them when smoking onboard was prohibited. But this is not the case.

Couple Smoking on Airplane in 1965
Editorial Team Couple Smoking on Airplane in 1965

Although smoking is forbidden onboard planes, if an unruly passenger did decide to ‘light one up’, there must still be a safe place to dispose of the lit cigarette. Leaving the ashtrays in place provides a convenient place to do so.

By the 80s there were less and less smokers onboard, and after a string of health cases and fires resulting from cigarette use, smoking on planes started being phased out until it was completely banned in 2000. 

In 1987 the fire in London’s King’s Cross Station, where a match dropped on a wooden escalator caused a fire that took the lives of 31 people, was one such incident that led to the rapid improvement of fire safety as a whole. 

You May Not Always be Allowed to Bring Lighters and Matches

Many operators are calling for lighters to be banned completely from travel. This is mostly due to disruptive passenger incidents. In 2019 a man attempted to set his seat on fire during a Red Wings flight to Moscow and a similar incident occurred on a Monarch flight in 2016, where a passenger attempted to burn a stewardess. 

This would be the most likely reason for this rule to change in the near future, as there have been very few cigarette related incidents. However on one CAAC Flight 2311 on Christmas Eve 1982, a cigarette was carelessly discarded by a passenger, causing an uncontrollable fire whilst the airplane was on the ground, taking the lives of many passengers and rendering the airplane unusable.

What Else Can’t I Take On a Plane?

When booking a flight online, ticket issuers will usually inform passengers of the rules regarding dangerous goods at the time of booking and again when it comes to checking in their luggage.

But if you are unsure of what to put in your suitcase there are a handful of places where you can find this information. The best place to look is on the website of your departure airport or on the website of your chosen airline, but ClaimFlights has also compiled a handy list here of what items you should leave at home. So make sure to give these a check so that you can avoid security throwing your favorite zippo in the trash!

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About the Author

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Victoria Bottomley
Victoria is a First Officer on the Airbus A320. Flying across the skies of Europe, Victoria lives her life both metaphorically and literally with her head in the clouds.