The question of whether you can fly with your fire poi, fire staff or other fire performance equipment comes up regularly in Facebook groups and internet forums. There seems to be no specific rules against flying with fire props, except in Australia. If you’re flying into, around or out of Australia then read your airline’s small print to check their specific policy. We’d recommend using a courier to send your kit to a friend if possible. If not, you may be able to sneak it through using some of the advice below but you’re taking the risk of it being confiscated – we’ve heard tales of even brand new, unburnt props being refused by Australian airlines!
More generally, our advice is to be over-cautious; it’s better to spend some time preparing your props than get held up in the airport and risk missing your flight and/or losing your fire spinning equipment. There are many stories floating around the internet of people who have done no preparation and had no problems at all or bodged their way through. This may be the case for you too, but it’s a risk.
What definitely isn’t allowed on aeroplanes anywhere in the world is anything flammable so you’ll need to pay attention to your wicks as they may contain leftover fuel or fuel residue. You want to make sure all of the fuel has been burned off. This is particularly important if you extinguish your props before they burn out themselves. Leaving your wicks to air for a few days can also help to remove the smell. Even so, your wicks may still smell of fuel. Consider replacing them with brand new wicks, or if that’s too wasteful or expensive you can wash your wicks and use a mild detergent to get the fuel out. Remember the wicks can take some time to dry so be mindful if you have a gig at the other end.
It’s also a good idea to scrub off any soot residue from the metal of your fire staff, fire poi chains or fire devilstick.
Even with these precautions we still recommend wrapping your wicks in plastic and securing them with tape to keep any smell contained. If you’re travelling with poi you can enclose them in zip lock bags.
We’ve known people to take fire poi in their cabin luggage; however, we think you are much less likely to encounter a problem if you pack them in your hold / checked luggage. It’s also a good idea to separate your poi heads, chains and handles if you can. This means if the worst does happen you’re only likely to lose part of your fire poi.
However you prepare your props we strongly recommend you put a note in with them explaining what they are. If airport staff are unsure about something they’ll err on the side of caution and dispose of it. Avoid using the word “fire” as this will set alarm bells ringing. Instead, label your equipment as juggling or circus props. If you’re a professional it can help to include a business card. It’s also a good idea to include your contact details on the note.
Do not lock your checked luggage. If the x-rays detect something suspicious (your props) a lock will only raise more suspicion and the airport staff will destroy the lock or damage your luggage so they can inspect it.
If you’re flying with fire staffs you can encounter another problem – the size of your luggage. Some airlines will charge you vast sums of money to check oversize luggage into the hold. However, a neat way to get around this is to buy a ski or snowboard bag and carry your staffs in there. Most airlines exempt certain sports equipment from oversize charges, this tends to include snow sports equipment but check your airline’s policy to be sure.
I have personally done this and never been questioned even when flying in the summer! I was worried enough about it when I toured the States that I actually took an old snowboard with me in case anyone checked. In the end no one did and I had to lug an unnecessary snowboard around the US (it did protect my staffs quite well from the brutes handling luggage though).
I have also checked into the hold 2 metre long staffs enclosed in card board tubes – the same as we ship our staffs in from website orders or you might protect blueprints in. When I checked in for my flight online I told them I would be carrying oversize sports luggage so the check in staff had it on their system when I arrived at the airport, reducing the need for questions. My plan was to say it was pole vaulting equipment if challenged about it (they kind of were as they were acrostaffs) but no one asked. This was on EasyJet too and they love to charge you for any extras they can!
There’s always a small risk of encountering difficulties, you might get a staff member who’s having a bad day or doesn’t like the look of you, but with the right preparation you are likely to breeze through without any bother.
To Sum Up
• Burn off and clean or replace your wicks
• Wrap them in plastic or contain them in zip lock bags
• Dismantle poi and keep the components separate
• Enclose a note explaining that it’s circus/juggling/sports equipment – don’t mention “fire”
• Take oversize props in a ski or snowboard bag
• Courier your props to your destination
• Leave your equipment at home and buy new kit out there