Flying with Fountain Pens

By: Paul Godden

It’s a pleasure to share writing by like-minded people in the fountain pen community. Paul contacted me to suggest an article about flying with fountain pens, then offered to write it.

You’ll learn a few takeaways he’s picked up over many flights with his beloved fountain pens; please share his wisdom with your social circles. Keeping people curious about fountain pens allows the community to continue to thrive.

Here’s Godden…

If I have a problem with my two favorite fountain pens, the Platinum 3776 music nib, and the Edison Collier’s 1.1 stub, my problem is ink consumption.

I use my pens for writing, and have only ever used black ink.
Cross’s black in my Cross pens, J. Herbin’s Perle Noire for daily use in my Platinum and Edison, and Sailor’s Carbon Kiwa-Guro Nano black, for anything that needed to be waterproof or permanent.

My problem with ink is that, as a British ex-pat’, and a Canadian citizen living in Ontario, I travel a lot by air, and you may have heard, there are “issues” with fountain pens and air-travel.

A Little Bit of Physics

As an airplane takes off, the air-pressure in the cabin drops to a point where the pressure in your pen is higher than that outside the pen. This means that any air inside the pen will be forced out.

The path of least resistance for the air to leave the pen, will be through the nib, and any ink between the air in your pen and the outside world, will be forced out with the air.

An incredibly easy way to ruin your flight and your clothes.

Air pressure and oxygen levels inside the cabin are set to correspond with those experienced at about 6,000–7,000 feet, so from that point on, it’s safe to use your pen in flight.
When the plane begins its descent, the pressure is greater outside the pen than inside, thus ink should be forced into the pen rather than out—so you should be okay as far as leaks go, but you may not get a smooth line from an otherwise smooth nib and feed.

I’d just use a fountain pen at cruising altitude and avoid take-off, ascent and descent and keep it stored nib up in a Ziploc the rest of the time.

Tips for Flying with Fountain Pens:

●Emptying and flushing your pens before boarding is the only 100% guaranteed way to avoid ink spillage and a massive mess.

●If your pens have to be inked during boarding and take-off, then fill them as much as you can, leaving as little air in the pen as possible.

*The biggest risk of leakage would be to eye-drop filled, piston-filled, converter, and cartridge filled pens in that order, because the more air that can be
trapped in the pen, the bigger the risk. Personally, I would err on the side of a clean, flushed pen to ink when you reach cruising altitude.

Ink Bottles, and sealed cartridges should be fine, but keep all cartridges and inked pens standing upright in carry-on luggage, inside a Ziploc bag just to be safe. I would be more worried about glass breakage than leaks, but I’ll get to that later.

Platinum Plaiser

Filling Fountain Pens on a Plane

If I wanted to take my favorite Platinum 3776 on a flight, I’d need to carry some cartridges, but I haven’t had great experiences with theirs.

Platinum cartridges are an odd beast.

They have a small metal ball in the cartridge, which seals the cartridge, and acts to regulate ink flow as the pen is tipped.

Mostly these cartridges are fine when refilled, but every once in a while I’ve had a small amount of leakage. The cartridge has been intact (i.e., not split), and the leak has
come from the point of connection with the feed. Since this hasn’t happened with other cartridges, I’m just guessing that the ball-bearing may be the culprit.

But proprietary cartridges don’t need to limit your ink choices in Platinum pens for your flight or anytime. You can syringe refill the cartridges or buy an adapter, more on that later.

Cartridges are far easier to use than bottled inks on flights for obvious reasons.

They are just so much simpler to change than trying to hold a bottle still on the seat-back tray, while drawing ink from it in the midst of a badly timed patch of turbulence, or your in-flight coffee delivery; although the look on the face of the person directly next to you would be priceless!

I first learned how to syringe refill a cartridge here with my chosen ink. This is fantastic for bottle feeding your favorites at home, but you probably won’t want to pull out a syringe and bottle of ink midflight.

If you own a piston-fill fountain pen, you may still be willing to risk bottle filling it mid-flight.

Here are some tips:

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Approved Plastic Containers

If you’re going to take bottled ink onto a flight, you’re going to have to remember a few things.

●Glass is heavy and breakable. Take lightweight, tough, leak-proof plastic containers.

●To be FAA-approved, containers should be clear, and labelled in ml and/or fl. oz.

●If it’s carry-on, then it should be 100ml (3.3 fl. oz.) or less. This shouldn’t be a problem with cartridges, since, according to Wikipedia, short European standard cartridges contain only about 0.75ml (0.03 fl. oz.), and long cartridges about 1.5ml (0.05 fl. oz.). Meaning you’d need quite a few to exceed your quota.

●Again, if you’re thinking carry-on, then all of your fluid-filled containers should be carried in a clear, Ziploc, plastic bag for examination at security checkpoints… and, of course, in case your leak-proof container actually leaks.

Fortunately, you can buy a set of these containers on Amazon for only a few dollars. I’ve used these Nalgene leakproof bottles, which comes in its own Ziploc bag, and have had no problems in use, or at security checkpoints.

Platinum Standard European Cartridge Adapters

Platinum makes some handy adapters, that allow a standard ink cartridge to be used with Platinum pens.

Each adapter costs only about three dollars, and comes with one standard European cartridge. The adapter fits snugly into the nib unit of the pen, according to the package installation instructions…

In the case of the Platinum Century 3776, the adapter fits nicely into the nib unit, with a little of the adapter’s plastic body standing out from the bottom.
This lets you grip it and easily remove the adapter later, in the case of the Plaisir, the adapter fits a little too snugly…

The adapter slides into the nib unit, but there is almost nothing protruding to allow it to be pulled out later, but that’s nothing that a small pair of eyebrow tweezers can’t resolve…

Adapter Removal

Just be careful not to grip the adapter with the tweezers too hard, since the plastic doesn’t seem too tough and may be damaged when it’s pulled out.

adapter removalIf all of these were filled, you would obviously be carrying far more than your allowed limit. The red and green capped bottles, each contain 60ml (2 fl. oz.), the two clear capped bottles, and the white capped bottle contain 30ml (1 fl. oz.), and the small, blue capped bottle contains 25ml (approx. 0.75 fl. oz.).

Each is labelled, each is made of the usual toughened Nalgene plastic, and they have so far proven to be leak-proof over four transatlantic flights, and hopefully many more.

Final Thoughts

First let me thank the inestimable Jennifer at bestfountainpen.com for letting me share my fumblings with a fountain pen (or seven), with her readers. I’ve been following this blog for quite a while, not quite as long as my fascination with fountain pens themselves, but a good few years all the same.

As a grad student in Canada since 2012, I have found myself writing a great deal, from notes in classes, to feedback on undergraduate assignments. I use a fountain pen for everything I can.

I had been using my first ever fountain pen—a Cross Century II Medalist, with an 18-karat gold, medium nib—since about 1995, and it was having problems. I started looking for a new pen and bestfountainpen.com led me to my new favorite the Platinum 3776 music nib.

This was a guest post by Paul Godden, he runs a blog called Talk Curriculum here.