Everyone’s heard myths about magnets messing up computer systems and navigational instruments.
That’s something you don’t want to happen while you’re on a plane, so many passengers questions whether they can bring any sort of magnet on their flight.
While magnetic fields can disrupt navigation systems or harm computers, they have to be either very strong and/or very close to the instrument to cause a problem.
In most cases, you can bring magnets on a plane. Generally, people are asking about kid’s toys or souvenir refrigerator magnets when they ask this, and neither of these is strong enough to disrupt the plane’s compass. Very strong magnets are the exception, but most of the time, passengers don’t need to worry about this.
Bringing Magnets on a Plane
Most passengers will be trying to bring home souvenir fridge magnets, toys, or other relatively weak magnets with them on a flight.
These can be stored in checked bags or carry-on luggage without any issues.
Magnetic board games like chess and checkers are also allowed on flights and use weak magnets.
A strong magnet may end up causing problems with other passengers’ electronic devices, potentially wiping the hard drive of computers or phones.
These can sometimes still be brought on planes, but you’ll need to properly store them.
Small magnets can be packed into a cardboard box, but large magnets, arrays, and assemblies will have to be put into large wooden crates.
This is an expensive endeavor and sometimes requires special permits and licenses.
Since stronger magnets can cause problems with the airplane’s components or other passengers’ bags though, so we’ll go through the different thresholds for magnet strength and point out any types of magnets you’ll need to be careful with.
Magnet strength is measured in milliguass and any questionable magnets are measured at the airport before final decisions are reached.
The International Air Transport Association sets the guidelines for magnetic field strength when it comes to safety on airplanes.
If the magnetic field strength is measured to be over 5.25 milligauss at 15 ft away from the package, it is too strong to ship and will be refused.
If the magnetic field strength measures between the previous strength and 5.25 milligauss at 7 ft away, it can be shipped but the package must be labeled as a magnetized material.
The average magnet like on a souvenir or a kid’s toy will never come close to reaching these levels, so most passengers will never need to worry about those guidelines.
If you do question whether or not your magnet is too strong to fly with, you can buy a milligauss meter and check the field strength at home or have it checked when you go through airport security.
Measuring Magnetic Field Strength
You can use this helpful video to learn different ways to check the strength of a magnet at home.
Airlines use an air shipment milligauss meter to check the strength of magnets during screenings.
You can purchase these for yourself if you want to measure magnets for fun or need to check some things before flying.
The position of magnets can influence the reading on a meter. Flip them so their poles are facing opposite directions.
You can check which side is which by trying to touch the magnets together. If they get close and pull together, they’re on opposing sides.
If they repel each other, they’re on the same magnetic pole.
If both magnets are facing the same direction, the magnetic strength reading can be nearly doubled on the milligauss meter, but if they’re facing opposing directions and touching, the magnetic reading can be negligible or almost none.
Doing this makes them safer to ship. You can also check the strength of a magnet by using a compass. A 5-milligauss magnet can shift a compass by 2 degrees.
Do Magnets Set off Metal Detectors?
Whether or not a magnet will set off a metal detector is completely decided by what type of material the magnet is made of.
Any kind of ferrous material like iron and iron alloys will be easy to detect and set off airport metal detectors. This includes the super-strong neodymium or cobalt magnets that have risen in popularity.
Magnets that aren’t made of metallic materials like iron won’t set off metal detectors. Ceramic-ferrite magnets have low conductivity and can’t be sensed by a metal detector.
This knowledge can make for a fun experiment at home and help you find more things while you’re out using a metal detector, but it’s also important to keep in mind when going through airport security.
The common magnets most passengers will be wanting to bring on their flight typically contain iron, cobalt, or nickel. This includes refrigerator magnets and toys, so be aware that these magnets will alert a metal detector.
How Can Magnets be Protected?
Properly storing your magnets is the best way to protect them.
You’ll want to always use a keeper when storing magnets. This is typically a small piece of iron that is placed between the opposing poles to keep the magnet from shifting fields or demagnetizing.
Always store magnets in pairs and keep the magnets like poles from touching. The forced repelling of the magnets will cause the magnet to weaken over time.
Always keep your magnets dry and never store them in metallic containers. Wooden boxes and Tupperware tends to work the best.
Recharging your magnets, keeping their coating undamaged, and keeping them away from strong electrical currents will all also help maintain your magnets.
All weak magnets are allowed on planes and won’t cause issues with the plane’s instruments.
Generally, passengers trying to fly with weak magnets like the ones you’ll find in souvenirs or toys won’t have to worry about any shipment guidelines.
If you happen to be flying with a strong magnet, the regulations we’ve discussed will have to be observed.
Most of the time, this is only the case for research or other specific purposes and you won’t have any issues flying with your magnets in your carry-on or checked luggage.