How to Transport Flowers on a Plane
There's never a bad time to receive flowers – except maybe just before the end of a trip, when you have to face either leaving them behind or taking them as a carry-on item. If you're the one giving flowers as a souvenir of your latest exotic destination, the challenge remains the same: finding a way to get one of nature's most delicate items safely through the security screening checkpoint and the plane trip, so they're still intact when you finally land.
The TSA Allows Live Flowers
Go ahead and breathe a sigh of relief: The Transportation Security Administration does allow live flowers through their screening checkpoints, as long as they're transported without water. Depending on how long it'll take you to get to the airport, you can either package the flowers dry and add water once you're past the screening checkpoint, or transport the flowers in water; then pour that water out and wipe the container dry before going through the TSA screening checkpoint.
But the USDA Might Object
If you're flying back to the U.S. mainland from Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands or Hawaii, the United States Department of Agriculture places restrictions on bringing agricultural goods – which includes live plants or live flowers – back to the mainland. Only certain types of plants and flowers are restricted because they might harbor dangerous pests, and these requirements can change at the drop of a hat. When in doubt, talk to the merchant you're buying the flowers from, check the latest USDA notices about prohibited items, or, when in doubt, contact the USDA office in the state or territory you're visiting.
There are often restrictions on bringing agricultural products (including flowers) into the U.S. from other countries, too. Get the latest guidelines by contacting local representatives of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency, or, if you're not sure where to start, contact your airline.
The Best Seat for Your Flowers
Once you're clear of any USDA or Customs and Border Patrol restrictions, your next challenge is packaging your flowers for the flight. They'll be safest when stowed under the seat in front of you – if they fit. Most airline websites don't tell you exactly how large their underseat area is, but you can call the airline to ask, or if you know what sort of plane you're flying on, a third-party website like SeatGuru can fill in that blank. When in doubt, avoid bulkhead seats (which have no underseat stowage) and consider opting for a middle seat, which often has slightly more underseat space than the window or aisle. If your flowers won't fit under the seat in front of you, you'll have to package them for survival in the overhead bin.
Packaging Your Live Flowers
Now that you've figured out where your flowers will live during the plane flight, it's time to pack them up. A sturdy box, with tissue paper or other cushioning inside, is an absolute must if they're going in the overhead bin. If they're going under the seat in front of you, they won't need quite as much packaging, but any protection you give them will still help. If they're going under the seat, you can include a padded vase to be filled after you go through security; a sheet of plastic wrap stretched over the top of the vase, with the flowers poked through it, will help minimize any spills. If the flowers will be laid on their side in the overhead compartment, ask the person you bought the flowers from for a florist's capped, plastic "vase" to hold the stems of the flowers. Packaging does matter: If the airline thinks your flowers are going to leak water all over the plane, they might not let them aboard.
If you know your flowers will have to go in the overhead bin, consider choosing a seat that you know will be allowed to board relatively early. This gives you the best chance at finding room for them, then "padding" them with your other carry-on item or your jacket, to minimize the odds of someone else squashing them with their own carry-on items. You can also put on your friendliest smile – and an offering of chocolate or a stray flower never hurts, either – and ask the flight attendants if they'd be willing to store your flowers in the plane's closet.