Flying with a tree

I’ve reviewed the TSA’s list of special items and there is no mention of trees, plants or shrubs. There isn’t anything particularly dangerous about a small tree, so I can’t see why the FAA or TSA would even care.

I’ve also checked KAL’s list of restricted items and no mention is made of plants. That seems like a major goof to leave off the list, if they are prohibited. But again, why would the airline care as long as I have been cleared by TSA?

I would expect to encounter some obstacles at my destination country - possibly a quarantine requirement, but let’s leave that out for now. I’m mainly wondering about the TSA and the airlines. Has anyone had an experience with taking plants in checked luggage?

Edit: the tree in question is about 3 feet tall and will easily fit into a golf clubs box. So once packed, it’s not going to stick out like a sore tree.

The tree may be fine, but I doubt the soil will be allowed.

But getting to the heart of my question, disallowed by whom? The TSA? Why would they care about a lump of soil? It’s not a flight hazard.

There are agricultural reasons I guess. Just from personal experience–I had some hiking shoes taken from me and cleaned off by customs agents when I flew into Australia from New Zealand. They didn’t want me bringing bits of dried mud into their country, but they were very nice about it. Come to think of it, they confiscated a film canister of beach sand, too.

Dad and I cut down a couple of small pines on his parents’ place one Christmas. To get them back to SoCal, dad took the cover off the back of the Cessna’s baggage compartment and put the tops in there (and the bottoms in the baggage area).

Within the continental US, I think it would be fine as a checked item. I would think you could check anything you could send FedEx. Is it potted? I would make sure to pull the dirt and roots from the pot and bag them tightly around the trunk, and pad the pot really well.

I’m assuming you’re traveling within, as your destination isn’t mentioned, and you already know that international agriculture transport is a no-no.

Customs. Most countries have restrictions on plants, seeds, pests, soil, etc. You are focusing only on restrictions for security on the plane, there are plenty of customs restrictions you’ll have to meet as well if you are entering a different country.

Within the United States, there can also be agricultural restrictions when crossing state lines. Yes, I understand this isn’t what OP is asking, but if you’re, say, driving cross-country, you gotta know. F’rinstance, when you drive into California from neighboring states, you have to stop for ag inspection. If you have any ag products with you, they want to take a look. Depending on what you have, and depending on what pest du jour they are watching for, you may or may not be allowed to bring it into the state.

I wonder, though, how or if they enforce that if you fly into the state. I’m not aware of inspectors going through people’s baggage looking for fruits and veggies. (Anybody know different?) And I wonder how or if they deal with people flying their own little airplanes from a small airport in one state to a small airport in another state. They can’t have inspectors at every little small-town airport now, can they?

I have flown with small boxes of plants that fit under the seat in front of me, though not for a few years. What with the increase in scrutiny recently I’d hesitate to try it again (there was also a time when an airline employee hassled me at a gate waiting for a flight, claiming that I couldn’t take the plants because the soil in the pots could “fly out” during the flight. I got them on board anyway).

As for the TSA: I have recently transported a couple of plants out of their pots (root ball in a plastic bag) in my checked luggage. That happened to be the time the TSA was doing random luggage searches and opened and pawed through my bag (I found a note from them in there later). The plants weren’t bothered or removed.

I suspect that checking a small tree through in one’s luggage wouldn’t be a problem unless there was an agricultural issue (i.e. with citrus). I’d want to know beforehand that I was in compliance with all applicable rules to avoid confiscation (and I’d never try it going to another country, what with all the complex regs, need for inspection paperwork etc.).

The country you are entering would likely not quarantine a tree…a pet yes, but not a tree. If it wasn’t permitted, it would just be destroyed.

Update: Prior to boarding I called the TSA manager at Dulles International (the TSA site has links to their main phone numbers at each airport) and was assured that the tree would be fine as a checked bag. So I had no troubles with either the airline or security.

Upon arriving at Bangkok, I collected my bags from the carousel as usual and piled them all on one of those bellboy cart things and wheeled it past the “nothing to declare” checkpoint. The agent who was manning (i.e. reading the newspaper with his feet up on a desk) that station briefly glanced over at me as I walked by, and that was that. I supposed I would have been stopped if I had been openly carrying a bazooka, but my pile of boxes and luggage didn’t seem to interest him.

The little lime tree has been doing just fine, and has started to sprout flowers. With some help from the local ant population (I don’t see any bees), I hope to have some limes soon.

Wow, so brazen about breaking the law. Hopefully we won’t be reading a Wiki entry attributing the Thailand rice crop failure of 2017 to a mutated lime scale infestation epicentered at Patty O’Furniture’s house.

Well that’s what customs is for, because people don’t always know what they can bring in and what they can’t. I was perfectly prepared to give up the tree and see it tossed into an incinerator, had it been found by customs.

And that wiki entry will be on the fabulous key lime pie fad of 2017, thankyouverymuch.

But you bypassed customs, by claiming you had nothing to declare, when, in fact, you had an illegal agricultural import.

Per the Thai Customs Department,plants are restricted items.

The TSA is charged with aviation safety enforcement, not import/export/customs regulations, and certainly has no jurisdiction in the country you are going to unless that country is the United States of America. This is a customs issue, you had something to declare, you didn’t, and have imported a restricted - and potentially illegal - plant product into another country without properly declaring it to that country’s customs or other relevant department.

Wait, it gets better! I had a cat too. Had all the vaccination paperwork and was ready to do the whole quarantine release thing, but nobody is in the animal control office. Waited about 30 minutes, then put the cat carrier on top of the bags and wheeled it past customs along with the other stuff. So there I am with a plant box and a crying cat (which is what really made the customs agent look up over his newspaper) and the customs agent doesn’t seem to care. Now I know what people mean when they shrug their shoulders and say “well, this is Thailand”.

Why do you say I bypassed customs? The customs agent was right there along with his x-ray machine. He even observed my passage. I was prepared to be screened, but I wasn’t.

This, this, this - a thousand times over.

Saying “well, nobody stopped me so obviously it is okay!” is ridiculous. Just because lax custom officials aren’t doing their job doesn’t mean you should ignore the possibly severe consequences of your action.

Will anything bad happen? No, almost certainly not. But that’s the same thing that was said by the people who (accidentally or deliberately) brought coqui frogs, Dutch Elm disease, brown tree snakes, zebra mussels, and dozens of other invasive species to places where they are wreaking havoc with local eco-systems.

One conference I went to handed out pine seedlings to their members. Problem was, it was in Toronto. They got approval from customs beforehand and gave us a form that indicated we could fly with it.

That would be the phytosanitary certificate for plants. I had that, too. Like I said, I was ready to be screened through customs but they didn’t seem to care. And what do you do if the customs agent takes little interest in you? Stand there and demand to be validated while other arrivals gleefully walk past you?

Walk through the “Something to Declare” checkpoint?

Flights from the US into Bangkok arrive well after midnight, which may explain why the animal quarantine office was deserted. I went through the only open customs checkpoint. I don’t know why it said “nothing to declare” since it was fully stocked with conveyor-belt style x-ray machines and a customs agent. But all the other lanes were roped-off at this hour.

Here’s what is looks like. That exit C was the only one open.