Tips For Traveling With An Orchid On A Plane


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Traveling with an orchid can seem daunting, especially if you are transporting multiple orchids or taking an orchid on an airplane. In this article, you’ll learn some techniques to keep your orchid from getting damaged while traveling by plane.

When traveling with an orchid by plane, you will need to wrap and cushion it before your flight. This will help minimize damage during transport. Pack the orchid in a box that can fit under the seat in front of you or in the overhead bin. You can bring orchids onto most domestic US flights. International flights and flights to and from Hawaii require additional inspections and/or permits.

Baggage claim area in airport

Keep reading to learn more about how to safely transport your orchids without damaging the roots, leaves, or flower stem. I will also go over when you can and cannot take an orchid onto a plane, questions to ask your airline, and things to be aware of when flying domestically or internationally with an orchid.

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How To Pack An Orchid To Bring On A Plane

Orchid packed in a paper bag for a plane

If you are going to the effort to bring an orchid onto a flight, the last thing you want is for your orchid flowers or leaves to break during the journey. You can get away with less preparation for a car ride, but this is not the case for a plane ride.

It would be in your best interests to pad and wrap your orchid pre-flight. By doing this, you minimize the chances it gets damaged on the airplane. I’ll go over how to do that next.

Double Pot Your Orchid

First, if your orchid is only in a plastic pot, you’ll want to double pot your orchid using a lightweight, but sturdy pot for the outer pot. I would suggest thick plastic. This will give your orchid’s roots and base some added protection from any accidental bumps.

**Do this step for both carry-on orchids and for orchids that you will pack into your check-in luggage.

Bag Up The Orchid Pot

Next, wrap or bag the orchid pot. This will prevent the potting media from spilling out of the pot and getting everywhere during transit.

Note: this step is optional if your orchid is potted in moss or an alternative potting media, but still highly recommended.

The easiest way to do this is to get a plastic grocery bag and put the pot in the bag. Use a rubber band or tape to secure the bag in place.

I know I talk a lot about how your orchid’s roots need to breathe and air circulation is important, but remember, this is only temporary. Once you get to your final destination, you will remove the bag and your orchid roots can breathe again.

Since you are bagging up the orchid pot, I would recommend NOT watering your orchid the day before your flight. The potting media will still be damp the next day. Putting the pot into a bag will just seal in the moisture and put the roots at risk for root rot.

**Do this step for both carry-on orchids and for orchids that you will pack into your check-in luggage.

Orchid pot wrapped in a plastic bag for a flight

Wrap The Entire Orchid

Next, you will need some stiff tissue paper or florist’s paper to wrap your orchid, pot and all. Wrap the paper around the orchid leaves and flower spike.

Keep the paper secure and snug around the orchid, but not too snug that the leaves get bent or damaged. Tape the paper closed around the orchid.

For added cushioning, you can wrap craft batting, bubble wrap, or a lightweight cloth around the orchid. This will further protect your orchid if it gets bumped or jostled during the flight.

**Optional for carry-on orchids. Do this for orchids that you are planning to put in your check-in luggage.

Pack The Orchid Into A Box

If you have a tall box that just fits your orchid, perfect. Use that to pack your orchid.

Ideally, the box should have just an inch or so of space around the orchid leaves so that you can easily bring it in or out.

Any larger and the orchid will need extra padding around the pot to prevent it from sliding around in the box. If this is the case, use crumpled newspapers to fill in the gaps around the orchid pot.

You want to make sure that the pot will not move around at all. Even when the box is on its side, the orchid should remain stable and potting media should not spill out.

Cut a few air holes in the box for air circulation if you desire.

**Optional step but helpful for carry-on orchids. You never know if the flight attendants will ask you to put your carry-on orchid in the overhead bin. Having it in a box will protect it from other, heavier carry-on luggage sliding around and damaging your orchid during the flight. Alternatively, you can put your orchid in a paper bag with handles.

**Definitely do this for orchids going into your check-in luggage. If you plan to pack your orchid into your check-in luggage, I would suggest placing this orchid box in the middle of the luggage. Surround the box with clothes or other soft items to help cushion it and keep it in place.

Note: If you plan to bring this orchid box as a carry-on item, be aware that TSA security will likely want to look inside the box. Most likely, you will have to take your orchid out of the box. If its wrapped with batting, you will likely need to unwrap it for them to inspect.

Should You Stake The Orchid?

When packing your orchid for air travel, you may wonder if it is better to stake your orchid in order to keep the flower spikes supported. In theory, yes it is better.

However, keep in mind that we live in a post 9-11 world. TSA agents may interpret metal flower stakes, clips, or tie wires as potential weapons.

If you are planning on bringing your orchid on board as a carry-on item, refrain from using any stakes or clips. TSA agents can interpret these items as dangerous. Remove these items from your orchid before you go to the airport.

Now, if you are packing your orchid into your check-in luggage, staking your orchid is fine. I would even recommend doing so, because that extra support for your flower spike will come in handy.

Have you ever seen airport employees handling luggage? They need to move quickly and are not always careful with the baggage. Luggage can get stacked on top of other bags or flipped upside down, and as a result, so can your orchid.

Special Considerations When Bringing An Orchid On A Plane

Colorful pink and orange orchid flowers

Temperature

If you plan to pack your orchid into your check-in luggage, make sure that your orchid species can handle low, almost freezing temperatures. It can get extremely cold in the cargo hold during the flight.

The shock of cold, dry air during a flight may cause early bud blast and flower loss in your orchid. If the orchid is particularly sensitive to cold or low humidity, they may even start to drop leaves and show other signs of stress. The orchid can exhibit this stress even days after the flight.

If you have a delicate orchid, or a heat-loving orchid, it is safer and wiser to simply ship it to its destination. At the very least, put it in your carry-on luggage. Don’t pack it in the check-in luggage and leave it exposed to frigid temperatures. It may not recover easily after the flight.

Humidity

If you have ever been on a plane before, you know that the air is DRY on the plane. Humidity levels are incredibly low. Orchids are tropical plants and most orchids require humidity levels that are above 50%. This is more humidity than what most of us have in our homes, much less what is found on a plane.

That said, there is not much you can do about the low humidity on your flight. Just know that once you get to your final destination, your orchid will likely need some extra humidification and TLC (tender loving care).

Roots And Potting Media

Some airline rules may require that the orchid be “bare-root,” meaning no potting media or pot. This is more so the case if you are bringing orchids into the US from a foreign country. I go over this more below in the section about entering the US with an orchid.

If the orchids are bare-root, then you will also need to wrap the roots in a leak-proof bag to keep them contained. It seems silly, but I assume they are afraid the potting media could be hiding contraband, pests, or other microorganisms. When in doubt, double check the rules of your airline and the country you are going to.

Can You Take An Orchid On A Plane?

Yes, you can bring flowers on a plane, but with some caveats. Traveling with an orchid on the plane takes some extra preparation and research as you will soon see.

Taking An Orchid On A Plane Within The Continental United States

Map with a pin in the continental United States

If you are flying domestically within the continental United States, bringing flowers onto a plane is allowed. There should not be any issues with bringing orchids to the state of Alaska either.

According to the TSA’s website, fresh flowers are allowed through security checkpoints, as long as the containers do not contain water. Plants are also allowed as carry-on items or in checked luggage.

Just be aware that the final decision is up to the discretion of the TSA officer. This person will have the final say whether items are allowed through the checkpoints.

I would also recommend checking with your specific airline regarding their rules.

Questions To Ask Your Airline

  • Will the airline allow you to bring your orchid onto the plane as a carry-on item? How many carry-on items does your airline allow?
    • Airlines have specific rules regarding the size and number of items passengers carry on to a plane. Remember, a purse counts as one carry-on or personal item.
    • If you have a larger orchid, definitely call your airline and find out if they have any size restrictions. Make sure you can bring your orchid on board before you head to the airport.
  • If you bring your orchid as a carry-on item, how does the airline expect you to store your orchid?
  • Will they allow you to hold it on your lap during the flight?
  • Will you need to keep it under the seat or in the overhead bin?

The answer will influence how you pack and prepare your orchid for the flight. For example, you might be asked to put it under the seat in front of you or in the overhead bin during take-off and landing.

In fact, this is the general rule for all carry-on items. They must be small enough to fit under the seat in front of you or in the overhead bin, so make sure your orchid fits within those measurement guidelines.

To prevent your orchid from getting damaged during the flight, I would also recommend padding and packing your orchid beforehand. I went over that in detail in the section above, so check out those suggestions.

Taking An Orchid From The Mainland United States To Hawaii Or Another Country

Plane flying past palm trees

Now to address international flights or flights to or from Hawaii. Can you bring an orchid onto these types of flights?

Hawaii

In general, fresh flowers and leis are allowed to enter the US from Hawaii. Plants, including orchids, appear to be allowed as well.

For further information, check out the USDA site regarding travelers returning to the mainland US from Hawaii. There you will find a list of items that are allowed or not allowed. The website also lists contact information for the Hawaii Agricultural Department.

If you are unsure, I would recommend calling one of the USDA’s contact numbers listed on the USDA website above. The USDA has some strict rules related to bringing agricultural products from Hawaii to the US mainland.

As for what to expect when flying back from Hawaii to the mainland, a USDA inspector will meet you at the airport in Hawaii. He or she will require you to present all fruits, plants and other agricultural products for inspection. Items on the “allowed” list will be checked over for pests or disease.

You will only be allowed to bring the items that pass inspection onto your flight. Anything that does not pass inspection will be discarded by the USDA inspector before you get on the plane.

International

Each country has strict policies about what can and can not be brought into their country. There is a very real concern that foreign agricultural products, such as plants and fruit, can introduce new pests and disease into that country. These foreign pests and disease can wreck havoc on a country’s environment and agriculture.

This is why many countries will have rules regarding what you can bring into the country. If you must bring an orchid to another country, you should check that country’s rules regarding foreign agriculture before traveling. Some countries may allow orchids, but with stipulations.

In general, if you are flying international, flight attendants will hand out customs declarations cards towards the end of the flight. You must disclose any agricultural product you are bringing into the country. This includes orchids and orchid seeds.

While you may feel that your orchid is harmless and of course, pest free, the customs agent may feel differently. There is nothing worse than caring for an orchid throughout an international flight only to have it be taken away and discarded by a customs agent upon arrival.

For this reason, I would discourage you from bringing an orchid onto an international flight going to a foreign country.

To avoid this stress and disappointment, I would recommend researching that country’s rules before you travel there. The easiest thing to do would be to just buy an orchid at your destination.

If you’d rather not go to a flower shop in a foreign country, you can also opt to buy your orchid online and have it shipped to your destination.

Entering The United States With An Orchid From Another Country

Sunglasses, purse, orchid

If you are planning to fly into the United States from abroad, be aware of the restrictions regarding agricultural products. The reasons for these restrictions are the same as what I explained above. Foreign pests and disease can be disastrous for a country’s agriculture and environment.

That said, you are allowed to bring in orchids to the US from another country, as long as the orchid is for personal use and not for resale purposes. You do not need to obtain an import permit in this situation since it is for personal use. However, it is not as simple as hopping on the plane with your orchid. You need to do some prep work beforehand.

Before you leave the country, you will need to obtain a phytosanitary certificate from the national plant health authority in orchid’s origin country.

In addition, all plants entering the US from a foreign country “must be bare-rooted without a trace of soil.” That means that you will need to remove your orchid from the potting media and pot.

Only a maximum of 12 plants may be brought into the US at a time. Once you get to the US Port of Entry, you will need to declare the orchid and any other agricultural products.

For more information, check this askUSDA article about bringing orchids into the US.

CITES Permit For Orchids

If you are bringing a rare or endangered orchid species into the United States from another country, this will need additional permits, such as the CITES permit. To my surprise, orchids are listed as needing a CITES permit and will need this to move between countries.

Be sure you get the CITES permit taken care of before you get on your flight with your new orchid. Find out more here.

What Do I Do With My Orchid While I’m On Vacation?

If you are reading all this and thinking about traveling without your orchids, you’re in luck. I have a detailed guide on how you can keep your orchids alive while you are on vacation. Follow the suggestions outlined in the article about how to care for orchids while on vacation. You’ll be able to travel with peace of mind knowing your orchids are fine.

Final Thoughts

Obviously, the easiest thing to do is buy an orchid at your destination. You can also order an orchid online and have it shipped to your destination. However, if you have a rare orchid or are moving, that may not be the most feasible option. There will be times when you need to bring your orchid on a plane.

Traveling with orchids by plane does take extra preparation and consideration, but it isn’t impossible. Hopefully with the suggestions outlined here, you have a better handle on how to successfully travel with an orchid by plane.

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Pink orchid sitting on a table
Airplane flying over water at sunset
Looking down the aisle of an airplane
Person wrapping an orchid for travel
Pink Phalaenopsis orchid by a window

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