I hope more seasoned flyers can answer this question for me.
Are pepper sprays (mini keychain types) allowed as carry-on? If not, are you allowed to put them inside check-in suitcases?
As a woman traveler on the petite side, I prefer to have pepper spray in my purse...just in case. I don't usually check-in suitcases when I fly, and would hate to check-in a suitcase just so I can take the pepper spray along.
What do you guys do when it comes to personal protection?
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First, welcome to Flyertalk and to Women Travelers. You'll find a wealth of information here.
To answer your question, no you can't carry-on pepper spray, but the TSA does allow you to check up to 4 oz of mace or pepper spray provided the container has a safety device to keep it from accidentally discharging. (Check out the permitted and prohibited items list at tsa.gov). It's best to check with your carrier though too as some have more restrictive policies and don't allow pepper spray even in checked luggage (you'll usually find this info on their websites).
As for women's safety tips. There are quite a few threads on this subject that you'll find using the search feature that you'll find at the top of the page (type in security and search the Women Travelers forum). Here are some particularly good ones.
In lieu of pepper spray or mace (as these items are not allowed in carry-ons), I usually travel with a small can of aerosol hairspray. It sounds a little strange, but the travel sized hairspray is a propellant which is allowed in my carry-on luggage, and anyone who has accidentally squirted her or himself in the eye with the stuff knows that it can really hurt. I figure it will at least buy me some time to get away from a dangerous situation, if needed.
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I was traveling with a collegue making her first overseas flight and she got arrested in Hong Kong for having either mace or pepper spray. I was worried she'd miss the flight and I waited 2 hours for her. Finally; they let her go after she paid a fine. Lesson learned. Years ago; before I was a FF; I had a job interview and flew out in the a.m. was flying back that night. I forgot I had pepper spray on my keychain but the security person was great - they told me they'd hold it for me and did. WOULD NEVER happen today but again; this was years ago.