Atmospheric pressure is assumed to be a constant everywhere, but it isn’t. The constant flow of air around the planet brings with its fluctuations in the local air pressure. Normally not an issue for fountain pen users. Altitude also impacts air pressure and does spell troubles for fountain pen users. Why you ask, the sudden drop of pressure outside the pen can lead to a lot of ink being forced out of the pen by a trapped bubble of high-pressure air from a lower altitude.
Do not, become complacent in the belief that modern pressurized aircraft will eliminate the issue unless you are flying out of the lofty airports in these cities: Shennongjia, China; Toluca, Mexico; Arequipa, Peru; Bogota, Columbia, and Cuenca, Ecuador – all located 8,000 feet above sea level (roughly 2,500 meters), or about 75% of the pressure at sea level.
Have you ever opened a bottle of water in mid-flight seal it then looked at it once the plane lands?
- The single best way to avoid ink leakage on a plane is to travel with your fountain pens empty. No ink, no leak.
- The second best way to avoid problems is to travel with the pen nib pointing up, as cabin pressure changes shouldn’t result in the pen leaking. But if the nib is pointing down or horizontally, it will most assuredly result in some ink leakage.
- There are those who subscribe to the idea of traveling with an inked fountain pen and keeping it filled with as much ink as possible. The less air there is in the ink reservoir, the less room for an air bubble and the less likely it will leak.
Using the pen in Flight
Using a fountain pen in flight? Yes, once the plane is at cruising altitude it is safe to take the pen out and begin writing. A little care is prudent. Some caps seal extremely well, and pressure equalization within the pen won’t happen until the pen is uncapping. It is best to hold the pen, and nib up, when removing the cap. Also, have a cloth or tissue handy just in case there is a splatter from ink trapped in the feed.
I do not subscribe to flying with a pen completely full of ink, as it is nearly impossible to achieve. But a little bit of planning will reap benefits and prevent embarrassment.
- When traveling with fountain pens in a briefcase or backpack, empty them.
- If a fountain pen is riding in a pocket, as full as possible is preferable, there will be no space to trap air in the reservoir. It is important to keep the nib pointing up to prevent issues.
If vintage fountain pens are your thing and they are accompanying you on the flight, Sheaffer Snorkels, and Parker “51”s, they are less likely to cause issues but they are still subject to leaking. Generally speaking, contemporary pens seem to travel more reliably.
In conclusion, keep fountain pens as full as possible, or completely dry when flying. Give them at least half a chance to not let you down.
Do you fly with fountain pens? What are your experiences?