Top Nine Worst Airport Swag Items

When I saw yesterday’s story about SXSW swag being blamed for setting off airport alarms, three thoughts came to mind.

First, I imagined all the people in line at the TSA checkpoint in Austin, Texas, worrying about missing their flights because the checkpoint line had slowed to a crawl, secretly cursing the TSA staff — and maybe even the airport — for the delay.

Second, I thought about all the swag items handed out at conferences across the U.S. that cause headaches for passengers (and everyone in line behind them) when they pass through the checkpoint. In fact, I’ve even heard of aviation conferences where branded pocket knives were given to attendees — most of whom had to fly to get back home. I am not lying.

Third, I thought it would be fun (and perhaps even helpful to some of you swag-orderers out there) to make a list of the worst possible promotional items to give to air travelers. I drew some inspiration from personal experience, some from my  professional experience as an airport marketer, and some from the TSA prohibited items list.

So, without further ado, here are my top nine don’t-even-think-about-it promotional items for air travelers:

9. Cheap luggage tags. A luggage tag is a great idea — it helps you identify your bag, keeps other passengers from confusing your bag for theirs, and helps airline personnel get your bag back to you if it gets lost in transit. But cheap tags break and can cause a lot of grief for your now-tagless passengers. Invest a bit more and get something that will hold up for a very long time.

8. Nail clippers. Even though the TSA permits nail clippers now, it’s a touchy subject and plenty of passengers still believe these are prohibited items. Consider an emery board instead.

7. Snow globes containing more than 3.4-ounces of liquid. Pro tip: These are an especially terrible idea for months that don’t begin with “Nov” or “Dec.” Perhaps trade that snow globe idea for a tree ornament or even an ice scraper.

6. Wine glasses, or other super-fragile items. You’re just setting yourself (and the recipient of the fragile item) up for disappointment. Forget the bag handlers, passengers are just as likely to break those things trying to cram them into their carry-on. Consider a travel mug or water bottle instead — sans water, of course.

5. Certain paper products. Believe it or not, some paper products can cause issues for the TSA screening machines. For example, a deck of cards, books or other items occasionally show up on the scanner looking like “organic material” and the TSA staff must locate the item in the passenger’s bag to make sure it’s okay to carry through. Before ordering a deck of cards, consider taking a sample pack to your TSA crew to see if it will cause a problem with the scanners. They’ll probably even thank you!

4. That delicious jam made by a local company but only bottled in those nice 8-ounce Mason jars. Local products are great, but to comply with the TSA’s 3-1-1 rule, consider ordering hand-crafted coffee mugs with an imprinted logo instead.

3. Hand sanitizer with a strong odor. Always try before you buy with hand sanitizer because some of these products are STRONG. While you do want your promotional items to stir up conversations, you don’t want those conversations to start with “Why do I feel nauseated?”

2. Torch lighters for pipes and cigars. Even though common lighters (without fuel) are permitted through the TSA checkpoint, torch lighters, which are super-hot and create a thin, needle-like flame are 100% not acceptable.

1. Pocket knives. Just, no. If you’re really attached to the pocket knife idea, perhaps aviation isn’t the right industry for you.

Your turn. What kinds of items are on your taboo list? Tell me in the comment section below! Bonus points for great stories.

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