I love to travel on airplanes, but until recently, I didn’t know if it is ok to take a soccer ball on the plane with me and if there was any chance it would pop. So I decided to find out and let you know what I discovered. After all, if you are thinking about taking a soccer ball on a plane, you need to know if it is permitted or not.
A soccer ball can pop on an airplane. Although the chances of this happening are very low, a fully inflated, low-quality ball may pop. To reduce this risk, it is advisable to deflate a soccer ball before taking it on a plane.
Even though there is a theoretical chance that a soccer ball may pop on an airplane, the majority of airlines allow passengers to bring a soccer ball onboard the aircraft.
To show you that this is OK, I contacted a selection of airlines to ask them about it and will show you their responses below. And I will also show you a way to take the ball onboard without risking the ball literally bursting at the seams.
Why a Soccer Ball May Pop on the Plane
If you want to skip this section and head straight to the next section explaining whether or not you can take a soccer ball on an airplane click here.
As I’m sure you’re aware, air or atmospheric pressure reduces the higher up that you go. The atmospheric pressure at sea level is greater than the atmospheric pressure is at around 30,000 feet, the height where an airplane will often reach its cruising altitude.[source]
Because the outside air pressure at the cruising altitude of an airplane is too low for people to breathe comfortably, the pressure in an aircraft cabin is usually kept at the equivalent altitude of 6,000 to 8,000 feet above sea level. [source]
This is similar to the altitude of Denver that sits at 5280 feet (1609.3 meters) above sea level or Mexico City that sits at 7,500 feet (2,250 meters) above sea level.
The risk of a soccer ball popping is due to the difference between the air pressure when a soccer ball was inflated and sealed at sea level compared to the air pressure of an aircraft cabin in flight.
If you take an inflated soccer ball on a plane as carry-on baggage, once the airplane reaches its maximum altitude the reduced pressure in the aircraft cabin will be causing the air trapped inside the ball to be trying to expand, pushing against the outside of the ball.
You may have noticed this phenomenon with a water bottle on a plane or anytime you have changed altitude with a sealed container.
We experienced this recently on a flight with my family. After reaching cruising altitude on the flight my 3-year-old daughter reached for her water bottle that hadn’t been opened since before take off. But the moment she opened the bottle a stream of water went flying up into the air covering both her and the passenger behind her!
Thankfully the passenger behind us graciously took this in good humor, but this perfectly demonstrated what is happening inside of the soccer ball.
Although a soccer ball is designed to be able to withstand the pressure on the inside of the ball there comes a point where the pressure can be too much for the seams of the ball and the air inside will be released causing the ball to pop.
The risk of this happening is higher on a lower quality soccer ball because a low-quality ball cannot withstand as much internal pressure as a soccer ball created with a higher quality of craftsmanship.
Can it happen?
At some point, anything will burst if you put too much pressure on it.
If you’re interested in seeing how much pressure it takes to burst a soccer ball check out this video below
As you can see from that video, it takes a lot of pressure to cause a soccer ball to pop. The reality is that the pressure difference between the inside of the soccer ball at sea level and the pressure in an aircraft cabin at 30,000 feet is not that big.
If an inflated soccer ball on a plane is damaged, old, or poorly constructed then it may pop under the extra pressure, but a high quality, undamaged, soccer ball should have no problem dealing with the pressure.
Can I Take a Soccer Ball on a Plane?
So, if there is a chance that a soccer ball may pop on an airplane you are probably wondering if you can take a soccer ball on a plane at all. Well, thankfully, you can!
The majority of airlines around the world allow their passengers to take a soccer ball onto an airplane with them. Many permit the ball to be with a passenger’s carry-on baggage, but others may only allow the ball in the checked baggage hold. It is advisable to deflate the ball before traveling.
In the United States, for example, the Transport Security Administration(TSA) has authority over what items are permitted on an airplane. They specifically say on their website that basketballs, baseballs, footballs, and soccer balls can all be taken onto an aircraft in either carry-on or checked baggage.
This is good news!
However, to confirm this with the airlines, I spent some time looking for a direct answer to this question on the websites of 6 of the biggest airlines in the world. After spending a considerable amount of time looking, I couldn’t find anything that answered my question. So instead, I decided to message them directly.
I asked each of them the questions:
“Can I take a soccer ball on a plane? Can it be in checked or carry-on baggage? and does it need to be deflated?”
Here are the answers I received:
The first response came from United Airlines. Their response to my question was:
“Hey Ben, you should have no problems bringing a soccer ball with you on board as long as it fits within your personal item or carry on bag. You’re more than welcome to speak with the check-in agent regarding having it placed in your checked luggage.”United Airlines response to my question
They also sent a second message with a link to the Transport Security Administration(TSA) webpage that I linked to above.
The second airline I heard back from was American Airlines. Their response to my question was:
“Hello! We double-checked against http://TSA.gov and you’re welcome to bring it as a checked or carry-on. There’s no restriction written that it must be deflated. If you’re bringing it on board, you will need to ensure it either fits under the seat or in our overhead bin space”American Airlines response to my question
The next airline I heard back from was Lufthansa. Their response to my question was:
Hi Ben, you can bring a soccer ball as long as it fits in your carry on or checked bag. I recommend having it deflated before the flight.Lufthansa response to my question
The last airline I heard back from was Emirates. Their response to my question was:
“Hello Ben, Thanks for the message. You’d need to deflate it and check it in.”Emirates response to my question
(I also contacted Delta and Air Canada but didn’t hear back from either of them.)
As you can see from these four responses, it is OK to take a soccer ball with you on an airplane. Some airlines may ask you to check the ball in rather than having it with you as carry-on baggage, and some may advise you to deflate the ball before traveling, but there’s nothing to stop you from taking it with you.
My advice would be to deflate the ball and pack it in your checked baggage. This way you remove any risk of the ball popping and it stays safe with the rest of your bags. Just remember also to pack a pump to inflate it again at the other end!
However, remember that this is just a selection of airlines. To be entirely sure, check with the airline you are flying with.
How to Deflate a Soccer Ball
If you plan on taking a deflated soccer ball on an airplane, you will need to know how to deflate it.
Unless you have just purchased a new soccer ball from a dedicated soccer retailer such as soccer.com, who ship all their soccer balls deflated, then there’s a high chance that the soccer ball you want to take with you is currently inflated.
The easiest way to deflate a soccer ball is with a needle. When I say “needle” I mean the same air pump needle that you use to inflate a ball. If you don’t have one easily accessible, you can either purchase one, such as this one from Amazon, or use a different method that I will also show you below.
Deflating a ball with a needle
To deflate a soccer ball with a needle you will need a ball, a needle, and some water.
Step 1: Place the soccer ball in front of you with the valve of the ball at the top of the ball.
Step 2: With one hand, hold the ball still, and with your other hand, pour a small amount of water into the valve to lubricate it. Just enough water to make the top of the ball wet will be fine.
Step 3: While still keeping the ball steady, pick up the needle with your other hand and hold it just above the valve of the ball with the sharpest end toward the valve.
Step 4: Slowly insert the needle into the valve until you begin to hear the hissing sound of air being released from the ball. This step needs to be done firmly, as there will be some resistance, but don’t push any deeper than is necessary to hear the air being released as you risk damaging the bladder inside of the ball.
Once the ball has been deflated to the required point, stop and remove the needle. To completely flatten the ball, you may have to squeeze it a little to remove the final bit of air.
Deflating a ball without a needle
Deflating a soccer ball without a needle is a similar process to deflating a ball with a needle. The only difference is that you are replacing the needle with another thin, pointed object.
You should also be aware that using something other than a needle to deflate a soccer ball is not a recommended method and, if not done carefully, can damage the ball.
If you need to go ahead without a needle anyway, then I recommend finding an item such as a straightened paper clip, thin pen, or pencil, or I have even used a kebab skewer! Just remember to be careful with whatever you use and make sure that the diameter of the object is smaller than the diameter of the valve!
To deflate a ball this way simply follow the same steps as above but replace the needle with whatever item you have chosen to use.
Taking Other Sporting Equipment on an Airplane
If you are wanting to bring a soccer ball on an airplane then there’s a reasonable chance that you may be considering bringing other sporting equipment such as a football or soccer cleats onto the plane as well.
To answer the question of whether or not it is OK to bring other items such as these on a plane it’s best to again look at the information from the Transport Security Administration.
If we take the 2 examples of football and soccer cleats then we will see that they are both allowed on an airplane.
According to the Transport Security Administration, a passenger can bring a football onto a plane. It can be carried in either a carry-on bag or in a checked bag although it is advisable to deflate the ball before traveling. [source]
According to the Transport Security Administration, a passenger can bring soccer cleats onto a plane. They can be carried in either a carry-on bag or in a checked bag. [source]
I hope I’ve been able to show you that although the risk of a soccer ball popping on a plane is small, it is permitted for passengers to take a soccer ball with them on a plane. Just deflate it before you travel to reduce the risk of the ball being damaged.
For more information about soccer balls check out my article explaining why soccer balls are often shown as being black and white or the complete, and often surprising history of the soccer ball.
Or go to my article showing you how to effectively and confidently juggle a soccer ball.