What items are you allowed to take from planes? The rules of what you can and can't take

Have you ever had the sudden urge to pilfer a life jacket from under your plane seat to take home? No, us neither - but it does happen.

Much like at hotels though, the line regarding which in-flight products are freebies and which should be left behind isn't entirely clear cut. Just ask the cabin crew at Cathay Pacific, who this month found themselves in trouble for stashing items including ice cream and bread.

According to the South China Morning Post, flight attendants for Hong Kong's largest airline will now face random inspections after "an increasing number of reported losses of company property".

Other items to have been swiped, the publication alleges, include cutlery, wine glasses and bottles of champagne - far higher up on the naughty scale.

In light of this, we thought we'd address the rules regarding what you can and can't pinch from a plane, and examine the strangest items passengers have stolen in the past.

Amenities bags

Etihad Airways first class amenity kit 2018

Etihad Airways' first class amenity kit.

We'll start off with an easy one. The little packet of goodies we receive on long-haul flights - eye mask, socks, toothbrush - are quite clearly a gift from the airline. Environmentally, being single-use items, they're not great. But if you don't open the bags, they can at least be passed onto someone else.

Incidentally, and contrary to popular belief, the miniature toiletries found in hotel bathrooms are also yours to take. And in this case, it's often much better for the environment if you do.

Headphones

This varies. It used to be typical that airline-provided headphones were collected by cabin crew at the end of the flight. And their traditional double-pronged audio jacks were in part designed to render them useless outside of the plane, thus deterring theft.

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These days, modern planes are generally fitted with standard universal audio jacks, which encourages passengers to use their own headphones.

But while airline-branded, over-ear headsets are hardly ever yours to take (and aren't much use anyway), the plastic earbud versions provided by some airlines are, since they can't be recycled and given to the next passenger. Certain airlines include them as part of the free amenities kit, others, typically budget carriers like Ryanair and Easyjet, will sell them to you.

The best option, of course, is to always travel with your own headphones. They're bound to be better quality, certainly in economy class. Just keep in mind that when it comes to older aircraft models, you won't be able to plug them into the two-prong audio jacks (although you can buy cheap adapters to fix that).

Blankets

Not yours to keep, not even in business class (unlike pyjamas, which are gifted). Airline blankets are gathered at the end of the flight, washed at industrial laundry centres and then redistributed. Some carriers, especially those based in the US, will let you buy blankets from the in-flight magazine should you desire. And on that note...

The in-flight magazine

These can indeed be taken away by passengers. One travel blogger who collects them, Noel Cabacungan, having grown tired of "presumptive stares" from other passengers every time he took one, went so far as to contact a handful of airlines to ask if it was permitted. Those that responded (Singapore Airline and Malaysian Airlines among them) all said "yes".

Food

Can passengers reasonably ask flight attendants for a second hot meal? Or a third? And what about a few more bags of nuts while you're at it? Having spoken to several airlines, including Virgin Atlantic and BA, the answer is a resounding yes, so long as they're in stock.

And it's actually better for the planet if you take items from your unfinished meal with you to eat later, since all fresh food that hasn't been consumed upon landing must by law be thrown away. But don't try that when flying into Australia or other countries with strict quarantine rules - bringing in food, even if it was given to you on the plane, can result in hefty fines. 

But can you raid the cart yourself? Definitely not. Nuralia Mazlan, a Kuala Lumpur-based flight attendant, told the website Quora: "If a passenger came to me asking if there's anything for them to munch on, I always give them anything that's available. But don't simply raid the galley - where are your manners?"

See also: Can you ask for a second meal on a plane?

Tableware

Naturally, plastic knives and forks are up for grabs. The metal variety, seldom supplied in economy, would be a fairly strange implement to stash in one's bag. Salt and pepper shakers, on the other hand, are the most commonly stolen item aboard Virgin Atlantic; specifically the silver plane-shaped ones you'll only find in Upper Class. Entirely resigned to their fate, these shakers all bear the stamp "pinched from Virgin Atlantic" on their base.

Airsickness bags

Fine to take, if that's your thing. It is for travel blogger Clemens Sehi, who has collected more than 250 bags from 50 countries. "It's kind of a tradition for me to take the bags with me as a souvenir," he told The Washington Post

Life jackets

It would be very poor form to swipe one of these, for obvious reasons, but it does happen. According to George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com, life jackets are increasingly targeted by souvenir hunters. So much so that airline staff on many carriers perform regular checks to replace missing ones.

Why do people do this? We turned to Reddit in quest of answers. "I want to steal the life vests from a plane," one user posted to the community. "What are the consequences of this? I don't have a good reason for it. I just think they're cool."

The Telegraph, London

See also: There's a good reason to steal the toiletries from your hotel room

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