Transporting Drosophila in your carry-on luggage

Importing Drosophila cultures in your baggage

Most Drosophila importation involves mail or courier shipments. It is legal to use an import permit or a Letter of No Permit Required to bring Drosophila cultures into the U.S. in carry-on luggage, but, practically speaking, it poses so many problems that both we and the USDA stronglydiscourage it.

“Hand carrying” cultures should be attempted only in consultation with PPQ or BRS. They will provide special instructions depending on the kinds of strains you wish to import in personal baggage. Import permits stipulate the mode of transportation, so your documentation must indicate that you wish to import strains in personal baggage. You will need to allow time for applications to be processed and permits issued prior to travel.

The USDA must notify Customs and Border Protection officials that they will be encountering live organisms in baggage, so you must provide your travel plans to BRS or PPQ at least 20 days in advance of arriving at the border.

While Customs and Border Protection will be able to clear most Drosophila samples if they are accompanied by proper documentation, PPQ or BRS may insist that certain strains pass through an USDA inspection station for evaluation. These stations are present at only a handful of airports, so you would need to plan your travels accordingly and schedule a layover long enough to allow time for inspection.

Be aware that importing Drosophila samples into Hawaii requires additional documentation.

You should also be aware that customs or security officials in the country of origin may prevent you from carrying Drosophila samples on board a plane. The USDA cannot advise you about rules in other countries and we have no idea what you should expect.  

All in all, it is much easier to import fly cultures by mail or courier. Consider yourself forewarned…

Notifying the Transportation Security Administration

If your baggage will be screened by the TSA—either traveling from a foreign country to a U.S. destination or traveling strictly within the U.S.—you should contact them before arriving at the airport to obtain prior approval so that your samples are not seized. In principle, Drosophila cultures should be allowed in carry-on baggage on domestic flights, but you will likely save yourself a lot of trouble by arranging things ahead of time instead of expecting an appropriate instantaneous decision by screeners when presented with such an unusual item.

In our opinion, the costs of postal or courier shipments are low and the risk of aggravation is high, so there are few benefits to hand-carrying Drosophila samples on domestic flights. We recommend against it.