Before you can fly a commercial airline in the United States, you need to get past the Transportation Security Administration or TSA. These agents are responsible for security at airports in the U.S. If you travel by air, you'll encounter them.
As you pack your suitcase, it’s a good idea to refresh your memory on the agency's most recent rules for the items you can and cannot bring on the airplane. That way, you can keep your carry-on compliant and breeze through security lines.
Rules for Liquids and Gels in Your Carry-On Luggage
One of the most basic — and most important — rules for airport security regards liquids and gels. These rules also apply to aerosols, creams, and pastes. As of 2019, the liquids and gels you take on board an airplane must fit in a single quart-sized bag.
The TSA also restricts the size of the individual items you put in your quart-sized bag. Each one must be 3.4 ounces or less.
We like to use clear silicone bottles
that we know meet TSA standards. If you have an item that’s larger, an agent will ask you to dispose of it before you can go through security.
When you go through security, you’ll need to take your bag out of your carry on
and place it in a bin. This allows agents to screen it. If any of your items sounds an alarm, the agents may need to inspect it separately. In the end, the TSA has the authority to decide whether or not you’re allowed to take any item through security.
Rules for Powders and Powder-Like Substances
In 2018, the TSA updated its carry-on rules to cover powders and powder-like substances
such as ground coffee. Under these new rules, you’re allowed to take powders in containers up to 12 ounces without being screened.
If you need to take powders in containers that are 12 ounces or larger, security agents will inspect or scan them separately. If the agent can’t identify the powder, or if he decides that the powder is suspicious, he can refuse to let it through security.
To help with this process, it’s a good idea to keep your powders in their original containers. If you think the agents might have a problem with it, it’s better to leave the powder at home or pack it in your checked luggage.
What About Cosmetics?
If you’re traveling carry-on only, or if you’re simply trying to save space in your checked luggage, it’s common to bring cosmetics on an airplane. This can raise questions.Can you bring powder foundation on an airplane? Does liquid lip gloss count toward your liquid allowance?
The answer to both of these questions is yes. Cosmetics are subject to the TSA’s rules for carry-ons. Since so many makeup items
are gels, creams, pastes, powders, and aerosols, it’s important to watch how much you bring. They always need to fit within the existing size and quantity rules, which means that every individual container must be 3.4 ounces or smaller.
Solid products, such as lipsticks and lip balms, do not count toward this rule. The same goes for sold deodorants. Liquid lip glosses, mascara, and liquid eyeliner do. So does hairspray, which is an aerosol.
Can You Travel with Food in Your Carry On?
Airports are notorious for selling overpriced food and drinks. If you don’t feel like paying this premium, or if you simply prefer to bring snacks from home, you’ll need to get them through security first. The TSA does allow you to bring food in your carry on, as long as it falls within the published rules.
For most foods, you’re good to go. Go ahead and bring a container with a sandwich or a salad; you can even stop by your favorite takeout place on the way to the airport.
Before you make up a menu, however, remember that the security rules affect a surprising number of foods. Yogurt, for example, is a convenient on-the-go snack — but since it’s a cream, it must stick to the 3.4-ounce rule. The same goes for salad dressings, Jell-O, and hummus. Peanut butter, since it’s somewhere between a paste and a cream, must also be 3.4 ounces or less. Want to carry a can of soup or a jar of jam? Better put it in your checked baggage, because airport security won’t allow it in the cabin.
Some of the things the TSA prohibits are surprising. Spreadable cheese wedges, for example, need to fit in your quart-sized bag. Solid blocks of cheese do not. Pies and cakes
, on the other hand, are fine with the agency.
If you’ve ever forgotten about a bottle of water in your backpack, you know that that airport agents won’t allow it through security. But what happens if you want to stay hydrated, but you don’t want to pay $6 for water in the airport? Simple: empty the water before you go through security. Then, you can refill the bottle at a drinking fountain or ask a restaurant to fill it up for you after security.
Taking Alcohol, Cigarettes, and Drugs on an Airplane
Can you take alcohol in your carry on? Sure, if it’s smaller than 3.4 ounces — which means you’re limited to travel-size bottles. If that’s good with you, keep in mind that you won’t be able to use these bottles to make a cocktail on the airplane; most airlines prohibit you from doing this. While this might seem silly, it’s designed to help airline crew maintain control and safety. After all, if they can’t monitor how much a person is being served, they can’t prevent people from getting drunk and dangerous.
What about the alcohol you buy from the duty-free shop? This alcohol is fine to take on a plane. However, there’s a catch. When you buy the products, duty-free will wrap them in tamper-resistant packages. They may hand them over immediately, or you may need to wait to pick them up until you’re boarding. Airline crew will let these packages on the airplane, but only as long as the tamper-resistant seals remain unbroken.
If you’re a smoker, you might be wondering if you can bring your cigarettes or cigars on the plane. The answer is yes to both. Naturally, you can’t take any illegal drugs. This includes medical marijuana. Even if it’s legal in your city or state, federal law still prohibits it. Since the TSA is a federal agency, it will not allow any marijuana through. What’s more, if an agent finds it in your possession, they must report you. This rule applies to all marijuana and cannabis products, including items that are infused.
Taking Batteries on a Plane
If you’re like many people, you’re probably tethered to your cell phone and laptop. Since outlets can be few and far between in airports, you might be thinking of bringing a spare lithium battery to keep everything charged. That’s fine, according to the TSA, but you’ll need to take that battery in your carry on — it cannot go in your checked luggage. If you have a suitcase with a built-in lithium battery, you need to remove it before checking it in.
This is required because lithium batteries
have been known to catch on fire. If they’re in the cabin, flight attendants can monitor and handle the situation; if they’re in the hold, the fire can spread.
Some batteries are not allowed on the plane, either in carry on or checked luggage. This includes car batteries, batteries that can spill, and wet batteries.
There’s one phone that’s banned from airlines: the Samsung Galaxy Note 7
. After several incidents where the phone caught on fire in flight due to a problem with the battery, the government no longer allows this model through security.
Exceptions to the Rules for Liquids, Gels, Aerosols and Powders
There are two exceptions to the rules for liquids, gels, aerosols, and powders: medications and child nourishment.
Medication Rules for Airline Travel
Do you need to bring liquid, gel, aerosol, or paste medical products on the plane? You don’t need to worry about fitting them in your quart-sized bag. You can bring your prescription medications
and health products in your carry-on. Keep in mind that these items should be considered medically necessary. Agents also need to be able to identify each item, so it's important to keep them in their original packages. This is crucial when it comes to prescription meds.
If you need to bring health supplies in your carry-on, you should take them out when you go through security. Tell an agent what you have, and let them know that it’s for medical reasons. The agent will need to screen these items separately to make sure that everything is above board.
Medical supplies that are exempt from the standard carry-on size limits include:
- Ice packs
- Gel packs
- Medical creams
- IV liquids
- Liquid medications
Keeping The Kids Happy
Flying from one place to another can take hours, especially when you count the time you spend at the departure gate. If you’re traveling with little ones, this means that you’re probably going to need to feed them at some point after you go through security. Airport security agents know this, so there are exceptions to the rules.
In general, you can carry on formula, juice, and breast milk in containers that are larger than 3.4 ounces. You can also bring baby food in jars or cans and teething rings filled with liquid. These containers don’t need to go in your quart-sized bag — just make sure to take them out of your carry-on and let the security agent know what they are. The same goes for any ice packs you need to keep the liquids cool.
Be prepared: the agent may need to test the liquids that you’re bringing, including breast milk. If that happens, you’ll need to open the container and pour out a small amount for the agent to test.
In most cases, you can bring these items only if you’re traveling with a child. The exception is breast milk; you may fly with it even if you don’t have your baby with you.
Other Items You Cannot Bring on an Airplane
In addition to liquids, there are certain items that you can never bring on board a plane. Usually, these items are things that could be used as weapons or to disable another person.
Some of the items you cannot pack in your carry-on include:
- Aerosol insecticides, including bug spray
- Alcohol that’s over 140 proof, even if it’s 3.4 ounces or smaller
- Arc, plasma, and electronic lighters
- Weapons of any kind, including guns, knives, hatchets, and axes
- Explosives, including fireworks
- Sharp items, including scissors, corkscrews, and darts
Of course, there are some exceptions. A knitting needle or crochet hook could be used as a weapon, but security agents still allow them on the plane. The same goes for disposable razors.
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