Airport Security Q&A
If you haven’t flown in a while, you may not be up on the latest airport security changes from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Most travelers are aware that the TSA has instituted strict regulations about the amount of toothpaste, bottled water, and other liquid and gel items that travelers are permitted to bring in carry-on luggage. But what exactly are the rules? Just how much of your must-have favorite shampoo can you bring? And are the rules different if you’re flying overseas?
We’ve gathered answers to these and other common questions to help you figure out your packing strategy under the TSA’s carry-on rules. With air traffic soaring, it’s more important than ever to follow the guidelines — that way you won’t be the fool holding up your entire security line.
Q. Are liquids and gels permitted in my checked baggage?
A. Yes. The liquid/gel restrictions only apply to carry-on baggage.
A. Yes, but only in limited amounts. Liquids and gels must be in individual containers of 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less and placed inside one clear, quart-size, plastic, zip-top bag. The TSA emphasizes that containers should fit comfortably into your bag, and that only one bag is permitted per passenger. If you need to bring more than 3.4 ounces of any liquid or gel substance, it should go into your checked luggage or be shipped ahead.
A. These substances are exempt from the rules above. As long as you declare them at the security checkpoint, you may carry more than 3.4 ounces, and they do not need to be placed in a plastic bag. The TSA recommends but does not require that prescription medications be in their original labeled containers to expedite the screening process. The TSA also makes exceptions for other medical necessities such as insulin, eye drops or syringes; see the TSA website for more details.
A. While keeping medications and vitamins in their original labeled containers may expedite the screening process, it’s fine to transfer them into more convenient smaller containers such as daily pill minders.
A. Makeup is subject to the same liquid and gel rules as all other substances — so if you’re bringing liquid mascara, lip gels (such as Blistex) or other liquid- or gel-like items, they will need to be placed in your quart-size plastic bag in 3.4-ounce or smaller containers. Lipstick, powders, solid lip balms (such as ChapStick) and other solid beauty products are not subject to the rules, and may be carried in your hand luggage without restriction.
A. Even though a TSA representative once told us to “try not to over-think” the guidelines, that can be tricky when it comes to food items. Does a cheesecake count as a gel or a solid? What about pecan pie? And can you bring your holiday leftovers like turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes?
A TSA rep told us that turkey and stuffing should be solid enough to pass muster, but mashed potatoes are a bit too gel-like. As for baked goods, the latest word from the TSA is that travelers can take pies, cakes and other bakery products through security — but be prepared for additional screening.
You may bring solid snack foods such as pretzels, potato chips or carrot sticks for the plane, but you may want to hold the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Single-serving packages of condiments are permitted as long as they fit within your single zip-top bag, so you can add mustard to your ham sandwich after you get through security. All food must be securely wrapped or in a spill-proof container.
Gel packs to refrigerate food are permitted for medication, but otherwise must be completely solid when you go through the checkpoint. If your freezer pack is partially defrosted and there’s any water in your container, the TSA will confiscate the item.
Our advice? If you have any doubts about a particular food, either check it or leave it at home. After all, you can always buy food or drinks after you pass through the security checkpoint if you need some munchies for the plane.
A. Yes. The TSA has begun to implement new screening policies for children to reduce pat-downs for travelers 12 and under. Children will not have to take their shoes off before going through the security checkpoint. If the metal detector or full body scanner finds anomalies, the screener may choose to let the child go through again and/or swab the child’s hands for explosives in lieu of a pat-down.
A. Loose lithium batteries are not permitted in checked bags. If your batteries are installed in a device (such as a camera), you may pack the device in either a checked bag or a carry-on, but loose lithium batteries may only be transported in your carry-on luggage. Certain quantity limits apply to both loose and installed batteries; for more information, see the Department of Transportation’s website.
A. Common lighters without fuel are permitted in carry-on or checked baggage, while torch lighters (which are typically used to light pipes and cigars) are prohibited in either type of baggage. You may only bring one standard lighter per passenger in your carry-on, or two in your checked bag.
A. Tweezers are permitted, as are disposable razors and their cartridges. Straight razors are only permitted in checked baggage. Scissors are permitted as long as the blades do not exceed four inches.
A. Yes. However, circular thread cutters, scissors longer than four inches and other needlepoint tools with blades must be packed in checked luggage.
A. The European Union (E.U.) as well as other countries such as Australia, Japan, Singapore, Iceland and Norway have adopted similar security restrictions to those in the U.S. You are permitted 100-milliliter containers of liquid and gel substances, packed within a clear, resealable, one-liter plastic bag.
If you’re not sure what airport security rules will apply in the country you’re visiting, we recommend contacting your airline or the local tourist board for advice.
A. Duty-free liquids, such as perfume or alcohol, are permitted in excess of 3.4 ounces as long as they were purchased at a duty-free shop and placed in special tamper-evident bags. Liquids not in these bags must be stowed in your checked suitcase if you have more than 3.4 ounces.
A. Passengers may bring five pounds of dry ice in either their carry-on or checked bag as long as it’s stored in a package that allows the venting of carbon dioxide gas. That said, a DOT spokesperson suggests that travelers avoid packing dry ice in carry-on luggage, as individual TSA agents unfamiliar with the regulations may confiscate the substance.
A. Although there have been some horror stories about the TSA’s treatment of fliers with disabilities and medical conditions, most security officers are discreet and professional. As soon as you approach the TSA agent, you should notify him or her of your medical issue so that he or she can determine the best way to screen you and any equipment you may be carrying. The TSA does not require travelers to carry a doctor’s note describing their condition, but having this written description may help expedite the screening process. See TSA Introduces New Medical Notification Cards for Travelers.
A. We recommend arriving at the airport two hours before a domestic flight, especially if you’re traveling during the summer, the holidays or another particularly busy time of year. If you’re flying internationally, you should allow yourself even more time.
A. You will have to put your shoes, clear plastic bag of liquids, jacket, jewelry, cell phone, keys and metal items into a bin for screening before you step through the metal detector or the full body scanning machine. (If you opt out of the full body scan, you will face an “enhanced” pat-down, which is performed by a security officer of your gender and covers all areas of the body, including the groin, buttocks and breasts.) You may also need to remove your belt. Laptops and video cameras must be removed from their cases and screened individually. Smaller electronics such as iPads or e-readers do not need to be removed from your bag for separate screening. Save time by putting metal items into your carry-on before you get to the checkpoint, taking your electronic items out of their cases and wearing easily removable footwear.
A. According to a TSA representative, you may request to be rescanned before submitting to a pat-down, but it’s up to the individual TSA officer to decide whether to grant that request, based on whether the situation meets security protocols.
A. Do not pack wrapped gifts in either your carry-on or checked baggage, as the TSA may unwrap them for inspection. Your best bet is to wrap your gifts once you arrive at your destination, or ship them ahead of time.
A Laptops, video cameras, iPods, hand-held video game consoles, e-readers and most other standard electronic devices are permitted in both checked and carry-on luggage. As noted above, you should be prepared to remove laptops or video cameras from their cases at the security checkpoint. Because electronic items tend to be frequent targets for security screening, you may want to pack these near the top of your bag so that inspectors don’t need to unpack your whole suitcase to get to them.
A. Yes, but you’ll need to use a TSA-approved lock so that screeners can open it if your bag is selected for inspection. TSA screeners will simply cut off non-approved locks if they need to get into your bag.
A. Check TSA.gov for packing tips, a searchable list of permitted and prohibited items, and information for travelers with special needs.