If you haven’t flown in a while, you have lots of questions about security when the time comes for you to head to the airport to get on a plane. You may not be up to date on the latest airport security changes from the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Most travelers are aware that the TSA has strict regulations about the amount of toothpaste, bottled water, and other liquid and gel items that you are permitted to bring in carry-on luggage.
But what exactly are the rules? Just how much of your favorite shampoo can you bring? Are the rules different if you’re flying overseas? And what’s this new rule about powders?
Here’s some answers to these and other common airport security questions to help you figure out your packing strategy under the TSA’s carry-on rules:
Are liquids and gels permitted in my checked baggage? Yes. The liquid/gel restrictions only apply to carry-on baggage.
May I bring liquids and gels in my carry-on? 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 (such as a Ziploc). The TSA emphasizes that containers should fit comfortably into your bag, and that only one plastic bag is permitted per passenger. If you need to bring more than 3.4 ounces of any liquid or gel substance, it needs go into your checked luggage or be shipped ahead.
What about liquid prescription medications or baby formula? These substances are exempt from the rules above. If you declare them at the security checkpoint, you may carry more than the 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. Just make sure to present these items to the security officer when you reach the checkpoint. The TSA disability notification cards (PDF) that travelers can print, fill out and bring with them to the security checkpoint. The cards have a space to enter information about any relevant health conditions or medical devices, but these cards also state that: “Presenting this card does not exempt you from screening.”
May I pour shampoo and other liquids or gels into unmarked, travel-size containers? Yes, refillable travel-size containers are acceptable.
Can I bring powders on a plane? As of June 2018, powdered items such as coffee, spices, and baby powder in excess of 12 ounces will be subject to additional screening. You may be asked to remove them if they’re judged dangerous or unidentifiable.
Do solid vitamins and medications need to be packed in their original containers? 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 the daily pill minders.
What type of shoes should I wear through security? Consider slip-on shoes that can easily be removed at the checkpoint.
Can I take makeup on a plane? Makeup is subject to the same liquid and gel rules as all other substances—so if you’re bringing liquid mascara, lip gels, 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.
What are the TSA rules for deodorant? Standard stick deodorant is fine to bring on a plane in either your checked or carry-on bag. Gel or spray deodorant is subject to the liquid/gel restrictions and may not be carried on in excess of 3.4 ounces.
Can I bring food on a plane? The same liquid and gel restrictions apply when you want to bring food through airport security. Even though a TSA representative once told me to “try not to over-think” the guidelines, that can be tricky when it comes to food. 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? Just be prepared for additional screening and to throw it away if they demand it.
If you want to take snacks, beverages or food on the plane, an easy solution is to buy that stuff after you pass through the TSA security and then you don’t have to worry about it at all!
How does the TSA handle screening for children? Children 12 and under do not need to remove shoes, light jackets, or headwear before going through the checkpoint. If the metal detector or full body scanner finds something abnormal, 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. Children age 13 and up are subject to the same screening processes as adults.
Are there any special TSA rules for seniors? Yes. Seniors 75 and older can leave their shoes and light jackets on during screening (although they may have to remove them if the screener finds anything abnormal).
What are the TSA rules for lithium batteries? 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.
May I bring tweezers, razors, or scissors on the plane? Tweezers are permitted, as are electric razors, disposable razors, and their cartridges. Straight razors are only permitted in checked baggage. Scissors are allowed on a plane in your carry-on bag if the blades do not exceed four inches; otherwise, they should go in your checked bag.
May I bring duty-free liquids in my carry-on bags? Duty-free liquids, such as perfume or alcohol, are permitted in excess of 3.4 ounces if 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. Be sure to retain your receipt for the item.
I have a hearing aid, C-PAP machine, pacemaker, or other medical device. How will this be handled during my security screening? As soon as you approach the TSA agent, you should disclose 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.
How early should I arrive at the airport to allow for screening? It is recommended to arrive 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.
What should I expect at the security checkpoint? 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. You might also need to remove your belt if it has any metal parts. Laptops, tablets, and other electronics larger than a cell phone should be removed from their cases and screened individually. You can 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.
If I’m bringing birthday or holiday gifts, what’s the best way to pack them? 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. You can also put items in gift bags that are easy for the TSA to examine.
Can I lock my checked suitcase? 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.
I hope this information will help your next airport TSA experience go smoother. If you have more TSA questions, please visit the TSA website - https://www.tsa.gov/travel/security-screening . Happy travels!