Airport Rules for Carry-on Bags

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After 9/11 the airport rules for carry-on bags (and more specifically what you can and can’t take on a plane) were shaken up and changed dramatically.

While this was undoubtedly a good thing (as it should help prevent terrorism), it did make things rather confusing.

In a nutshell, you can take pretty much anything except items which could be used as a dangerous weapon (such as a knife) or liquids greater than 100ml (or 3oz) in volume.

If you attempt to take any of these forbidden items through airport security, you’ll be stopped and forced to dispose of the item before proceeding.

So What Can I Bring on a Plane?

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has come up with an easy way for you to remember the airport rules for carry-on bags.

They call this the “3-1-1” for carry-on:

  • Toiletries (and other liquids including gels, lotions, etc.) must each be in a 3-ounce container (or smaller)
  • These items must be packed together in a 1 quart-sized clear plastic zip-lock bag
  • 1 such bag is allowed per passenger, and this bag must be removed from your carry-on and placed in a tray for inspection at airport security

Note that when I talk about liquids I don’t just mean drinks. There are lots of different items (such as foods) that are classed as liquids. Here’s what the TSA has to say:

“Food items such as jams, salsas, sauces, syrups and dips will not be allowed through the checkpoint unless they are in containers three ounces or less and in the passenger’s one quart zip-top bag. This applies to gift items including lotions, creams, scented oil, liquid soaps, perfumes, and even snow globes, that are in excess of three ounces — even if they are in sealed gift packs.”



As with most rules, there are certain exceptions and caveats.

For example, you can bring bottles of water (or any other kind of drink) onto the plane if you buy them after you’ve passed through security (i.e. in the ‘duty free’ area).

Also, if you have a special medication that you require during the flight (even if its container exceeds 3oz) you may be allowed special dispensation. For more information on the TSA’s policy on taking medical items on airplanes, click here.

The third exception to these airport rules for carry-on bags comes is for parents who require some kind of breast milk, formula or baby food whilst on the plane.

These items can exceed 3oz and don’t have to be stored in a zip-lock bag, although you will need to declare them for inspection as you pass through security. For more information on this, check out this link on the TSA’s website.

Airport rules for carry-on bags will change and evolve over time (especially after terrorist attacks). To make sure you’re up-to-date, visit the TSA’s website and check the website of the airport you’re departing from.

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  3. Choosing the Best Carry On Luggage
  4. Solo Travel – Five Rules to Live By
  5. The 10 Best (and Worst) Airport Terminals in the World

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