After having “non-rev” privileges with Southwest Airlines, Christy dove into the world of points and miles so she could continue traveling for free. Her other passion is personal finance, and is a cer...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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The rules for what the Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, allows travelers to bring in their luggage can be confusing and overwhelming!
For instance, are you allowed to bring food through security? And what about your bottled water? Just how much toothpaste can you pack in your carry-on? Does your razor blade need to be checked? And do these rules change if you’re flying overseas instead of domestically?
So whether it has been a while since you’ve last flown anywhere or you just want to make sure you have everything in order before your trip, it might be time for a refresher. We’ve compiled a list of commonly asked questions to help you get through your next TSA airport security checkpoint with ease.
The TSA is a federal agency that “protects the nation’s transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce.” If you’re using a major airport, you’ll have to be screened by the TSA. You can only avoid the TSA by flying on charter flights or private aircraft.
To access your flight, you will most likely have to go through a TSA security checkpoint. Once the screening process at the airport has begun, you are required by law and by the TSA to go through the screening.
TSA doesn’t provide guidelines on when they suggest you arrive at the airport. TSA directs people to contact the airline they are flying with as times may vary depending on the airport and date of travel.
However, in general, 2 hours for a domestic flight and 3 hours for international flights are good standards. Always allow time for parking/shuttle transportation, airline check-in, obtaining a boarding pass, and going through the TSA security screening process.
You may check how busy the airport is likely to be on your specific day and time of travel based on historical data by downloading the MyTSA app. See more FAQs on this app below.
Yes, you can lock your luggage, but you’ll need to use a TSA-approved lock so that TSA screeners can open it if your bag is selected for inspection. If you don’t use this type of lock, TSA screeners will simply cut off the locks if they need to get into your bag.
Size dimensions of carry-on baggage allowed in the cabin of the aircraft are regulated by individual airlines, not the TSA. Be sure to contact your airline to confirm what is allowed.
Even if you arrive at the airport without proper ID, either because it is lost or just left at home, you may still be allowed to fly. TSA has other ways to confirm your identity, like using publicly available databases. You may have to provide certain information for them to do this.
If your identity cannot be verified in this way, you will not be allowed to enter the screening checkpoint and cannot board your flight.
Due to COVID-19, the TSA has made changes to accepted forms of IDs. TSA issued a statement that notes “if your driver’s license or state-issued ID expired on or after March 1, 2020, and you are unable to renew at your state driver’s license agency, you may still use it as acceptable identification at the checkpoint. TSA will accept expired driver’s licenses or state-issued ID a year after expiration.”
This is still in place as of 2023 but may change in the future.
First, be sure to have your ID and boarding pass out for inspection. Unless you have TSA PreCheck or qualify for reduced procedures (such as children or seniors), you will have to put the following items in a bin that gets screened separately:
Other common items you might need to remove (or place in your personal or carry-on luggage):
Place your personal items (such as a purse or laptop bag) as well as your carry-on bag on the conveyor belt. Proceed to the metal detector or the full-body scanning machine or opt-in for enhanced screening procedures, such as a pat-down. After you are through, you may collect your belongings and proceed to your gate.
Yes. TSA’s PreCheck program offers access to expedited security lines. If you frequently travel internationally, Global Entry may be a better option as it also includes PreCheck membership. See more FAQs regarding the benefits of it below.
Per the TSA, “automated target recognition software detects any metallic and non-metallic threats concealed under clothing by displaying a generic outline of a person on a monitor attached to the advanced imaging technology unit highlighting any areas that may require additional screening.”
The generic outline of a person will be identical for all passengers. If there isn’t an alarm, a green “OK” appears on the screen with no outline.
Remember to remove all metal items (such as belts and watches) and other items from your pockets before you go through screening. You should also avoid wearing clothes, shoes, and jewelry that have a high metal content.
Follow instructions and stand where you are directed. This will reduce the likelihood that a pat-down screening is necessary.
The TSA officer will explain the pat-down process before and during the screening. The officer that conducts the screening will be of the same gender. Remember that any time during the screening process, you can request a private screening and are allowed to have a witness of your choice present.
Since a pat-down screening is conducted to determine whether prohibited items are concealed under clothing, sufficient pressure must be applied to ensure detection. You should inform the officer if you have a medical condition or any areas that are painful when touched.
Pat-down screening is only used to resolve alarms unless otherwise requested by the passenger as an alternative to metal detectors and imaging technology.
Transgender persons will be screened as he or she presents at the security checkpoint. Remember that at any time during the screening process, they can request to speak with a supervisor and are allowed to have a witness of their choice present.
Whether or not an alarm is triggered, a private screening can always be requested.
TSA has modified screening procedures for children under 12 that reduce the likelihood of pat-down screening. If an alarm is triggered, TSA officers will work directly with parents to resolve any alarms.
Read more about TSA’s procedures for screening children.
Generally, seniors can leave on their shoes and a light jacket during TSA screening. Passengers 75 and older who are unable to stand for screening will be screened through other security methods.
If an alarm is triggered, they may be required to remove these items for further screening or undergo a pat-down screening.
Yes, you may request a pat-down screening as an alternative to metal detectors and imaging technology. Simply approach any TSA officer and inform them of your preference.
Yes, pets are allowed through the security checkpoint. First, you must remove your pet from the carrying case and place the case through the X-ray machine. Animal carriers will undergo a visual and/or physical inspection.
While the pet is out of their case, be sure to maintain control of your pet with a leash, and remember to remove the leash when carrying or walking your pet through the metal detector.Hot Tip:
Note that separate procedures for service animals apply. See that section below for more details.
Per the TSA, “advanced imaging technology (or AIT) is safe and meets national health and safety standards. In fact, the energy emitted by millimeter wave technology is 1000 times less than the international limits and guidelines.”
You are also able to opt out of this screening in favor of physical screening unless your boarding pass indicates that you have been selected for enhanced screening.
The MyTSA app provides airline passengers with 24/7 access to airport security information. It includes a search function for items that can or can’t go in your carry-on or checked luggage, helpful tips for preparing for security, and both real-time and historic data for wait times at TSA checkpoints.
You may report wait times under Checkpoint Wait Time on the My Airports screen. You must be within a half-mile radius of the airport to report wait times.
Wait times are kept for 2 hours, so if no one has reported within that time frame, no wait times will appear.
For assistance with the MyTSA app, please email your inquiry to TSA.
TSA PreCheck allows pre-approved, low-risk travelers to go through expedited security screening at TSA airport checkpoints for domestic and outbound international travel.
At the TSA PreCheck lanes at more than 150 airports nationwide, members do not have to remove articles of clothing (shoes, belts, light jackets) at the security checkpoint and can even keep their laptops and 3-1-1 liquids in their bags.
There is a non-refundable $78 fee that will cover 5 full years of TSA PreCheck membership.Hot Tip:
Many cards reimburse this fee, so be sure to check out our article covering the best credit cards for complimentary Global Entry and TSA PreCheck.
Yes, and this is very important. The name submitted on your airline reservation must be an exact match to the name you provided on your application.
Find a TSA PreCheck enrollment center by entering a postal code, city, or airport code in the search box on TSA’s website.
To apply, complete a TSA PreCheck application online or at an enrollment center near you. Most people will receive a notification that they have been approved in less than 2 weeks.
You will then have to schedule a visit to an enrollment center for a short interview and show proof of identity, citizenship, and submit your fingerprints. Once this is completed, you will receive a Known Traveler Number (KTN) by mail.
TSA PreCheck is open to U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, and lawful permanent residents.
There is no age restriction to apply for TSA PreCheck, however, be aware that kids ages 17 and under traveling with an eligible parent or guardian with a TSA PreCheck indicator on their boarding pass can use TSA PreCheck for free.
Previously, this was age 12 and under, but as of May 2023, “Teenagers aged 13-17 may now accompany TSA PreCheck enrolled parents or guardians through TSA PreCheck screening when traveling on the same reservation and when the TSA PreCheck indicator appears on the teen’s boarding pass.”
No, you will not receive any credentials to use the TSA PreCheck lane. A TSA PreCheck indicator must be printed on your boarding pass and embedded in the barcode if you are eligible for TSA PreCheck on your flight.
No. To use the TSA PreCheck lane, you must include your Known Traveler Number in the appropriate field of your airline reservation, and the TSA PreCheck indicator must be visible on your boarding pass.
Yes. TSA PreCheck is available when you depart from a U.S. airport to a foreign country, and for domestic, connecting flights after you return to the U.S.
You cannot use TSA PreCheck at international airports.
Children aged 12 and younger may use the TSA PreCheck lane when traveling with a parent or guardian who has the indicator on their boarding pass. Any child 13 and older who does not have a TSA PreCheck boarding pass must go through standard security lanes. If the child is aged 13 to 17 and traveling on the same reservation as a parent or guardian, it should be automatically included as of May 2023.
No, TSA PreCheck does not guarantee expedited screening. If you do not have a TSA PreCheck marker on your boarding pass, you must go through the regular security lane.
Check the TSA’s website for a current listing of participating airports and airlines.
TSA PreCheck provides expedited security screening benefits for domestic flights. Global Entry provides the TSA PreCheck benefit plus expedited U.S. customs screening for international air travelers when entering the U.S.Hot Tip:
Once you are approved for TSA PreCheck, you will receive your KTN by email. If you didn’t, or simply don’t remember, you can look up your KTN.
From here, you will want to add your KTN to all previous reservations and update your profile with other airlines. You will do this by contacting each airline individually.
You may use any active KTN that you have been assigned. However, if 1 KTN comes with more privileges (for example, Global Entry when you are traveling internationally), be sure to use that 1 to not miss out on any benefits.
The cost to renew is the same as initial enrollment — $78 for 5 years — if you renew in person. If you renew online the cost is $70.
You may renew your membership up to 6 months before the expiration date to ensure you don’t have any lapses due to processing time.
Yes, the TSA states that it will send a renewal notification to members who have a valid email and/or phone number on record.
Yes, you will keep the same number as long your membership is renewed within 1 year of expiration. After 1 year, you will receive a new KTN if approved.
Yes. Per the TSA, “if you commit certain violations of federal security regulations, you can be denied expedited screening for a period of time.” These violations include, but aren’t limited to:
The time you are disqualified “is related to the seriousness of the violation and/or a repeated history of regulatory violations.”
If TSA finds information that could potentially disqualify you for TSA PreCheck, it will send a letter with instructions on how to proceed.
Yes, you may keep these items on during your TSA screening. However, be aware that you may be required to undergo additional security screening if an alarm is triggered. If the alarm cannot be resolved through a pat-down, you may ask to remove the head covering in a private screening area.
Shoes that are easy to slip off and on at the checkpoint are the best choice. Many people also prefer to wear socks so that they are not touching the ground with their bare feet.
Certain metal body piercings may cause the machines to alarm and a pat-down may be required. If additional screening is required, you may be asked to remove your body piercing in private as an alternative to the pat-down.
Yes. Seniors 75 and older can leave their shoes and light jackets on during screening. If an alarm is triggered, they may still need to remove these items.
Unless you have TSA PreCheck, you will need to take off or remove the following items and place them in a bin or your carry-on luggage:
TSA allows each passenger to carry liquids, gels, and aerosols in travel-size containers that are 3.4 ounces (or 100 milliliters). All travel-size containers must fit inside 1 quart-size bag. Common travel items that must comply with the 3-1-1 liquids rule include toothpaste, liquid makeup, shampoo, conditioner, mouthwash, and lotion.
Breast milk, formula, and juice can be brought in your carry-on baggage in quantities greater than 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters. You may also bring gel or liquid-filled teethers and canned, jarred, or processed baby food in carry-on baggage. These items should be separated from other liquids and gels.
Ice packs, freezer packs, frozen gel packs, and other accessories required to cool formula, breast milk, and juice are also allowed in your carry-on. These items may be subject to additional screening.
The TSA also makes exceptions for other medical items such as insulin and eye drops. Just make sure to present these items to the security officer when you reach the checkpoint.
Yes, you may pack food in both your carry-on or checked bag, but all food will undergo X-ray screening. Foods that are liquids, gels, or aerosols must still comply with the 3-1-1 liquids rule.
While keeping medications and vitamins in their original labeled containers may expedite the screening process, it’s fine to transfer them into smaller containers.
Yes, refillable travel-size containers are allowed as long as they conform to the 3-1-1 rule.
As of June 30, 2018, powdered items such as coffee, spices, and baby powder in excess of 12 ounces are subject to additional screening. You may be asked to remove them if they’re judged dangerous or if TSA is unable to identify them.
Yes, but to expedite your screening, take your film out of all canisters and wrappers and place it in a clear bag. Don’t keep any film in any luggage or baggage that will be checked.
Regarding undeveloped film, the X-ray machine that screens your carry-on baggage at the passenger security checkpoint will not affect undeveloped film under ASA/ISO 800.
The X-ray machine will not impact digital cameras or memory cards.
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 similar items, they will need to be placed in your quart-size plastic bag in 3.4-ounce or smaller containers. Powders are subject to the rules noted above.
Lipstick, solid lip balms, and other solid beauty products, such as compressed blush and eyeshadows, are not subject to the rules and can be carried in your hand luggage without restriction.
Standard stick deodorant is fine to bring on a plane in your carry-on bag with no restrictions.
Gel or spray deodorant is subject to the 3-1-1 restrictions and may not be carried on in excess of 3.4 ounces.
Do not pack wrapped gifts in either your carry-on or checked baggage, as the TSA may be required to unwrap them for inspection. A good alternative is to place the gift in a gift bag or simply wrap your gift once you arrive.
Loose lithium batteries are not permitted in checked bags. If your batteries are installed in a device (such as a camera), you can 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.
E-cigarettes are only permitted in carry-on luggage, not in your checked bag.
Common lighters that do not contain fuel are permitted in carry-on or checked baggage.
Tweezers, electric razors, disposable razors, and their cartridges are all permitted in your carry-on luggage or personal item. Straight razors are only permitted in your carry-on as long as the blades are packed in your checked baggage.
Scissors are allowed on a plane in your carry-on bag if the blades do not exceed 4 inches. If in doubt, place them in your checked bag.
To start, the TSA does not specifically screen for illegal drugs but will report them to law enforcement if found. If you’re flying within the U.S. it is legal to travel with products that contain no more than 0.3 percent THC.
If you’re traveling internationally, you may be better off leaving these products at home unless you’ve thoroughly researched your destination’s laws and know that what you’re bringing is legal.
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.
These items must go in your checked luggage if you have to go through security again (for example, to catch a connecting flight) or if these liquids are no longer in the tamper-proof bags and exceed 3.4 ounces.
If hazardous materials are found in a passenger’s checked baggage, those items are brought to the attention of the airline with which the passenger is booked. The airline has the final determination of whether the item is permitted or prohibited, not TSA.
Any items transported as a carry-on require a physical inspection at the security checkpoint — including musical instruments and sporting equipment. Inform the TSA officer if your equipment requires special care and handling.Hot Tip:
Check with your airline before your flight to ensure your instrument or sporting equipment meets the aircraft size requirements. We also have a detailed guide of ski and snowboard luggage policies for over 70 airlines.
You can’t carry on any kind of gun or firearm-related item. The Transportation Safety Administration restricts flyers from carrying on ammunition, BB guns, air guns, firearms, flare guns, or realistic replicas of guns, though these items can be checked. They must still be unloaded, placed in a locked, hard-sided container, and declared to your airline.
Gunpowder and flares are not permitted in carry-on or checked luggage.
If you have a clear plastic bag, you can place the device through the X-ray. Otherwise, a nebulizer, CPAP, BiPAP, and APAP must be removed from its carrying case and undergo X-ray screening. Any facemasks and tubing may remain in the case.
First, know that medications and other necessary medically-necessary liquids and creams do not need to adhere to the 3-1-1 rule. As noted above, you can bring “reasonable” amounts through TSA security.
Be sure to remove them from your carry-on bag to be screened separately from the rest of your belongings. TSA recommends that medication be clearly labeled to facilitate screening, but this is not required.
You and your service animal will be screened by a walk-through metal detector. You can choose to walk through together or you may lead the animal through separately on a leash.
If the metal detector alarms, you and your service animal will undergo additional screening, including a pat-down.
No, your ostomy pouch does not need to be removed for TSA screening. Inform a TSA officer that you have an ostomy pouch before you enter the screening area.
Note that the ostomy pouch is subject to additional screening and may require you to conduct a self-pat-down of the pouch outside of your clothing, followed by a test of your hands for any trace of explosives. A pat-down of other areas may also occur.
Inform the TSA officer that you have an artificial knee, hip, or other metal implant, pacemaker, defibrillator, or another internal medical device. You will be directed to the Advance Imaging Technology (AIT) screening, if available, or alternatively, you would undergo a pat-down screening by a TSA officer.Hot Tip:
You should not be screened by a walk-through metal detector if you have an internal medical device such as a pacemaker.
TSA Cares is a helpline that provides travelers with disabilities, medical conditions, and other special circumstances additional assistance during the security screening process.
TSA does not keep any proceeds from lost and found items. Money from the sale of these items goes to the U.S. Department of the Treasury into a general fund used to pay the U.S. national debt.
You may file a claim with the TSA if your property is lost or damaged during the screening process.
If you believe your item was left at the security checkpoint, contact lost and found. To retrieve the item, you must be able to describe the item, when it was lost, the color of the item, or any information identifying the item.
For items left elsewhere in the airport, please contact your airport authority.
TSA works with the airport to alert passengers who might have left behind driver’s licenses and passports. Typically an announcement will be made over the airport speaker. If the ID is not claimed within 30 days, it is destroyed.
TSA turns over all weapons detected in carry-on bags to local law enforcement authorities.
Ultimately, the TSA’s airport screening procedures are intended to prevent prohibited items and other threats to transportation security from entering the secured area of the airport. Planning ahead and packing and dressing properly can help the screening process go smoothly.
We hope we’ve answered some of your questions and that you feel prepared next time you have to head to the airport. There are a lot of rules to keep track of, so be sure to bookmark this page and check back each time you travel!
We’ve also got a great list of tips to help you sail through security and get to your gate worry-free, even in the era of COVID-19!
Yes, you can travel with medication in both your carry-on and checked luggage, however, TSA recommends putting all necessary medication in your carry-on bag. TSA does not require passengers to have medications in prescription bottles, so you can put them in smaller containers for transport. Medication in liquid form is allowed in carry-on bags in excess of 3.4 ounces in reasonable quantities for the flight. You should tell the officer that you have medically necessary liquids at the start of the screening checkpoint process to expedite your screening. You can bring your medication in pill or solid form in unlimited amounts.
Each passenger may carry liquids, gels, and aerosols in travel-size containers that are 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters. Each passenger is limited to 1 quart-size bag of liquids, gels, and aerosols.
TSA PreCheck allows you to get through security faster at most U.S. airports. Applying is easy and costs $78 for 5 years of benefits. You will go through a screening process to be deemed a low-risk traveler. This allows you to speed through security by not having to remove items from your carry on (like liquids and laptops), nor do you have to remove shoes, jackets, etc.
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