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Travel Packing Tips for Airport Security

Smart travel packing can reduce airport security delays

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Mature man and senior woman walking with suitcase at airport
Jose Luis Pelaez/Iconica/Getty Images
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) offers the following travel packing tips and airport security information for airline travelers:

  • Carry-on baggage is a small piece of luggage you take on the airplane with you. You are allowed one carry-on in addition to one personal item such as a laptop computer, purse, small backpack, briefcase, or camera case.
    • Airport security personnel will screen any "carry-on" baggage that will fit through the X-ray machine, but it is up to each airline to determine whether the baggage fits the size restrictions for your flight. As part of your travel packing preparation, check with your airline to make sure your carry-on bag meets the airline’s size requirements—before you proceed through the airport security checkpoints.
    • The TSA has strict regulations about carrying liquids, gels and aerosols:
      • All products must be in individual containers that are three-ounces or smaller. Larger containers that are half-full or toothpaste tubes rolled up are not allowed.
      • All liquids, gels and aerosols must be placed in one quart-size, zip-top, clear plastic bag
        . Larger plastic bags or bags that are not zip-top (such as fold-over sandwich bags) are not allowed. Each traveler is allowed to carry only one, quart-size, zip-top, clear plastic bag.

        If you have favorite products that will not fit in 3 ounce containers, pack them in your checked baggage.

      • You must remove your quart-sized plastic, zip-top bag from your carry-on luggage and place it in a bin or on the conveyor belt for X-ray screening. The TSA says that X-raying separately will allow security officers to examine the declared items more easily.

    • The TSA allows only the following exceptions to the 3 ounce containters/1 quart zip-top plastic rule, but you still have to present these items for screening at the security gate:
      • All prescription and over-the-counter medications (liquids, gels, and aerosols) including KY jelly, eye drops, and saline solution for medical purposes. [For more information, see How to Take Medication through Airport Security].
      • Liquids including water, juice, or liquid nutrition or gels for passengers with a disability or medical condition
      • Life-support and life-sustaining liquids such as bone marrow, blood products, and transplant organs
      • Items used to augment the body for medical or cosmetic reasons such as mastectomy products, prosthetic breasts, bras or shells containing gels, saline solution, or other liquids
      • Gels or frozen liquids needed to cool disability or medically related items used by persons with disabilities or medical conditions
      • Baby formula, breast milk, and juice if a baby or small child is traveling

    • Label your laptop computer. Tape a business card or other identifying information on the bottom of your laptop to avoid loss or accidental "exchange" by travelers.

  • Checked baggage is luggage you check in at the ticket counter or at curbside. It will not be accessible during your flight. TSA advises travelers not to lock checked baggage, but if you must lock it be sure to use a TSA "Accepted and Recognized" lock. If your baggage sets off an alarm and TSA cannot gain access to your checked bag, an unrecognized lock may be broken.
  • These travel packing tips for checked baggage will help to simplify your trip and ensure that your checked bags get on the flight with you:

    • Don't put film in your checked baggage, as the screening equipment will damage it.
    • Pack shoes, boots, sneakers, and other footwear on top of other contents in your luggage. This will make it easier for security to check your footwear.
    • Avoid over-packing your travel luggage; the airport security screener should be able to easily reseal your bag if it is opened for inspection. If possible, spread the contents over several bags. Check with your airline or travel agent for maximum weight limitations.
    • Avoid packing food and drink items in checked baggage.
    • Don't stack piles of books or documents on top of each other; spread them out within your baggage.

The following general travel packing tips apply to both carry-on and checked baggage, and will help you to move through the airport security screening process more quickly:

  • Do NOT pack or bring prohibited items to the airport. View the list
  • Put all undeveloped film, and cameras with film, in your carry-on baggage. If your bag will pass through the X-ray machine more than 5 times ask for a hand inspection to prevent damage.
  • Check ahead of time with your airline or travel agent to determine the airline's travel baggage policy, including number of pieces you can bring and size and weight limitations.
  • Carry-on baggage is limited to one carry-on bag plus one personal item (1+1).
  • Personal items include laptops, purses, small backpacks, briefcases, or camera cases. Remember, 1+1.
  • Don't forget to place identification tags with your name, address and phone number on all of your baggage, including your laptop computer. It is a good idea to place an identification tag inside your baggage as well.
  • Avoid overpacking so that your articles don't spill out if your bag is opened for inspection.
  • When doing your travel packing, think carefully about the personal items you place in your carry-on baggage. The screeners may have to open your bag and examine its contents.
  • Consider packing personal belongings in clear plastic bags to reduce the chance that a TSA screener will have to handle them.
  • Wait to wrap your gifts. Be aware that wrapped gifts may need to be opened for inspection. This applies to both carry-on and checked baggage.

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