Despite the TSA’s 3-1-1 liquids rule having been in existence for over ten years, many people are still a bit confused by, or just want to double check that they are in compliance of, the rules regarding bringing liquids on a plane. Many people may think that some things with liquid in it (like makeup) or a container that’s bigger than 3.4 ounces yet has less than that amount in it still qualify (spoiler alert: they don’t). So let’s run through every scenario we can think of and determine whether it’s allowed.
what does the 3-1-1 Liquids rule mean?
People know this phrase, but many are unsure of what it specifically means. Well, according to TSA rules, the “3” stands for 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) of liquid, the first “1” stands for one clear zip-lock bag holding your 3.4 ounce containers, and the second “1” means per traveler. So there you go, you are limited to one bag with as many 3.4 ounce containers as can fit into your carry-on.
3 = 3.4 ounce containers (you may not Carry-on larger containers with less than 3.4 ounces of liquid)
1 = 1 Clear Zip-Lock Bag (with as many 3.4 ounce containers as you can reasonably fit in)
1 = 1 Per Person (no exceptions)
If you would prefer not to do any math, we recommend this TSA approved set of containers and plastic bag to avoid any confusion.
Obviously, if you are checking your bag then you can place full-size liquids in there, but those should still be in a plastic zip-lock bag as well, if for no other reason than the cap might come off and everything gets all over your clothes.
Why was this rule implemented? A terrorist plot in the U.K. attempted to carry liquid explosives onto a plane, disguising them as soft drinks. This led to lasting legislation in the United States, requiring everyone to significantly alter their travel methods, especially when it came to soaps and shampoos. But far more things with liquid in it are subject to the same rule than people realize.
are there 3-1-1 rule exceptions?
Yes. There are really only two of them, but they are crucial to some passengers – and no, TSA Precheck status is not one of them. One of them is medications. To avoid any problems, make sure these medications are clearly marked, separate them from other toiletries so that they aren’t mistaken as such, and inform the TSA screening officer of them. They don’t have to be in a zip-lock bag, and you’re allowed to bring necessary accessories (bags, pumps, syringes, etc.) on board with you as well. The TSA obviously still has to do their job and X-ray your items, and they may ask you to transfer the medication from its bottle to a clear separate container. If you don’t want them to be scanned, then the alternative is to go through a pat-down procedure.
The second exception are things necessary for your children, such as formula, breast milk and/or juices. The requirements here are generally the same as they are for medications; mark them, separate them, inform the TSA. The screening officers do still have to inspect them just to make sure there aren’t any concealed prohibited items, and you can request alternate methods of search other than an X-ray. Some specialty considerations that you are allowed to bring include: gel or liquid-filled teethers, canned or jarred processed baby food, as well as ice packs or gel packs.
It should be noted that duty free items purchased internationally are also allowed as long as they are in a cleat tamper-evident bag and you have the receipt showing that it was bought less than 48 hours prior to your flight. So now that you know what’s excepted when it comes to accepted liquids, where does the TSA draw the line?
what are the tsa carry-on liquid rules?
If you’ve traveled you’re well aware of this, but if you haven’t, it’s important to know that the liquids in your zip-lock bag must be taken out of your luggage and placed in a separate bin to be X-rayed. Now that you know the second most crucial thing about airline travel (the first being wear clean socks) here is a brief list of all the allowable liquids so long as they are in a 3.4 ounce container and inside that clear bag:
- Body wash
- Some aerosols, such as: antiperspirants, shaving cream, hair spray, and other toiletry items. We’ll discuss the prohibited aerosols in a minute.
- Liquid makeup, such as eyeliner, nail polish and foundation must comply with the 3-1-1 rule. Powder cosmetics are accepted with no limits.
- Alcohol, but DO NOT drink it on the plane.
Here now is a much longer list of the liquids and gels that are NOT allowed on an airplane, even if it is in a 3.4 ounce or less container:
- Aerosols that aren’t personal care items, such as: air fresheners, self-defense sprays and other flammable aerosols. Basically, if it’s not meant to be sprayed on your body, it’s not allowed.
- Vaping devices (many of these are liquid-based)
- Any paint, gel or liquid that is flammable, such as lighter fluid or gasoline
- Gel-type candles
- Spillable batteries
- Paint thinner
A couple of these things, such as the candles, are allowed in your checked baggage, but for the most part all of these things aren’t allowed in any of your bags. There are extra things to consider as well. Say you’re traveling abroad and you buy a snow globe for your child as a present. Well that thing better have less than 3.4 ounces of liquid in it, otherwise you’ll have to risk putting it in your checked baggage.
At the end of the day, the TSA security officer has total discretion about whether or not to allow something of yours through security. But if it’s in a 3.4 ounce or less container, in a clear zip-lock bag, and is not flammable, you’re probably good to go.