Can you Bring Food on a Plane?

By Jodi Thornton O'Connell

Tips to stay full and happy while traveling the highway in the sky

We’ve all been there: It’s mid-flight and your stomach starts grumbling. Since you didn’t pack any snacks in your purse or bag, you’re doomed to buy another $12 plate of prepackaged cheese and slightly stale crackers. But, what if you could pack the food you know you’d like?

Eating healthy snacks on a flight can help prevent you feeling jet-lagged at journey’s end. The best way to keep your energy up without breaking the bank is to nourish your body mid-flight with snacks you bring from home. Don’t worry about having your carefully prepped snacks thrown in the garbage when you go through the TSA checkpoint. With our helpful Q&A and a little pre-planning, you can eat nutritious snacks or even enjoy a full homemade meal as you travel to your destination.

Q: What kind of food can I bring on a plane?

A: Your options are limited only by your imagination – and a few TSA regulations – when it comes to bringing food on a plane. Depending on where you are flying and custom rules, you can usually bring most meats, fruits, and veggies and any other non-liquid food items with you on the plane.

Q: What about peanut butter and other semi-solid food?

A: If you can squeeze it out, spray it out or pour it out, your food is subject to TSA’s 3-1-1 rule. That means you must pack it in a 3.4 ounce or smaller container. Pack the 3-1-1 items in one quart-sized zipper-top plastic bag. The final “1” stands for one bag per person, so your semi-liquid food must share space with your 3-1-1 sundries, such as toothpaste and hairspray.

Q: Can I bring a cooler?

A: As long as your cooler meets the airline’s carry-on requirements, TSA doesn’t have a problem with how you carry your food. If you plan to use ice packs or ice, they must be completely frozen when you reach TSA security screening. If there’s any liquid in the bottom of your container or your ice packs are partly melted, they’ll confiscate them. Avoid any confiscation by using dry ice. The FAA allows up to five pounds as long as it’s vented.

Q: What are the exceptions to the rule?

A: Should you need to bring breast milk, juice or formula for your small child, let your TSA officer know at the start of the screening process that you have more than 3.4 ounces in your carry-on bag. These food items don’t have to be in a quart-sized bag and they’ll get screened by X-ray or tested for explosive residue. Use the same procedure if you must bring liquids along for medical reasons.

Q: Can I bring food from a foreign country?

A: If you’re flying into the U.S. from another country, make sure to only bring with you what you’ll be able to consume on the plane. Otherwise, your fruits, veggies, meats and egg dishes may be tossed by customs as they might carry pests or diseases into the country. Check the USDA’s Fruits and Vegetables Import Requirements website for the country you’re flying from for details if you just can’t leave the local flavor behind.

Q: Can I bring alcohol on a plane?

A: Although you’ll likely be able to buy wine, beer or other alcohol cheaper before you get on a plane, you’ll still want to buy it in flight or after you pass the security check. Alcohol is subject to the same 3-1-1 rule as any other liquid. While miniature bottles of alcohol less than 140 proof pass the test, you’ll be disappointed to know that FAA regulations prohibit drinking alcoholic beverages that weren’t purchased on the plane.

About the Author

Indulging her passion for vacation vagary through the written word on a full-time basis since 2010, travel funster Jodi Thornton-O'Connell guides readers to the unexpected, quirky, and awe-inspiring.