A Guide to the TSA Carry-on Rules

By Jodi Thornton O'Connell

Learn what to carry and what to pack with this easy guide

If you’re not a seasoned traveler, going through airport security can be a daunting task, especially if you’re trying to avoid the wait at baggage claim at the end of your flight. Prepping your bag before you ever leave home is one of the top things you can do to make your trip through the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) line go as smoothly as possible.

Remember 3-1-1

If your makeup and sundries kit is bursting at the seams, TSA’s 3-1-1 rule will make your carry-on a lot less crowded:

  • 3: The three stands for a 3.4 ounce (100 ml) container. Everything you can squeeze out, spray out or pour out must be in a container this size or smaller. That includes aerosols like hairspray, foods like peanut butter and other liquids like laundry detergent.
  • 1: Here’s the hard part – everything must fit in one quart-size resealable plastic bag. That means your peanut butter, laundry soap and sundries will share the ride together.
  • 1: This stands for one resealable plastic bag of 3-1-1 items per person in your carry-on bag. If you’re sharing a carry-on with your spouse or child, have them take their own bag to put in their tray when passing through airport security.

Carry-on packing tips

If you’re trying to travel using only a carry-on bag, carry only items that your hotel won’t provide or you can’t buy cheaply at your destination. You can also try replacing items with non-liquid alternatives. Try a deodorant stone, toothpaste tablets and laundry alternatives like solid laundry soap or laundry sheets.

Other carry-ons: a great set of nails

Did you find a great sale on your favorite brand of nail polish while you were on vacation? You can bring all those little bottles along in your carry-on, providing they all fit in your one-quart bag with the top closed. TSA caps the maximum amount of flammables in your sundries bag at 70 ounces by weight or 68 fluid ounces, far more than will fit in a one-quart bag. Ask your flight attendant before touching up your nails in the cabin, though.

Other carry-ons: a close shave

Can you carry your razor along in your carry-on luggage? The answer is yes, only if you shave with a disposable razor. The built-in blades can’t be removed to cause any real damage, so go ahead and tie up the airplane privy to touch up that 5-o’clock shadow. If you want to be trendy and shave with a safety razor, you’ll have to wait: You can pack the handle in your carry-on, but you’ll need to buy the blades when you arrive.

Other carry-ons: food for thoughtful carry-ons

If you’re not partial to airplane snacks, bring your own. You can bring sealed chips, dry snack foods, fresh whole fruits, pies and cakes in your carry-on luggage. You can also bring gravy, jams, syrups, oils and dips as long as they comply with the 3-1-1 rule. But be careful! Cabin pressure at high altitude may cause them to leak.

Important to know

It is important to remember that the final decision on your carry-on items rests with the TSA. Even if you comply with all TSA guidelines and rules, TSA may confiscate any items it views as a security risk. Not sure whether you can bring an item in your carry-on? Check out TSA’s online “Can I Bring?” tool to find out about individual items.

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.