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When traveling, it can be difficult to know what is and is not allowed in your baggage, and the rules can vary depending on where you go.
One of the most common concerns is packing liquids. Travelers are often unsure of what liquids are allowed in their checked luggage, how much they can pack, and how to pack them safely. While it may seem like a simple question, there are specific guidelines and rules set in place by the Transportation Security Administration (“TSA”) that every traveler should be aware of before heading to the airport.
In this article, we’ll provide a detailed overview of the TSA’s regulations on liquids in checked baggage to help you prepare for your next trip.
Why does the TSA screen for liquids in your checked baggage?
Let’s start with why the rules are so strict regarding bringing liquids on a plane with you.
The Transportation Security Administration is responsible for ensuring the safety of passengers and their belongings during air travel. To do this, they have implemented strict rules regarding liquids in carry-on and checked luggage. These rules are in place to eliminate any potential threats of liquid explosives being brought on the plane.
While the rules are almost the same worldwide, there may be subtle differences in the rules depending on where you go. So it’s best to check government guidance for the country you are traveling to before getting to the airport.
What Does the TSA Consider a “Liquid”?
According to the TSA, a liquid can include traditional fluid liquids as well as aerosols, gels, creams, and pastes. Anything that you can squirt out of a bottle or spread onto something, is considered a liquid.
That means that items like toothpaste, lip gloss, mascara, shaving cream, and even peanut butter are considered to be liquids. Below is a table with more examples of liquids.
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Packing Liquids in Checked Baggage
According to the TSA, you can take most liquids in your checked luggage, and there are no limits to the volume of liquid taken on your flight as long as they adhere to the weight allowances of checked luggage.
As a rule of thumb when flying in the U.S., the checked luggage weight limit is typically 50 lbs. (with additional fees if you go over). However, if you have elite status with the airline or if you are flying business/first class, the baggage allowance can go up to 70 lbs. per checked bag.
Just be aware that there are certain types of liquids that have restrictions, even in checked luggage. Let’s take a look at some of these specific scenarios.
Alcohol (Wine, Beer, Liquor) in Checked Baggage
Alcohol can be packed in your checked luggage with some restrictions. The restrictions for these items are more severe if you want to bring them in your carry-on, where the 3-1-1 liquids rule applies.
For checked luggage, the TSA permits you to bring alcohol in checked bags with the following guidelines. The rules are dictated by the alcohol content percentage and are as follows:
- Anything over 70 percent alcohol by volume is not allowed on U.S. flights. This includes both checked and carry-on bags.
- Up to 5 liters of alcohol are allowed in checked bags, if they are between 24 and 70 percent alcohol, as long as they are in unopened retail packaging.
- If the alcohol contains less than 24 percent alcohol, then there is no limit on the amount you can bring in your checked luggage. Most wine contains 11 -14% alcohol or less and falls into this category.
- You must be 21 years of age.
As a precaution, you should always double-check with the airline you are flying with because some may have different rules than the TSA.
Hazardous Liquids in Checked Baggage
Additionally, all liquid items packed into checked luggage must not contain any hazardous or flammable ingredients – these are not allowed in case of a fire or change in temperature and pressure effects on these ingredients may cause an explosion.
The Federal Aviation Associated sets these rules and identifies certain hazardous liquids that cannot be brought on a plane as well as the type that can be packed in your luggage and brought with you. Here is a breakdown of both examples:
Hazardous liquids that can’t be checked in luggage include:
- Aerosols: including spray starch, antistatic spray, spray paint, air freshener, cooking spray, etc. (Some personal medicinal/ toiletry aerosols like hairspray are allowed)
- Flammable liquids: including fuels, lighter fluids, solvents, and some paints and adhesives. Any equipment that ever contained fuel (e.g., camping stoves, chainsaws) must be completely purged of fuel residue and vapors. (Most artists’ paints are nonflammable and permitted).
- Corrosives and oxidizers: including drain cleaners, paint strippers, pool chemicals, strong bleaches, car batteries, and wet batteries.
- Poisons and infectious substances: including some pesticides/herbicides; specimens known to be infectious/ pathogenic.
Hazardous liquids that can be checked in luggage include:
- Medicinal and toilet articles that are hazardous materials: include aerosols (if nozzles are protected), hairsprays, perfumes, nail polish and remover, inhalers, antiseptics, insect repellents, etc. No more than 0.5 kg/L (18 oz./17 fl oz.) per container and 2 kg/L (70 oz./68 fl oz.) total per person.
- Alcoholic beverages in unopened retail packaging 70% alcohol by volume (140-proof) or below.
- One small self-defense spray: (4 oz.) in checked baggage only (not allowed outside the US)
How to Pack Liquids in Checked Baggage
While the TSA doesn’t limit the number of liquids in checked luggage, there are still rules and guidelines that passengers must follow. The first rule is that all liquids must be packed in a clear, leak-proof bag. The bag or container must be able to withstand pressure changes during the flight without leaking.
There are two reasons for putting your liquids in a clear bag, the first is to prevent any leaks or spillage and to protect the other contents in your checked luggage as well as other passengers’ checked luggage. The second reason is for airport security to clearly see what is in your luggage, making their jobs easier.
If you have any glass bottles that you are transporting, be sure to place the bottles in clothing or bubble wrap to protect the bottle, so it does not break and leak all over the place.
If you are carrying liquid medication, be sure to put them in your carry-on and not your checked luggage.
Liquids in checked bags when traveling to other countries
If you are traveling internationally, you should also be aware of any restrictions on liquids in the country you are traveling to. Some countries may have different rules regarding the amount and types of liquids that can be brought in. It is recommended you check the customs regulations of their destination country before packing.
Packing Liquids in Carry-On Luggage
In your carry-on, you are allowed to bring a quart-sized bag of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams, and pastes in your carry-on bag and through the checkpoint. These are limited to travel-sized containers that are 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less per item and are subject to the 3-1-1 liquids rule.
The 3-1-1 Liquids Rule
The 3-1-1 rule dictates how much liquid you are allowed to put in your carry-on luggage. It refers to the three core components that stipulate how many liquids you can bring with you in your carry-on luggage or personal item.
Each liquid must be in a 3.4-ounce container (or smaller containers that hold less volume, but 3.4 is the maximum)- this is represented as the “3” in the name of the 3-1-1 rule. All containers must be placed inside one clear quart-sized plastic bag. This is the first “1” in the name of the 3-1-1 rule. Then, each passenger is only allowed one of these bags in their checked luggage. This is the second “1” in the name of the 3-1-1 rule.
The number of bottles placed in the quart-sized bag is up to you, just as long these liquids do not violate any other TSA rules. Generally, though, the limit of bottles that can actually fit in the quart-sized bags is about six to seven bottles, depending on the sizes of the bottles you are using.
It’s important to note that medications and breast milk infant formula or baby food are all exempt from the 3-1-1 rule.
Likewise, liquids purchased duty-free, at the airport, within 48 hours of your flight (this needs a receipt as proof), packed in a transparent, secure, and tamper-evident bag by the retailer are also exempt from the 3-1-1 rule.
Final Thoughts: Liquids in Checked Baggage
In conclusion, packing liquids in checked luggage is allowed, but there are rules and guidelines that passengers must follow. All liquids must be packed in leak-proof containers, in their original packaging, and labeled if transferred to another container. Passengers should also be aware of any restrictions on liquids in their destination country and pack the liquids in a way that will prevent leaks and damage to other items in their luggage.
Packing liquids can be tricky and traveling can be quite stressful, especially if it is not something you do very often. By following these guidelines, you can pack your liquids with confidence and enjoy your travels without any issues.
Here are some more articles about things you can bring on a plane:
Tim is a business road warrior and avid leisure traveler who has flown over two million miles in the air and spent well over a thousand nights in hotels. He enjoys sharing tips, tricks, and hacks to help readers get the most out of their travel experience and learn how to “travel like a pro”!