How to travel through the airport with Thanksgiving dinner and leftovers

Nov 28, 2019

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Brace yourselves, Thanksgiving travelers: This holiday is only getter busier, with expectations of 2019 breaking all records for travel. “We expect to be breaking into some top 10 travel days in the history of TSA,” Transportation Security Administration spokesperson Lisa Farbstein tells TPG, adding that she believes the booming economy and the preponderance of budget airlines are to thank. For the busy folk of the TSA, that means more people than ever may try to smuggle the contents of their Thanksgiving dinner in their carry-on this year.

“People bring turkeys — big turkeys,” Farbstein says. “At Christmastime, people bring ham. People bring fish.” Basically, she’s seen it all, and the TSA has rules for every single morsel.

Curious about what will and won’t clear security? Here’s everything you need to know.

Thumbs up: Pies and cakes

You can breathe a sigh of relief, because your signature pumpkin pie will pass muster with airport security. There’s no special packaging required — even your baking pie tin is good to go. “We do consider cakes and pies to be solids,” says Farbstein. Keep in mind, though, that your goodies may be subject to extra scrutiny from security. “We’ll do extra testing, probably. They’ll swab the box that the pie came in,” checking for explosive residue.

Thumbs down: Whipped cream canisters

Sorry, these babies will have to go in your checked baggage. Just make sure to secure the nozzles with a cap to prevent whipped cream eruptions during a cabin pressure change. Keep in mind, though, that you can only bring so many of them: TSA limits non-flammable aerosols to 68 fluid ounces per person, with each container not exceeding 17 fluid ounces. (More on those restrictions here.)

Thumbs up: Raw vegetables

The good news is that you can tote along all the potatoes your heart desires, so long as you don’t exceed your airline’s weight restrictions. The bad news is…

Thumbs down: Mashed potatoes

…once you do anything to those taters, they cease to be a solid by TSA standards. They’ll have to go in your checked luggage. However, Chrissy Teigen still managed to get through, even after mixing her gravy with her potatoes, so it may be more up to the judgement of your TSA officer.

Thumbs up: Things that are frozen

…and that’s to freeze them solid. This exception also applies to normally non-solid foodstuffs like cranberry sauce, gravy, chicken soup, creamy spreads and so on. But freeze at your own peril. “By the time you drive to the airport, find a place to park, go to the restroom and stand in the checkpoint line, it could melt,” Farbstein warns. Then you’d be out of luck, even if the meltage is minimal. “Soup is probably best in your checked bag,” she adds.

Thumbs down: Cast-iron skillets

We’re not sure why you would want to carry this super-heavy piece of kitchen hardware in the first place, but it doesn’t matter, because they’re definitely not allowed in your carry-on. If you’re serious about lugging this thing around, throw it in your checked suitcase.

Thumbs up: Vegetable peelers

If you need to peel a stack of apples IMMEDIATELY upon landing and only your favorite peeler will do, you’re in luck, because they’re allowed in your carry-on.

Thumbs down: Olives, tuna fish or anything else packed in water

That little bit of water means your goods are totally-100-percent-absolutely-for-sure not a solid, which also means they’re subject to the same TSA rules that apply to other liquids. If you’re dead set on bringing these things in your carry-on, they’ll have to be packaged in containers 3.4 ounces or less and fit inside a single quart-sized bag.

Thumbs up: A whole turkey

Raw or frozen, there’s no restriction. Seriously, though, major respect to the brave soul willing to haul a Thanksgiving turkey around in their carry-on. Think about it this way: If a frozen turkey takes five hours to defrost, and you have a five-hour flight, then it’ll be ready to cook on arrival! Best life hack ever or best life hack ever? Just keep in mind that more unusual items, such as that Thanksgiving turkey, may be subject to additional screening. “The whole idea is that we don’t want people to conceal things [in the cavity] that don’t belong there,” Farbstein says.

Thumbs down: Your heirloom carving knife

This one should be obvious: You can’t bring knives on planes in 2019. But! Your grandma’s vintage silver pie server is permissible, assuming it doesn’t have any sharp or serrated edges.

Thumbs up: Casseroles & stuffing

Green bean casseroles and big containers of cornbread stuffing — they’re both considered solids and cleared for takeoff. But Farbstein recommends that you pack them extra carefully, if only to make your own life easier. “It’s a good idea to put it in a plastic tub, and I’ve seen people throw some duct tape over it,” she says. After all, there’s no faster way to ruin your Thanksgiving (and your seatmate’s Thanksgiving, for that matter) than by spilling a whole pan of mac-and-cheese in your aisle.

If you’re still not sure about what will and what won’t pass muster with TSA, not to worry: Farbstein sent along this handy dandy cheat sheet. And if you still have questions? You can also download the free MyTSA app or use the “What can I bring?” tool on TSA’s website. If all else fails, tweet your query to the @AskTSA account, which is manned by a team of 11 people who will turn around an answer to you in less than an hour.

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Food Item Carry-on or Checked Bag Checked Bag Only (If 3.4 ounces
or less)
Turkey, chicken, fish, meat, ham                                   ✔
Gravy                                    ✔
Cranberry sauce                                    ✔
Casseroles                                  ✔
Wine and other beverages                                     ✔
Creamy dips and spreads                                     ✔
Cookies, brownies                                  ✔
Cakes and pies                                 ✔
Stuffing                                 ✔
Breads/rolls                                 ✔
Mashed potatoes/sweet potatoes                                    ✔
Flour, sugar and other dry ingredients                                 ✔
Whipped cream                                    ✔
Canned vegetables or fruit with liquid (yams, green beans, corn, crushed pineapple, etc.)                                    ✔
Raw vegetables or fruit (carrots, beets,
potatoes, green beans, apples, pears, etc.)
Nuts                                 ✔
Salad dressing                                    ✔
Jams, jellies, preserves                                    ✔
Egg nog                                    ✔
Maple syrup                                    ✔
Candy                                  ✔
Soup                                    ✔
Jell-O molds                                    ✔


Additional reporting by Carissa Rawson

Featured photo by Shutterstock

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