4 things the TSA really doesn’t want you to bring on an airplane
Nothing starts your trip off on the wrong foot like a long security line at the airport. Though there are tools to shorten your time waiting in line — namely, TSA PreCheck and Clear — your experience, unfortunately, depends on your fellow travelers to a certain degree.
People in front of you might be moving slowly because they forgot to take their keys out of their pockets or because they're new to TSA PreCheck and didn't realize they could keep their shoes on. Honestly, a test should be required for travelers before they're permitted to travel through U.S. airports.
Nonetheless, one consistent factor slowing down airport security lines is travelers attempting to bring items the Transportation Security Administration prohibits onto aircraft. Not only are prohibited items flagged during security, but staff calls the police and searches your items. Affected travelers may even face arrest and a fine, slowing down everything overall.
This seems like a no-brainer, yet many people seem to forget it, according to TSA Northeast spokesperson Lisa Farbstein, who frequently documents TSA-confiscated guns at airports on Twitter.
Guns are not prohibited on aircraft when they're unloaded, but a large majority of the illegal finds from the TSA’s Twitter feed involve illicit firearms.
"James Bond's arch enemy, Francisco Scaramanga, knew that replica guns, even golden guns, are not allowed through a TSA security checkpoint," Farbstein tweeted on April 18. "But a 007 fan flying out of JFK airport last week didn't know and was surprised when his carry-on bag was searched and the gun removed."
TSA officers intercepted 1,508 firearms at airport security checkpoints during the first quarter of 2023 for an average of 16.8 firearms per day, per TSA data. More than 93% of those were loaded.
"When passengers bring firearms to the TSA security checkpoint, TSA suspends their TSA PreCheck eligibility for five years, which includes current TSA PreCheck members. Additionally, TSA may conduct additional screening for those passengers to ensure no other threats are present," the TSA said in a press statement on April 20. "Late last year, TSA increased the maximum civil penalty for a firearms violation to $14,950. Passengers with firearms found in a carry-on bag at a TSA checkpoint are also subject to applicable city or state laws at that airport that may include citation or arrest."
As a reminder, firearms must be unloaded and checked in a locked, hard-sided container and declared to the airline at check-in. Similarly, ammunition (from single bullets to boxes full of bullets), gun magazines (empty or ones with bullets), pepper spray, tasers/stun guns, sparklers and fireworks (and anything else labeled as flammable) and replica weapons are also prohibited in carry-on bags.
You can bring these items in your checked luggage if they are properly packed. Ammunition must be securely packed in fiber, wood or metal boxes, or another packaging specifically designed to carry small amounts of ammunition.
While toy guns are “generally permitted," the TSA recommends travelers pack them in checked baggage. Items that look like real firearms — like Nerf guns — are prohibited.
Full-size hygiene products
"Probably the most common prohibited items that travelers have in their carry-on bags that are prohibited through a TSA security checkpoint are liquids, gels, aerosols and spreadables larger than 3.4 ounces," Farbstein said, referring to the 3-1-1 liquid rule. "Basically, if you can spill it, spray it, spread it, pump it or pour it, and it’s larger than 3.4 ounces, then it should not be packed in a carry-on bag."
This rule means you can carry liquids, gels and aerosols in travel-size containers onto a plane so long as they're no more than 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) and can all fit in a single 1-quart, resealable bag.
"Similar items, yet not toiletries, are food items that are liquid or spreadable such as apple sauce, jams/jellies/preserves, canned vegetables with liquid inside the cans, Nutella and peanut butter," Farbstein said. These must also adhere to the 3-1-1 liquid rule.
So, your travel-size toothpaste and lotion are fine. However, a full-size bottle of mouthwash is not permitted. Similarly, a large bottle of shampoo needs to be left at home.
"Common examples include beverages such as bottles of water, energy drinks, juice, soda, and alcohol," Farbstein said. "But beyond beverages, yet still in the same category would be toiletries such as hair gel, aftershave, cologne, perfume, shampoo, conditioner, Vaseline, toothpaste and sunblock."
Note that the TSA makes exemptions for medically necessary liquids, medications and creams of more than 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters in your carry-on bag.
Many travelers don't know that you can actually bring your own alcohol on a flight — but with several limitations. Beverages with more than 24% but not more than 70% alcohol can be brought in checked bags as long as there are no more than 5 liters (1.3 gallons) per passenger and they remain unopened in their original retail packaging, according to the TSA. Miniature bottles of alcohol can be brought in your carry-on but must be able to comfortably fit in a single quart-size bag.
However, federal law prohibits travelers from consuming their own alcohol on board — a flight attendant must serve the alcohol.
The Federal Aviation Administration fined a handful of passengers more than $1 million in 2021 for bringing their own alcohol on board, getting drunk and ignoring flight attendants’ instructions.
If you have a green thumb, I’m sorry to inform you that fertilizer is not allowed in carry-on or checked luggage as it can be flammable. However, you can bring plants (and planting seeds) if your plant fits in the overhead bin or underneath your seat.
Another category of items not allowed on board would be tools larger than 7 inches. That's because these items could be considered bludgeoning weapons. Examples include hammers, wrenches, pliers, screwdrivers, saws and drills.
Also prohibited are various types of knives/blades, butter knives, hunting knives, credit-card knives, keychain knives, Swiss Army knives, tactical fighting knives and cake knives.
If you are unsure if an item can be packed in a carry-on bag and/or a checked bag, download the MyTSA app and use its “What can I bring?” feature to double-check the item.
Travelers can also send a question by texting “Travel” to AskTSA (275-872). For a full list of acceptable TSA items, visit this page.