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Here's what Thanksgiving foods you can bring in your carry-on and what has to be checked

Nov. 22, 2022
5 min read
thanksgiving food
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For a lot of Thanksgiving travelers and hosts, there's a mutual, perhaps unwritten, agreement: The out-of-town guests travel and the hosts handle the cooking.

For plenty of others, though, it's not quite so straightforward. This means you're likely to see a fellow passenger toting a turkey or pie while preparing to board the flight home for the holiday. And of course we expect to see plenty of passengers flying with leftovers on their way back home.

That also means the Transportation Security Administration can expect to see a much more eclectic assortment of carry-on items as staff prepares to screen tens of millions of travelers over the coming week.

"It's weird, but sometimes we will see turkeys at security checkpoints," TSA southeast spokesperson Mark Howell told TPG in a recent interview.

If you're among the travelers hoping to do a little meal prep at home before flying, there are some things you need to know, whether you'll be waiting in the standard line (arrive early, if so) or have TSA PreCheck.

Thanksgiving travelers wait at Orlando International Airport (MCO) in 2021. SOPA IMAGES/LIGHTROCKET/GETTY IMAGES

3-1-1 applies, as always

As is always the case, the TSA's 3-1-1 rule governs what can and can't come on the plane. It means that each liquid you bring through a checkpoint must be in a 3.4-ounce or smaller container, all containers must be placed in one clear quart-size plastic bag and each passenger is only allowed one plastic bag.

Even on a normal travel day, the prohibited items pile up — quite literally — in plastic bins near checkpoints.

Most travelers know they can't bring a huge bottle of sunscreen in their carry-on luggage. However, the composition of Thanksgiving entrees and side dishes can get a bit confusing when it comes to 3-1-1.

Related: These are the TSA-approved foods you can — and can’t — bring with you on an airplane

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TSA carry-on Thanksgiving food. TSA

Bringing Thanksgiving food on a plane

Let's start with the obvious, here: You have to follow 3-1-1 whether you're bringing on a mini bottle of toothpaste or your family's famous Thanksgiving stuffing.

"Your solid food, your cakes and pies are going to be OK," Howell explained.

That means you're good to bring a turkey, ham, chicken or something of the like. TSA and U.S. Food and Drug Administration do advise that you give special attention to packing and storing perishables.

We say "special attention" because the steps you take to ensure your food stays cold through your journey can end up being a common pitfall.

Any ice packs you use must stay frozen as you make your way through the checkpoint.

That goes for that frozen turkey you bought at the grocery store, too.

"Sometimes, if it's half melted, and there's liquid in there, there's an issue," Howell said. You'll want to leave it in the freezer right up until you leave for the airport, in that case.

On the other hand, stuffing, macaroni and cheese, casseroles, pies, pastries and fresh fruits and vegetables are generally safe bets to bring through the checkpoint.

Thanksgiving food for a checked bag. TSA

Items you can't bring

With many other classic holiday dishes, you'll want to consider the ingredients before you try to carry it on, and in some cases, it's a pretty obvious "no-go."

“If you can pump it, pour it, spray it or spread it and it’s more than 3.4 ounces, then it should go in your checked bag," Howell said.

Many items can get through, along with spices. You need to check canned fruits and vegetables.

Gravies, sauces, jams, jellies, wine and spirits will need to go in checked luggage. Just be sure to wrap and pack items carefully to avoid a mess in the event a fragile bottle breaks.

Luckily, if you're not sure what food can be brought with you on the plane, the TSA has a a helpful “What can I bring?” feature. Type in your item and you should be able to find out if you can carry it through a checkpoint or if it should be checked.

Related: Best times to book flights for cheap airfare

Bottom line

Every time the TSA catches a prohibited item while scanning a bag, it causes a delay at the checkpoint. During what's expected to be the busiest holiday travel week in a couple of years, those delays can add up.

Whether you plan to pack a bottle of hair gel or your family's traditional Thanksgiving casserole, consider whether the size and composition of what you're packing make it eligible to pass through security.

Featured image by SKYNESHER/GETTY IMAGES
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more