If you’ve decided to head to the airport to enjoy a winter break this holiday season – perhaps to celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or even the end of what has been a very trying year – it’s important to know what items can be taken through a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint and what items should travel in a checked bag in addition to following CDC general guidelines about social distancing, washing hands and wearing masks.
TSA’s elves – who double as officers the rest of the year – recommend that passengers don’t wrap gifts. Wrapped items are screened like any other item. If a wrapped item alarms the security screening technology, it will need to be unwrapped to determine if it is a security threat. Consider traveling with unwrapped items, placing them in a gift bag or gift box or use a festive bow for easy access and resolution.
Use a gift bag or a gift box instead of wrapping paper if traveling with gifts. (TSA photo)
Travelers who are unsure if an item should be packed in a carry-on or checked bag can check the TSA homepage, which has a helpful “What can I bring?” feature. Type in the name of the item and find out if you can carry it through a checkpoint or if it should be checked. Another option is for passengers to tweet @AskTSA to ask how best to travel with a specific food or other type of item.
Traveling with electronics
- Electronics are popular gifts and can travel in carry-on luggage. However, all electronics larger than a cell phone should be placed in a bin with nothing above or below it so that TSA can get a good X-ray image to ensure that it has not been tampered with. So if you have a tablet, laptop or the latest gaming console, you can carry it onto the airplane.
- TSA allows drones through the checkpoint, but check with your airline for drone-specific travel policies.
- With electronics often come batteries and “dry” ones such as AA, AAA, 9-volt, C and D batteries can all can be carried through a checkpoint. Lithium batteries with 100 watt hours or less installed in in a device are okay, but loose lithium batteries are prohibited in checked bags. The Federal Aviation Administration has very specific regulations on lithium batteries, so if you’re planning to travel with them, visit the FAA web site.
How to pack food
- Baked goods—cookies, pies and cakes can be carried through security checkpoints. Tins of cookies, pretzels and popcorn are all okay too.
- Homemade, store-bought and delicious preserves, jams, jellies and syrups fall in the category of a liquid. Basically, solid foods can be carried through a checkpoint, but if you can spill it, spray it, spread it, pump it or pour it, then it should be packed in a checked bag if the container is larger than 3.4 ounces.
- Cheese gets a little complicated. If the cheese is a solid block, it can be carried through a checkpoint. However, if it is a soft, spreadable cheese, it should be packed in a checked bag.
- Beverages such as egg nog, wine and champagne should be packed in checked baggage. However, beverages with more than 24% alcohol by volume but not more than 70% alcohol are limited in checked bags to five liters per passenger. Alcoholic beverages with 24% alcohol or less are not subject to any limits in checked bags. As for mini-bottles of alcohol, they are allowed in carry-on luggage and they must fit comfortably in a single, quart-sized bag. Limit one-quart bag per passenger.
- Chocolates. Carry them on.
How to pack traditional holiday gifts
- Perfume can be carried through a checkpoint if it is less than 3.4 ounces/100 ml and fits into a one quart-sized bag. If it’s in a lovely bottle that doesn’t fit in your one quart-size resealable plastic bag, best to pack it in a checked bag.
- Snow globes that appear to contain less than 3.4 ounces of liquid (approximately the size of a tennis ball) can be packed in a carry-on bag only if the entire snow globe, including the base, is able to fit into a one quart-sized, resealable plastic bag. Larger snow globes should be packed in a checked bag. If not, the Grinch will be paying you a visit at the checkpoint and you may opt to leave your prized snow globe behind.
- Jewelry – even a ring with a sparkly diamond in a tiny square box – can be carried through the checkpoint. However, TSA does not recommend wearing bulky jewelry or large belt buckles because that may trigger an alarm resulting in the need for a pat-down.
- Candles that are solid traditional designs can be placed in a carry-on bag. Gel-type candles should be packed in a checked bag.
- Snowboards, snowshoes and ice skates can be carried through a checkpoint, but check with the airline about overhead bin space. Skis and ski poles should travel as checked baggage.
- Advent calendars are good to go in the cabin of the aircraft. Don’t worry, TSA won’t open the flaps on the calendar and reveal your daily dose of holiday cheer!