What Can I Pack in My Carry-On?

Dear Jessica,

I’m confused about the rules for flying. What can I pack in my carry-on?


Dear L.F.,

You’re not alone in your confusion. Recent reports suggest that security lines at major airports will be particularly horrendous this holiday season, due in part to travelers who are unaware of or unsure about what is permitted in carry-on baggage.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) encourages travelers to remember the new rules by knowing the “3-1-1 for air travel.” Basically, each traveler can pack a one-quart clear, zip-top plastic bag full of three-ounce or smaller bottles. The bag must be taken out of your carry-on and placed in a security bin that will pass through the x-ray machine. Only one bag is allowed per person.

Exceptions to the 3-1-1 rule include medication (both prescription medications and over-the-counter products like saline solution and eye drops), baby formula or breast milk for small children, and liquids needed for people with medical conditions. These approved liquids do not have to be packed in plastic bags, but must be declared at security checkpoints.

RELATED: 7 Things You Should Never Pack in a Carry-on

Liquids or gels purchased beyond the security checkpoints, such as water or coffee, are allowed onboard.

The best bet may to be avoid packing liquids in your carry-on bags at all. Personally, I know when I fly next week, I’ll be checking all my necessary liquids and gels to avoid the hassle of dealing with tiny mini-bottles of shampoo.

For more information on banned items beyond liquids, the TSA has a comprehensive permitted and prohibited items list for carry-on and checked baggage on its website.

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  • Last Updated: August 17, 2015

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