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How to Pack Food and Drink for a Flight

SmarterTravel

Here are a few ways to help you pack food and drink for a flight, so you can save money, nosh on your favorite comfort foods while on the road, and bring back some tasty souvenirs. We break down the TSA’s liquid rules, what types of food pack well in a carry-on, and the best ways to store your travel snacks.

If you’re like most, food and drinks are pretty much the last things your throw in your bag before heading to the airport—if you remember at all. But just a little planning can save you a fistful of cash, especially if you’re flying with your family. Most domestic flights don’t serve meals (just snacks and beverages), so if you think you’ll need to eat, you can either pay through the nose at the airport or pack your own. We’ve gathered some tips that’ll get you through the gate and onto the plane with (good, healthy) food and drink, with a minimum of hassle.

The Best Types of Food for Air Travel

The 3.4-ounce rule doesn’t just pertain to shampoos and lotions—it goes for non-solid food items as well. Salad dressings, hummus, salsa, jams and jellies, syrups, dips, yogurts, and spreads: All are required to be in containers of 3.4 ounces or less.

Add It Before You Pack It: One way to get around this? Put the spread or dressing on your food before you pack it. For instance, if you’re carrying on peanut butter and jelly, they need to adhere to the TSA rules and be in 3.4-ounce containers. But if the peanut butter and jelly are already spread on a sandwich? No problem. The same goes for salad dressing: Put it on your salad in the container and you’re good to go.

Seal It in Plastic: If you’re packing sandwiches, make sure to put them in clear plastic, one-quart zip-top bags rather than foil—your food will need to go through X-ray scanners, and you’ll be asked to remove the foil. Zip-top bags are probably the cheapest, easiest packing containers you can use for food items that don’t have a lot of moisture, such as sandwiches, chips, nuts, and dried and fresh fruit. And anything you want to leave behind, such as orange skins or grape seeds, can just be sealed back up in the bag and tossed later. We also urge travelers to invest in reusable silicone bags, like these from Stasher.

Contain It: Sealable, reusable plastic food containers are great for storing salads or any other food that can leak moisture. They’re extremely lightweight, they’re washable, they come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and if you happen to lose one, you’re not out a lot of money.

Foods to Bring on a Plane:

  • Crunchy foods, which tend to be satisfying—whether carrot, celery, or jicama sticks, or chips, cereal, and crackers that don’t fall apart easily.
  • Sandwiches on thick bread that won’t get soggy and fall apart.
  • Pasta or whole-grain salads, which won’t get soggy like lettuce salads.

Foods to Avoid Bringing on a Plane:

  • Bananas, avocados, or any other food that’s easily smashed and becomes messy.
  • Foods with odors that might not be well received by neighbors, such as cooked broccoli, tuna fish salad, and some cheeses.
  • Crackers and chips that crumble easily and leave crumbs all over the seats and floor.

How to Bring Water on the Plane

Some airports (Denver, Phoenix, and San Francisco to name a few) are leading the way when it comes to meeting one of our most basic needs: drinking water. They’ve installed sensor-activated water fountains designed to accommodate large water bottles for easy refills post-security.

Even if your airport doesn’t have one of these refilling stations, it’s still worth heading to the good ol’ drinking fountain to fill your bottle, rather than dropping $4 for bottled water.

And yet, people resist, thinking bottled water is safer. It’s not, at least in the U.S.

The federal Safe Drinking Water Act ensures that public drinking water everywhere in the U.S. meets strict safety standards for natural and manmade contaminants; the FDA has similar requirements for bottled water. If you think bottled water tastes better, that’s a personal preference (probably influenced by your perceptions of tap water). But if you buy it because you think it’s safer to drink, you’re just pouring money down the drain.

Traveling with Wine and Alcoholic Beverages

You’re allowed to carry on bottles of wine or spirits if they’re purchased at a duty-free shop after your security check-in and if they are in the original, unopened bottle. If you’re flying internationally, you’ll need to make sure that the duty-free store packs your bottles in a secure, tamper-evident bag (STEB), or there’s a good likelihood you’ll have to surrender them when you reach the U.S. Here are some other regulations and tips you should know:

  • Spirits between 24 and 70 percent alcohol (48 to 140 proof) are considered hazardous materials and limited to five liters (1.3 gallons) per person for travelers. But if the alcohol content is less than 24 percent (wine and beer, for instance), it isn’t considered a hazardous material.
  • Liquids, gels, and aerosols in carry-on baggage are further limited to 100-ml (3.4-ounce) containers at the TSA security checkpoint. For checked luggage, there’s no limit to the amount of beer or wine you can pack (weight is the only factor to consider), but if the spirits are between 24 to 70 percent, the five-liter limit applies.
  • If you pack bottles, make sure your bag is stuffed full, so that shifting weight or rough handling won’t break your bottles and ruin your clothing. One easy way is to take a piece of clothing—a T-shirt works well—and wrap it tightly around the bottle. Then seal it in a large plastic bag in case of breakage. Make sure it’s wedged into other clothing items that will absorb any shock. If you do this often, you might want to invest in some padded, absorbent bottle bags.
  • Note that according to current FAA regulations, passengers cannot drink alcohol aboard an aircraft unless it is served by the air carrier.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2015. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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