Remember the carefree days of receiving free food and drinks on an airplane? <wistful sigh> Yeah, those are all but over—especially if you’re flying a budget carrier. And since the threat of Covid-19 first emerged, most airlines have even reduced their for-purchase offerings, prompting more travelers to tuck store-bought sustenance in their carry-on bags. But while you might think your snacks pose no security risk, if a TSA officer disagrees, those munchies won’t make it past the checkpoint.
Some airlines have begun to bring food and beverage service back to their aisles, but it can still be a challenge to know who’s serving what—so the home-packed snack is still a safe bet for now. However, to avoid confusion (not to mention hunger and thirst) about what’s on the no-fly menu, read on to get the full scoop.
TSA Food Rules for 2022 - Updated
You can bring just about any snack on your flight, but if any part of the snack is a liquid, paste, or gel, that particular part is subject to the 3-1-1 rule:
- 3 (all liquids, pastes, or gels must be in 3.4-ounce or less containers)
- 1 (all your liquid bottles must fit in one quart sized bag)
- 1 (one bag per person)
The upshot: liquid/liquid-ish things you bring on a plane must be 3.4 ounces or less.
This includes hummus, cream cheese, and other spreadable dips; nut butters; honey and maple syrup; ice cream; jams and jellies; oils and vinegars; salad dressings, salsas, and sauces; soups; and yogurt.
Note that if said liquid-ish things are already on a sandwich or salad that’s safely packaged/contained in your carry-on, you’ll be fine. Otherwise, if you can spill, spread, spray, pump, or pour it and it’s larger than 3.4 ounces, then it should go in a checked bag—or TSA will throw it away.
What kind of TSA-approved food can I bring on a plane?
You can bring just about any solid, packaged food on a plane, as long as it fits comfortably in your carry-on. This includes bread, cooked meat, hard-boiled eggs, candy, cereal, cookies, crackers, chips, dried fruit, and nuts, as well as sandwiches, wraps, pizza, pasta, and salads. (Just remember the 3-1-1 rule for separately packaged dressings, sauces, etc.) Fresh fruit and veggies are generally okay, too, but continue below for a few exceptions.
Special TSA rules for baby food, breastmilk, and baby formula
Formula, breast milk, and juice for your kiddos are allowed through security, as long as they’re in “reasonable quantities” (per the TSA’s vague description) and you take them out of your carry-on bag so they can be separately screened. A TSA officer may ask you to run these items through the X-ray, open their containers, and/or pour out a little liquid for their inspection; you don’t have to consent to these requests, but if not, you may have to undergo a pat-down, inspection of your carry-on bag, etc.—whatever that TSA officer decides.
Wondering if you need to have a child with you in order to bring breast milk through security or onto your flight? Well, you don’t. Have breast milk, will travel.
Special TSA rules for fruits and vegetables
If you’re flying from Hawaii, Puerto Rico, or the U.S. Virgin Islands to the U.S. mainland, you can’t take fresh fruits and vegetables with you in either your carry-on or checked bags, due to the risk of spreading invasive plant pests. Otherwise, you can take fresh fruits and vegetables with you in any piece of luggage you please.
Some of the most unusual food items allowed on a plane
Bet you didn’t think you could bring a live lobster on a plane, am I right? Well, you’d be wrong: a live lobster is allowed through airport security as long as it’s packed in a clear, plastic, spill proof container, making it easy for a TSA officer to give it a look-see. In case your particular airline feels differently about you traveling with your lobster, ask them to share their thoughts before you show up at the airport with said lobster.
Bringing your own alcohol on a plane
In your carry-on, you can bring mini bottles of alcohol if they don’t exceed 70% alcohol (140 proof) and fit comfortably into a single, clear, quart-sized bag. You may not, however, drink this alcohol onboard your flight.
In your checked bags, you can pack alcoholic beverages as long as they’re in their unopened retail packaging. You’re limited to 5 liters (1.3 gallons) if your booze is between 24%-70% alcohol (48-140 proof). If your hooch is less than 24% alcohol (up to 46 proof), you can pack as much as your airline’s checked baggage weight allows—generally 50 pounds for domestic flights, and sometimes up to 70 pounds for international flights.
Which foods are prohibited by the TSA?
No foods are technically prohibited by the TSA, just amounts of food. Ensure that the amounts of liquid/liquid-ish things you bring through security are 3.4 ounces or less and safely packaged, and you should be just fine.
Frozen ice packs
Ice packs, freezer packs, frozen gel packs and other cooling accessories are allowed in carry-on as long as they’re frozen at the time you go through security. If TSA finds they’re partially melted and/or have any liquid at the bottom of their container, they won’t be permitted.
What foods should I not eat on a plane?
“Should” is a word fraught with controversy, but which generally points to common decency. Commonly indecent on a plane? Anything that reeks, stinks, or smells so strongly that it would cause even your direct seatmate to hold their nose. Just say no to tuna or egg salad, moldy cheeses like Limburger, fish sauce as a condiment, copious amounts of garlic, curried anything, or fried fast food (looking at you, McDonald’s). Also skip things that can easily explode under cabin pressure or simply spill on you or your seatmates, like yogurt, hot soup, or shelled nuts.
Checking food you can’t bring on board
If you get stopped going through security with food/drink items/sizes that TSA deems unacceptable, you have two choices: 1) surrender the item to be thrown away, or 2) step out of the security line, re-pack the unapproved item(s), and return to your airline’s ticketing desk to check that piece of luggage. Yes, you’ll have to adhere to your airline’s checked baggage weight limits, and yes, you’ll have to go through security again.