Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Flying with liquids

Knowing what you can bring in your hand luggage when traveling on an airplane can be confusing, especially when it comes to bringing liquids on board. It is important to be aware of these rules, especially when traveling with children, because you will likely need to bring some liquid products with you on a family trip, and if you don't follow the rules, it could take you a lot longer to clear security. You might even have to leave stuff behind if it does not conform to regulations.

The rules for liquids, gels, and aerosol products on board airplanes are pretty much exactly the same all over the world, and are enforced by the airlines and by security personnel at the airports. These rules apply a lot of things, including anything liquid, as well as sprays, creams, lotions, gels, medication, chap-stick, lipstick, makeup, water, juice, sunscreens and so on.
That's 20.3 cm x 19.5 cm if you're metrically inclined.

The basic rules are:
  1. Containers with liquids can hold no more than 100 ml (3 ounces) each.
  2. These containers have to fit in a 1 litre (1 quart) clear, zip-lock plastic bag.
  3. Only one bag is allowed per traveler.

At each security check, you have to remove the bag with the containers and let it pass through inspection by itself, that is: not inside your hand luggage. My tip is to keep that zip-lock bag on top inside your hand luggage so you do not have to dig around too much for it.

There are exceptions to these rules, and some of these exceptions are left up to the discretion of the people screening your hand luggage. For example:
  • You are allowed to bring "reasonable quantities" of baby formula, breast milk and juice for small babies that are traveling on the airplane. From personal experience, I'd say the baby formula and breast milk will not cause problems at the security checkpoint, but juice might.
  • The "reasonable quantities" rule applies to over-the-counter and prescription medication too, but again: if you want to go through security quickly, try to keep the amounts in your hand luggage within the usual regulations, just to make things go faster and easier.

The only time I personally would push for an exception to the carry-on rules when traveling with kids, would be if it was for something absolutely essential. For example, if I was traveling with an infant who needed formula or breast milk, or if I needed to bring special medications for myself or my children. In those instances I don't think you will have a problem.

In all non-essential cases I would not rely on security personnel at the airport screening points to allow any exceptions. In my experience, they often do not like to make exceptions, and if they are asked to make exceptions, it might take a lot longer to get through the checkpoint. If it is at all possible for you, follow the regular rules.

The TSA in the United States now promote what they call "3-1-1 for carry-ons". So if you're thinking in imperial measurements, this means:
I guess for us metric people, that would translate as 100-1-1, as in 100 ml or smaller containers, fitting inside one 1 liter plastic bag, and 1 bag per traveler.

These regulations for bringing liquids on board can seem like a lot of useless hassle. But once you get used to it, it's really not that bad. Also, when you are traveling with children, remember that each person paying for a ticket counts as a traveler. This means that if your children are paying for their airplane tickets, they are allowed one bag each with liquids too.

To find out more specific information about what you can and can't bring, you can check the TSA website, the CATSA website (if you're in Canada), or the website of the airline you are traveling with.

Images from the TSA website.

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