What Items are Prohibited by the TSA?
By Kathryn Walsh
Updated August 24, 2017
Avoid Travel Snags by Packing Smart
All five of your child's favorite stuffed animals? Yep, the TSA will let you bring those through airport security—unfortunately. But travelers must be mindful of the TSA's restrictions on certain items. Most things that aren't allowed in carry-on bags are allowed in checked luggage, meaning that you have to think strategically about what you pack into which bag. Another potential complication? TSA agents have some leeway in deciding whether a particular item is admissible. Pack carefully and build some extra time into your travels if you're bringing anything that could raise concerns for security.
What Can't I Bring in Carry-On Bags?
One of the biggest differences between rules for carry-on and checked luggage involves liquids, gels and aerosols. You can pack large quantities of permitted types of substances in your checked bags, but you have to adhere to what's known as the 3-1-1 rule for your carry-on bags. That means that liquids, gels and aerosols must be packed in containers that are 3.4 ounces or smaller. Those containers have to be packed into a clear, 1-ounce bag, and each passenger may bring only one bag through security. (Exceptions are made for breast milk, juice and formula, which you may bring through security in larger quantities when you're traveling with an infant or young toddler.)
Many other items that are allowed in checked bags aren't allowed in carry-ons either. Prohibited items tend to be things that could be used as weapons during the flight, such as corkscrews, golf clubs, cordless curling irons, individual razor blades, self-defense sprays, sharp non-plastic knives, box cutters and tools such as hammers and drills. Foam toy swords and certain toy guns are also not allowed as carry-ons. Ammunition and certain weapons (including BB guns and compressed air guns) are forbidden as well.
For the most part, anything that's allowed in your carry-on bags may also be packed in your checked luggage—with two notable exceptions. You may bring one pack of safety matches and electronic cigarettes/vaping devices in your carry-on, but not in your checked bags.
What Can't I Bring At All?
Most items prohibited by the TSA are things you wouldn't normally bring on a family trip anyway. For example, most sports equipment, tools and other sharp items may be packed in your checked bags. But anything that is flammable, explosive or illegal is prohibited completely. Fireworks, fuel, gunpowder, lighter fluid and realistic replicas of incendiary devices are examples of things that the TSA doesn't allow passengers to bring.
Note that while medical marijuana is legal in many states, the TSA is governed by federal law, which hasn't legalized it. Therefore, you can't bring any marijuana on a plane, even if it's been prescribed to you.
Firearms may be allowed in checked luggage, but they must be unloaded and locked in hard cases and must adhere to some other rules.
What Else Should I Know?
Not only will you not be allowed to bring prohibited items on your flight, but packing certain prohibited items can lead to fines and even arrest. For instance, packing a loaded firearm opens you up to fines running into several thousand dollars.
Airlines have their own rules about what passengers can and cannot bring aboard. Bikes, drones, dry ice, tents and hoverboards are some of the items that individual airlines make policies about, so check your airline's website before you make any final packing decisions. Likewise, flying with a pet is something you must check with your airline about.
The TSA allows a lot of adventure-related gear, like snow cleats and hiking poles, to be packed in checked luggage. But some of these items can be bulky and awkward to maneuver through an airport—especially when you're traveling with kids. Look into whether it's possible to rent these things during your trip so you don't have to drag them along.
Cooking, travel and parenting are three of Kathryn Walsh's passions. She makes chicken nuggets during days nannying, whips up vegetarian feasts at night and road trips on weekends. Her work has appeared to The Syracuse Post-Standard and insider magazine. Walsh received a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.