Eating your own food on an airplane is a common question for travelers. The rules around bringing food onboard vary between airlines and depend on the type of flight. This article will discuss the factors that determine whether you can eat your own food during a flight and provide tips for getting your snacks past security.
In most cases, yes you can bring your own food to eat on flights within the United States. For international flights, policies are more restrictive due to customs regulations. TSA rules allow solid foods in reasonable quantities through security screening. Ultimately, it is up to the airline’s discretion whether outside food is allowed onboard.
Can You Bring Food Through TSA?
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) allows you to carry solid foods through security checkpoints. This includes items like sandwiches, snacks, fresh fruit, and other food that can be consumed cold. Foods should be transported in a clear plastic bag and will need to pass through the X-ray scanner.
Liquids, spreads, and gels are restricted to travel-sized containers no larger than 3.4 ounces (100 ml). These need to fit in a single quart-sized bag. So things like yogurt, peanut butter, and salad dressing would need to comply with the liquid requirements.
Foods that are creamy, spreadable, or wrapped tightly like sandwiches may get additional inspection. TSA officers may unwrap or test food items that could conceal prohibited items.
TSA Rules for Food
- Solid foods can be carried through security in reasonable quantities
- Liquids, spreads, gels must be 3.4 ounces or less
- All food items must be scanned through the X-ray machine
- Officers may unwrap foods for additional screening
Airline Policies on Outside Food
While TSA allows outside food in carry-ons, specific airlines have their own policies. In most cases airlines do permit snacks and meals brought from home or purchased before your flight.
For flights within the United States, most major airlines allow you to bring your own food onboard. This includes:
- American Airlines
- Alaska Airlines
Basic rules apply such as no alcohol and food that won’t create a disturbance for other passengers. Airlines recommend snacks and meals that are cold, in sealed containers, and pedestrian to eat.
On international flights, particularly to certain destinations, policies on outside food get more restrictive. This is due to customs regulations in the arriving country.
Many airlines prohibit any food brought on board for meals originating:
- To/from Australia
- To/from South Africa
- To/from South America
For flights between the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America, snacks and meals from home are generally allowed on most airlines.
However, always check your airline’s website when traveling internationally as rules may vary.
Tips for Getting Food Through Security
If you want to maximize your chances of bringing your own food onboard, here are some practical tips:
- Make sure items meet TSA liquid requirements
- Separate food into a clear plastic bag
- Avoid messy or creamy foods that may require extra inspection
- Have food unwrapped and ready to be scanned
- Be cooperative if TSA needs to open or test your food
Also have a backup plan in case certain items get flagged during screening. You may lose access to some food, so keep that in mind when packing.
What Foods Work Best?
Some types of food are easier to get through security and onboard than others. Here are good options for airplane meals brought from home:
|Apples, oranges, carrots
|Turkey, ham, cheese sandwiches
|Nuts, dried fruit, crackers
|Protein bars, granola bars, cookies
|Sliced/cubed cheese, string cheese
|Granola, cereal mixes
Avoid excessively messy or liquid foods as they may get confiscated. It’s also smart to pack items that won’t go bad without refrigeration.
Can You Eat Airport Food on the Plane?
Food purchased after passing through airport security screening can certainly be taken on your flight. Airport concessions have become quite varied and many offer grab-and-go options perfect for eating onboard.
Some easy airport foods you can take on the plane include:
- Sandwiches and wraps
- Salads in sealed containers
- Fresh cut fruit cups
- Yogurts and snacks
- Chips, pretzels, crackers
- Cookies and baked goods
- Bottled beverages
One advantage of buying food once past security is you won’t have to worry about TSA rules. Just be sure to keep your receipt in case you need to show proof of purchase onboard.
Should You Avoid “Smelly” Foods on a Plane?
Airplane cabins are tight spaces, so it’s courteous to avoid foods with strong odors. Pungent foods can be disruptive to your fellow passengers.
Examples of smelly foods to avoid include:
- Curries and foods with lots of garlic, onion or spices
- Soft cheeses
- Fried foods
If you do bring something aromatic, be mindful of people seated around you. Consume the food quickly and discard any leftovers promptly. Bringing something like gum or mints can help neutralize odors in your area afterward.
What Drinks Can You Bring Through Security?
Beverages are restricted by TSA liquid rules. When going through airport security you can bring:
- Water bottles containing 3.4oz/100 ml of liquid or less
- Small juice boxes
- Frozen water bottles that are partially melted and conform to the volume limit
Empty reusable water bottles can be taken through security and filled with water post-screening. This allows you to bring a good quantity of water onboard.
Any beverage purchased after passing through security is permitted. This includes things like soft drinks, water bottles, coffee, tea, and adult beverages.
Is Alcohol Allowed On Planes?
Policies on alcohol brought on flights differ across airlines. Some prohibit it entirely while others allow limited quantities.
For instance, Southwest allows individual servings of wine and beer, but no hard liquor. American Airlines permits beer and wine in carry-on bags but not exceeding 24 oz per customer.
On flights departing from an international airport, duty-free alcohol can only be carried unopened. It must be repacked in a secure, tamper-evident bag prior to boarding.
Ultimately it comes down to specific airline and flight rules. Be sure to check ahead of time before trying to bring alcohol onboard.
Can You Bring Baby Food and Formula?
Traveling with infants has special considerations. Both TSA and airlines allow reasonable amounts of baby food, formula, milk, juice and pureed foods for children under 2 years old.
Containers larger than 3.4 ounces are permitted if:
- It is for the child’s use during the trip
- You taste a small amount to demonstrate it’s safe
Empty bottles can be carried through security to be filled later with pumped breastmilk, water, or formula. Ice packs, freezer packs, and gel packs are also allowed if medically necessary.
Be prepared to keep items cold with ice or insulated bags if needed. Having baby food and formula makes air travel with infants much easier.
Can You Bring Homemade Meals for Children?
Homemade meals packaged in reusable containers are permitted for children’s use. Similar to baby food, you may need to open and taste a portion during screening.
To avoid hassles at security, keep children’s food separate from your own. Portion packages labeled with the child’s name can prevent confusion.
Stick to non-perishable items that can be out of refrigeration for several hours. Sandwiches, cut fruit/veggies, snacks, juices and other kid-friendly foods are good options.
Can You Order Food for Delivery to the Airport?
Many airports now offer services where you can order food from local eateries and have it delivered to your gate. Companies like AtYourGate and Airport Sherpa provide this option.
The main benefit is being able to get cuisine from your favorite local restaurants you can’t find in the airport. Keep in mind you’ll need to place the order with enough time to clear security screening.
Delivery apps require you to be past security in the gate area. Double check if a specific airport offers food delivery before counting on it.
What Happens If You Try to Bring Prohibited Items?
Attempting to carry restricted food items through security may result in them being confiscated. Liquid, gels or spreads over the permitted volumes will be taken.
You also may be asked to open and possibly taste food items during additional screening. If you refuse, those items could be taken as well.
Just cooperate with TSA agents if they need to inspect your food. Be aware they reserve the right to deny any food brought through the checkpoint.
What If You Have Dietary Restrictions?
Travelers with dietary restrictions like food allergies, medical conditions or religious observances should take extra precautions. Some key tips include:
- Research TSA rules thoroughly to avoid surprises
- Notify TSA you have dietary needs
- Bring a doctor’s note explaining medical conditions if applicable
- Pack twice as much food as you need in case some gets confiscated
- Keep medical information on hand like allergy cards
Most dietary needs can be accommodated if security personnel understand the situation. Be proactive in communicating what you require.
Can You Bring Food in Your Checked Luggage?
Food items are permitted in checked baggage, within reason. Use proper containers to prevent leaks or spills. Keep foods that may produce odors wrapped securely.
Perishables like meat, produce, and dairy may not withstand baggage handling and extremes of temperature. Consider insulated bags and freezer packs if you must check these.
Checked luggage gets minimal handling once offloaded from the aircraft. Avoid packing anything that could spoil quickly without refrigeration.
How Should You Pack Food for Checked Bags?
Follow these tips for transporting food in checked luggage:
- Place food in sealed containers or resealable plastic bags
- Put absorbent material like paper towels in container bottoms
- Wrap or box up fragile items to prevent crushing
- Distribute weight evenly between bags
- Pack non-liquid foods when possible
Also check the agriculture laws of the destination country. Many places prohibit importation of fresh fruits, vegetables, plants and meat products. Declare any questionable foods to avoid penalties.
Is There Any Food You Can’t Put in Checked Bags?
Some foods present hazards in a cargo hold and should never be checked:
- Unsealed containers with liquid contents
- Highly perishable items requiring refrigeration
- Very fragile foods
- Anything that could leak, smell strongly or attract pests
Use your best judgment. If something seems likely to make a mess or pose a contamination risk, find another way to transport it.
Can You Access Checked Bags During Layovers?
On domestic U.S. layovers, you can request access to your checked bags if you want to remove food items. Not all airports or airlines permit this.
On an international layover you won’t have access to checked luggage before clearing customs at your final destination. Only carry-on bags are accessible.
If you need food from checked baggage during a layover, consider shipping items instead or moving them to a carry-on.
Bringing your own food and beverages on a plane is perfectly legal in most cases. While TSA and airlines limit certain items, you have broad ability to pack drinks and meals from home or pick them up once past security.
Follow the liquid rules, contain foods properly and steer clear of overly messy or aromatic choices. With smart packing and smooth screening, you can avoid airport food and save money by eating the snacks you love best during flight.