The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many aspects of air travel, including rules around bringing your own food and drinks on planes. With new health and safety protocols in place, passengers need to be aware of what items are allowed or prohibited in flight.
In this article, we’ll provide a comprehensive overview of food policies across major U.S. airlines and answer common questions travelers have about bringing eats onboard during COVID-19. We’ll cover TSA rules on liquids and gels, as well as airline-specific guidelines on snacks, drinks, and restaurant takeout. Read on for the latest information to ensure your next flight has tasty, travel-friendly meals and treats!
TSA Rules on Liquids, Gels, and Aerosols
First, it’s important to understand the fundamental TSA (Transportation Security Administration) policies on liquid, gel, and aerosol items in carry-on luggage. The 3-1-1 liquids rule limits:
– Containers with liquids, gels, aerosols, creams, and pastes to 3.4 ounces or less per item
– All containers must fit in one quart-sized bag
– Limit only 1 quart-sized bag per passenger
This rule applies to any liquid or gel-like food items you want to bring through airport security in a carry-on. Examples include soup broths, dips, sauces, spreads, yogurt, puddings, smoothies, etc.
Beverages like juice, soda, and alcohol must also adhere to the 3.4 ounce limit if brought as a carry-on item.
Some exceptions for baby formula/milk, liquid prescription medicine, and duty-free liquids purchased at airport shops past security may apply. But otherwise, the 3-1-1 liquids rule remains in place during COVID-19.
This means most food items carried on a plane must be dry, solid foods that undergo typical X-ray screening without liquid restrictions. We’ll get more into TSA-friendly options coming up.
General Airline Policies on Carry-On Food
Many major U.S. airlines have always allowed passengers to bring their own snacks and non-alcoholic drinks onboard flights. This policy continues even amid COVID-19 restrictions.
Here are some general guidelines across airlines for food and beverages in carry-on luggage:
– Almost all solid foods allowed (sandwiches, protein bars, fruits, vegetables, desserts, etc.)
– Beverages permitted if compliant with TSA liquid rules
– Onboard alcohol only allowed if purchased at airport bars/restaurants or on the plane
– No consuming personal alcohol brought on board allowed
– Quiet, minimal odor foods preferred out of courtesy for other passengers
– No hazardous or dangerous foods like certain seafood, uncooked meats, etc.
In terms of quantity, there are no set limits except what you can reasonably fit into a single carry-on while still allowing space for other personal items. Just use common sense based on the length of your flight.
Airline Policies on Carry-On Food and COVID-19
For the most part, major airlines are keeping pre-pandemic snack and non-alcoholic drink allowances in place. But there are a few airline-specific policies on food worth noting:
– First class passengers can now pre-select their meal choices ahead of time for healthier options and minimized contact.
– Comfort+ and Main Cabin passengers will receive a sealed snack bag with offerings like sandwiches, chips, cheese and fruit plates, and desserts.
– Complimentary soft drinks and bottled water served as usual.
– Main Cabin meals have been reduced to just snacks and bottled water.
-Packaged snacks provided on flights over 250 miles. Offerings have included items like chips, banana bread, cheese and fruit plates, and candy.
-First class hot meals provided on long haul flights.
– Snack bags with two treats like cookies, cheese, pretzels, etc. provided on flights over 3 hours.
– Sealed bottled water provided on all flights.
– Full beverage service resumed in all cabins.
– Packaged snacks served on all flights over 250 miles. Offerings vary but often include crackers, cookies, chips, and candy.
– Canned and bottled non-alcoholic beverages provided upon request.
– Free snack basket typically provided on all flights over 3 hours and select shorter routes. Basket often has options like chips, candy bars, cookies, nuts, and crackers.
– Self-serve soft drinks suspended in Main Cabin. Canned soda and bottled water available upon request.
– Food and drink service temporarily suspended on some routes under 350 miles.
– On longer flights, light snacks like chips, fruits, and cheese plates offered in coach.
– First class meal service has been modified to individually packaged dishes.
The basic takeaway is that while meal service has been reduced by some airlines, bringing your own non-alcoholic drinks and TSA-compliant snacks is still allowed on all major domestic U.S. airlines. Check your specific airline’s latest policies before flying.
Can You Bring Takeout Food in Carry-On?
A common question during COVID-19 is whether passengers can bring takeout food from the airport onto their flight.
The answer is yes, this is generally permitted, as long as the items meet TSA liquid rules for carry-ons.
Many airports have grab-and-go concession stands for this very purpose. Offerings include things like:
– Sandwiches and wraps
– Salads in clear plastic containers
– Sushi rolls
– Pizza slices
– Packaged snacks like protein boxes, yogurt, cut fruit, and desserts.
Technically even more elaborate takeout meals from sit-down airport restaurants are allowed. For instance, you could bring microwavable entrees, pastas, or bento boxes with several compartments.
The most important factor is making sure any liquids, gels, or spreads meet the 3.4 ounce max container limits per TSA guidelines. Large jars of soup or sauces would not be permitted.
Be sure to request sauces and dressing on the side in small containers meant for carry-on transport. Transfer any other liquids to smaller bottles if needed.
Also keep food odors in mind out of courtesy for fellow passengers when choosing strongly seasoned takeout items.
But overall, feel free to grab that sushi or pad thai on your way to the gate. Just follow TSA rules and enjoy your tasty takeout once on board your flight.
smart Snack Ideas for Airplane Carry-On
When choosing food items to pack in your carry-on bag for air travel, you’ll want to keep TSA rules, ease of transport, and minimal mess in mind. Here are some of the top recommended snacks and foods for your onboard dining:
Shelf-Stable Protein Snacks
Protein-rich foods can help you feel full longer when airline snacks leave you hungry. Some smart choices include:
– Beef or turkey jerky sticks
– Protein/granola bars
– Peanut butter/cheese crackers
– Mixed nuts and seeds
– Nut butters with pretzels or apple slices
Dried or Dehydrated Fruits/Veggies
Dried fruits and vegetables pack flavor and nutrients without refrigeration or liquid concerns:
– Raisins, dried cranberries, apricots, banana chips
– apple rings
– Carrot sticks
– Roasted seaweed snacks
Satisfying some crunchy cravings without the mess can be done with:
– Baby carrots with hummus dip or dressing in allowed container
– Trail mix
– Veggie straws or chips
Fruits like apples, oranges, bananas, grapes, melon, etc. travel well in carry-ons and provide hydration.
Sandwiches and Wraps
As long as spreads/sauces are in permitted small quantities, sandwiches and wraps make classic portable meals. Go for breads that hold up well and moist veggie fillings.
Yogurt and Pudding Cups
Pre-packaged yogurt, pudding, and fruit cups are an easy way to get dairy and a sweet treat.
Granola and Cereal
Dry cereals or granola can be snacked on from baggies paired with dried or fresh fruits.
Transport hard cheeses, cheese curds, or Babybel circles for protein-packed nibbling.
Bonus tip: Use an insulated lunch bag with ice packs to keep items like sliced fruit, sandwiches, and dips chilled. This avoids the need to refrigerate once past security.
Beverages to Bring On Board
When it comes to airport beverages, focus on staying hydrated with items that meet TSA liquid rules or that you can purchase after security screening:
Empty Reusable Water Bottles
Bring an empty reusable water bottle through security to fill at water fountains past the checkpoints once boarding your flight. This allows you to skip paying for bottled water onboard.
If you need a caffeine fix, bring an empty travel mug or thermos and purchase coffee or tea past security to take on the plane.
Juice or Other Beverages
Any juices, smoothies, or other drinks must be in containers of 3.4 ounces or less to bring through security. Opt for mini tetra paks of juice and small drink pouches.
Soda or Alcohol
You cannot bring these through security checkpoints. But once past TSA, you can bring sealed canned or bottled non-alcoholic soda and alcoholic beverages purchased at airport vendors onto your plane in permitted quantities.
Foods to Avoid in Airplane Carry-Ons
While the TSA allows most solid foods, some specific items are restricted due to potential security risks, contamination hazards, or out of courtesy to others:
Things like jars of jam, salsa, salad dressing etc. over 3.4 ounces won’t make it past TSA. Use packet condiments or transfer small portions to a container that meets the liquid rules.
Items Requiring Cutlery
Foods requiring knives, forks, or other cutlery won’t be practical since you can’t bring utensils through security. Hand-held foods are your best bet.
Very Smelly Foods
Consider your fellow passengers when choosing notoriously fragrant foods like tuna, hard-boiled eggs, and spicy cuisines.
Unwrapped or Easily Spilled Foods
Avoid loose sauces or dips that can spill in transit or foods with loose crumbs that can spread quickly on a plane for less mess and waste.
Foods requiring refrigeration like fresh deli meats, uncooked seafood, potato salad, chicken wings, etc. could become unsafe at cabin temperatures.
Hazardous or Dangerous Foods
Items like raw meat, sea urchin, fugu fish, and endangered animal cuisine are prohibited by TSA for contamination and biosecurity reasons.
By avoiding these foods and focusing on TSA-friendly snacks, you can maximize what’s allowed for transport while keeping travel food safe.
Frequently Asked Questions on Plane Food Rules
If you still have questions on what food and drinks you can bring onboard a flight, here are answers to some frequently asked questions:
Can I bring my own snacks like protein bars, candy, granola, and fruit?
Yes, you can bring your own solid, non-liquid snacks like protein bars, granola, dried fruit, candy, etc. These are permitted by TSA in carry-on bags.
Can I transport my own reusable water bottle empty to fill past security?
Yes, empty reusable water bottles are allowed through checkpoints to fill at fountains/shops once boarding. This can save money on airport bottled water costs.
Am I allowed to bring my own non-alcoholic drinks like juices, soda, and coffee?
You can only bring small 3.4 ounce containers or less of these beverages through security. Otherwise, drinks like juice, soda, and coffee must be purchased past the checkpoints.
Can I bring a lunch box or insulated bag with ice packs through security?
Yes, you can transport empty lunch boxes, bags, and ice packs in your carry-on provided they undergo X-ray screening. Just ensure any liquid foods meet the 3-1-1 limits.
Is takeout food from the airport allowed onboard? What about things like soup?
Most takeout is allowed as long as liquid items follow the max 3.4 ounce container per TSA rules. Soups and stews would need to be transferred to smaller spill-proof containers.
Can I bring my own alcohol onboard or drink alcohol I brought through security?
No personal alcohol is allowed to be transported or consumed. All alcohol must be purchased after security or onboard once flying.
Do I have to share my snacks with hungry kids or seatmates if asked?
There is no requirement to share your personal food items. But it can be a nice gesture if you’re comfortable doing so. Simply politely decline if you’d rather not.
Can food allergies or religious/dietary needs influence what foods I transport?
Airlines and TSA will accommodate medically necessary foods related to allergies, medical conditions, religion, or other protected status. Proper documentation may be required.
In most cases, you can bring your own food that meets your dietary or religious needs as long as it follows standard TSA rules. Checking with your airline can ensure accommodations.
While airplane meals and snack offerings have been reduced due to COVID-19, travelers can still bring their own food and non-alcoholic beverages in carry-on luggage on most U.S. airlines. Following TSA’s 3-1-1 liquid rules and general airline policies allows you to enjoy nuts, sandwiches, fresh fruit, takeout, and more during your flight.
Opt for transport-friendly foods that require no utensils or refrigeration and avoid overly smelly or messy options when possible. Use an insulated bag and ice packs to keep items cool after screening. And always check your airline’s latest policies before traveling to ensure a smooth airport dining experience.
Safe travels and happy eating at 30,000 feet!