When packing liquids for air travel, the 3-1-1 rule is an important guideline to follow. This rule states that you can bring travel-sized liquids, gels, aerosols, creams and pastes in your carry-on bag if they are 3 ounces or smaller per container. These containers should be placed in a single quart-sized zip-top plastic bag. You are limited to one zip-top bag per passenger.
The 3-1-1 Rule Explained
Let’s break down the 3-1-1 rule:
- 3 – Containers must be 3 ounces or less per item
- 1 – All containers must fit in one quart-sized zip-top plastic bag
- 1 – 1 quart-sized zip-top bag per passenger
The 3-1-1 guidelines were put into place by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to regulate and limit the amount of liquids brought onto aircrafts. This helps improve security measures and reduce wait times at airport security checkpoints.
What Counts as a Liquid?
The 3-1-1 liquids rule applies to items that are spreadable, sprayable, liquid or gel-like. This includes:
- Beverages like water, juice, soda
- Lotions and oils
- Gels like hair gel and shaving cream
- Liquid makeup and lip gloss
- Liquid medicine
- Hand sanitizer
What Doesn’t Count as a Liquid?
There are some exceptions to the liquids rule. Items that are not considered spreadable liquids include:
- Baby formula/milk/food if a baby or small child is traveling
- Prescription medicine with a name matching the passenger’s ticket
- Contact lens solution (under 3.4 ounces)
- Solid items like stick deodorant
- Essential non-liquid medicines like EpiPens
- Frozen items that are solid at the checkpoint
- Items purchased after security screening
How Many 3 Ounce Containers Can You Bring?
So how many 3 ounce containers can you bring on a plane? There is no set limit for how many 3 ounce containers you can fit in that one quart-sized bag. It’s up to you how many items you can squeeze in!
To give you a sense, most people are able to fit around 10-15 standard sized containers in one zip-top bag. This includes items like travel shampoo, sunscreen, toothpaste, etc. If you want to maximize space, you could fit even more smaller 0.5-1 ounce sample sized bottles.
Ultimately, it’s the total volume of the liquids that matters, not the number of containers. Just remember you are restricted to what fits in one quart-sized bag.
Strategies for Packing Liquids in Carry-On
Here are some tips for smoothly packing your liquids to get through airport security:
- Stick to travel-sized containers 3 ounces or smaller per item
- Make sure all containers fit in one quart-sized zip-top plastic bag
- Pack bottles upright and avoid overstuffing bags
- Label bottles with names if possible in case they need to be inspected
- Put your zip-top bag in an easy access spot – not buried in your bag
- Have your plastic bag ready to remove at the security checkpoint
Get Quart-Sized Bags
Investing in some quart-sized plastic zip-top bags is a smart move for air travel. This designated liquid bag will make the screening process smoother. You can purchase TSA-approved bags from travel stores or even use a resealable food storage bag.
Use Travel-Sized Containers
Buy mini travel-sized bottles or containers of your favorite beauty, hygiene and medical items. You can also decant larger containers into smaller bottles. Look for leak-proof containers under 3 ounces to comply with the liquid rules.
Limit What You Pack
Try to limit liquids to only your essentials for the flight. You likely don’t need 12 makeup, skincare or hair products! Prioritize must-have liquids like medications, contact lens solution and small toiletries.
Exceptions for Medical Liquids
If you need to travel with liquid medical supplies like insulin or other life-saving medications that exceed the permitted amounts, special screening accommodations can be made.
Here are some tips for traveling with liquid medical necessities:
- Separate these items from your carry-on bag to declare at checkpoint
- Bring a doctor’s note or prescription verifying your need for the liquids
- Medications should have a professionally printed label matching your name
- Alert the TSA agent if you need any special accommodations
- Additional screening will likely take place including swabbing and explosives trace detection
- Arrive early at the airport in case extra inspection is required
With the proper documentation, liquid medical items above the permitted quantities can be brought onboard flights after specific TSA screening protocols.
Checking Bags with Liquids
If you prefer not to limit your liquids, you always have the option of packing them in your checked bags rather than carry-on. There are no liquid restrictions for checked baggage.
Some tips for packing liquids in checked luggage:
- Wrap liquid bottles in plastic bags to prevent leaks
- Tightly seal bottle caps and use duct tape if concerned about leakage
- Try to position bottles upright in your suitcase
- Avoid packing breakable glass bottles if possible
- Label medications clearly in case bags are inspected
One downside of stowing liquids in your checked bag is that you won’t have access during the flight. If you need certain liquids on hand during the flight like medications, those should still go in your carry-on.
Purchasing Liquids at the Airport
Keep in mind that any liquids purchased after passing through airport security checkpoints are exempt from the 3-1-1 policy. For example, you can purchase beverages, perfumes, alcohol beyond 3 ounces on the secure side of the checkpoint.
Some tips for purchasing liquids past security:
- Bring an empty reusable water bottle to fill up once inside security
- Many airports have water bottle filling stations past the checkpoint
- Duty-free shops sell full-sized liquids that can be brought onboard
- Any liquids purchased at airport shops can be taken on the plane
This exception allows you to buy drinks and other liquids past security to enjoy during your flight without limits on quantities.
Consuming Liquids on the Plane
Beverages served on the aircraft such as juice, soda, water, coffee and alcohol do not need to comply with the 3-1-1 limitations.
You are permitted to consume liquid refreshments provided by the airline once you have boarded the plane. This means you can enjoy that in-flight beverage service!
Empty Cups Through Security
You may pass through security checkpoints with an empty cup or water bottle to fill once inside the secure area. This can be a handy way to bring your own reusable bottle that you can fill up after screening.
Large Volume Medical Liquids
Certain medical conditions require specialized liquid medications in volumes larger than 3 ounces. These liquids are permitted after additional TSA screening if documentation is provided.
- Insulin – Used to control blood sugar by diabetics
- Liquid oxygen – For passengers requiring oxygen therapy
- CPAP machine fluids – For sleep apnea treatment
- IV bags – Containing sterile fluids for IV infusion
- Baby formula/milk – For infants and small children traveling
Passengers requiring these medically necessary liquids should contact TSA Cares ahead of travel for assistance accommodating screening of larger volumes.
Ice packs or frozen gel packs can be brought through security if completely frozen solid. Partially melted packs are subject to the 3-1-1 policy.
Frozen items are permitted if hard and not liquid consistency when presented for screening. The ice pack will likely undergo additional inspection to confirm it is completely frozen.
Common Questions About Liquids on Planes
Why was the 3-1-1 rule created?
The 3-1-1 rule for carry-on liquids resulted from a 2006 terrorist plot to detonate liquid explosives on flights from the UK to North America. This foiled plot motivated enhanced security policies by aviation authorities worldwide as a counterterrorism measure.
Are there exceptions for baby products?
Yes, exceptions are made for parents/guardians traveling with babies or toddlers. Larger volumes of formula, breastmilk, juice, bottled water and pureed baby foods are permitted. Be prepared to have these items undergo additional screening.
Can I take a regular 12 ounce water bottle through security?
No, containers holding more than 3 ounces will not make it past the checkpoint. Any water bottles over 3 ounces will need to be emptied before passing through security screening.
What if my liquids are in a resealable bag larger than a quart size?
All containers must fit into one quart-sized bag per passenger. Larger bags with appropriately sized liquids may be transferred by a TSA officer into a provided quart-sized, zip-top plastic bag.
Can I take perishable liquids like yogurt or pudding?
Solid foods are not subject to the 3-1-1 liquid rules, only spreadable liquids, gels or pastes. Items like yogurt, pudding, peanut butter are allowed through security in any quantity.
Are duty-free liquids allowed on US flights?
Yes, if purchased duty-free at an airport or onboard an international flight headed to the US, liquids do not have a size restriction. Make sure duty-free liquids are sealed in a tamper-evident bag.
- All carry-on liquids must follow the 3-1-1 rule – in 3 ounce or smaller containers, 1 quart-sized bag, 1 bag per passenger
- There is no set limit on the number of 3 ounce containers in your 1 quart bag
- Medical liquids, baby items, and duty-free purchases have special exceptions
- Liquids purchased after security checkpoints are exempt from size rules
- Checked bags can contain liquids in any quantity
Understanding the TSA’s 3-1-1 liquids policy will help you quickly get through airport screening with minimal hassle. Follow the guidelines for properly packing your carry-on liquids in one clear quart-sized bag. Seek out travel-sized toiletries or place larger bottles in checked luggage. Bon voyage with happy travels ahead!