Travel tip: TSA wants you to ‘know before you go’

The most common thing that slows down a traveler at a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint is having a prohibited item in a carry-on bag, and with passenger volume nationwide exceeding pre-pandemic levels and with recent checkpoint volume often topping 2.5 million travelers per day, it is even more important for travelers to “Know Before You Go” by knowing the contents of their carry-on bags and ensuring that everything packed inside is permitted to be carried onto a flight.

“We are seeing a lot of travelers arrive at our checkpoints with beverages and other liquids, gels, aerosols, and spreadables larger than the limit allowed,” Johnson says. “It’s important to remember that liquids, gels, aerosols, and spreadables are limited to 3.4 ounces in one clear quart-sized bag in carry-on bags. Finish that bottle of water, energy drink, or cup of coffee before you get to the checkpoint. Pack the larger shampoo, toothpaste, sunblock, and hair gel in a checked bag.

“We also are seeing a lot of knives,” he added. “If you must travel with a knife, please pack it in your checked bag.”

TSA’s advice is that when a traveler is ready to pack for a trip, it is best to start with an empty bag so the passenger knows with certainty what they have inside and they know that there is nothing prohibited in a side pouch, zippered pocket or just in the bottom of a bag. That goes for backpacks, roller bags, handbags, messenger bags, shoulder bags, laptop bags, duffle bags, and other carry-on bags or luggage.

TSA offers five convenient ways to determine if an item should be packed in a carry-on bag, checked bag, or neither.

  • Visit the TSA’s homepage: TSA has a great feature on its homepage. In the upper right-hand corner of the homepage, it says, “What Can I Bring?” Click on those words, type in an item, and it will let you know where it should be packed.
  • Download the MyTSA app: TSA has a free downloadable app called MyTSA, which has a quick search function that lets you know which items you can bring with you through the checkpoint and onto the airplane. Not only that, but the app also enables travelers to check the delay information at their airports, check how busy the airport is likely to be on a specific day and time of travel based on historical data, and it lets people know which airports and airlines support TSA PreCheck.
  • Tweet your question: TSA is very active on social media and has a popular Twitter account where travelers can send their questions: @AskTSA. Type in the item or send in a photo of the item to @AskTSA to inquire if the item can be packed in a carry-on or checked bag.
  • Message a question via Facebook: TSA’s social media team is on Facebook and travelers can send in their question about where items should be packed via Facebook Messenger.
  • Text your question: Travelers can send in a question to TSA via text message. Text “Travel” to AskTSA (275-872) to inquire where an item should be packed.

It’s also important to remember that even if an item is generally permitted, it may be subject to additional screening or not allowed through the checkpoint if it triggers an alarm during the screening process, appears to have been tampered with, or poses other security concerns.

“With a little planning and thought about how to pack passengers can help facilitate the TSA security screening process and ease a passenger’s travel experience at the airport,” says Scott T. Johnson, TSA’s Federal Security Director for Washington Dulles International Airport. “That’s why it is important to know what can be packed in carry-on and/or checked baggage before arriving at the airport.”

Troy Petenbrink

Troy, also known as The Gay Traveler, is a well known travel and food writer. His has been a regular contributor to a variety of outlets including National Geographic, Travel Channel, DCRefined, CBS Local, and Metro Weekly. He also appears on local Washington news outlets as a travel expert.

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