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Packing for Airport Security

How to meet airport security rules when packing

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Baggage stack at Heathrow airport

Baggage at Heathrow airport

Kathleen Crislip 2006
Strict airport rules across Europe, the UK and the US can mean packing headaches for air travelers. Carry on rules forbidding large liquids and gels may be the most problematic of the airport rules facing travelers these days, and packing with foresight helps! Let's walk through how to cope:



    3. Make a list: liquids and gels you can't lose and must have for the first night or week of travel

    4. Buy travel sizes of or fill small containers with liquids and gels

What Are the Airport Rules?

Airport security rules originally mandated by the US and UK and subsequently followed by the EU (European Union) and other countries back in 2006 limited items in carry-ons or carried on board after an alleged terrorist plot involving liquid explosives and airliners was publicized in London. Learn what's new with airport rules:

About Liquids, Gels and Carry Ons

Airport rules currently limit liquids and gels carried on board airplanes to small containers within small (one quart-sized), clear, plastic bags with Ziploc-style closures. In some countries, you can carry on liquids in bottles, like water, purchased after clearing airport security. Amounts of liquids and gels as pertain to toiletries you may pack in your carry on vary by country, but if you're flying to the US from any country, you must follow US airport rules -- that means liquids and gels in containers of three ounces or less can be carried on if packed inside one clear, quart-sized plastic bag with a working Ziploc™-style closure.

The allowed liquids and gels will have to be taken out of your carry on and sent through airport security X ray machines separately from the rest of your belongings. So will your laptop and the shoes you are wearing. Most liquid/gel airport rules are similar enough that packing with US airport rules in mind will work for you in any country.

How Do Airport Rules Affect Packing?

Airport rules mean that many travelers simply cannot pack everything needed for a trip into carry on bags. I used to travel internationally for a month with two carry ons -- that's no longer the case if I want to bring enough of my own liquids and gels. Checking a bag does mean more packing freedom (checked suitcases can be big, and carry ons must fit a size requirement) -- new rules thus actually enable travelers like me to bring more junk. The flip side is hauling that junk around other countries on my back. Thus, packing light is as key to easy travel as ever -- though I sometimes check my carry on-sized backpack with some liquids and gels inside and carry on a shoulder bag because I can (and have) spent a fortune in bus tickets finding key stuff like high-SPF sunscreen in some countries, and such searches are time-consuming on a short trip.

Therefore, for trips over one week, I sometimes check a bag containing key stuff. Bummer (especially now that many airlines are charging for checked bags), but the way it is. Trips of under one week -- carry it all on to avoid checked baggage fees, waiting in line to pick up checked luggage, losing checked luggage or finding broken items in a suitcase tossed by baggage handlers or handled by TSA screeners, as the contents of checked bags can be. (I've also had my TSA-approved luggage locks broken by TSA screeners.)

I bring a carry on with the stuff which I know is hard to find abroad and which I do not want to lose packed into an approved size and style plastic baggie: Brave Soldier, a high-spf sunscreen stick (sticks last forever), and a small size of the deodorant, toothpaste and contact lens goop I like. That fills the baggie. Given some time, I can cheaply find more of these items abroad, but I'm set for at least a week of travel.

What Items Do You Need To Carry On Board?

Which toiletries, liquids and gels do you need to carry on board an airplane flight? Your criteria: you must have it for the first night or week and your lodging won't supply it. Pack it in your carry on. Make a checklist, which may include:

  • Deodorant
  • Sunscreen
  • Contact lens solution
  • Shampoo/liquid soap and toothpaste (hostels don't usually provide either -- airlines may provide teeny toothpaste tubes and brushes on long haul flights)
  • Lip balm or lotion or moisturizer (nice after eight hours on a plane)

Where Can I Find Small Sized Liquids and Gels?

You can put your own liquids and gels into plastic squeeze bottles/tubes/jars, which you can get at drugstores. If you want particular brands, buy some sample sizes -- sample size packets of everything from laundry soap to steak sauce exist.

Airport Security Packing Review

  • Learn what current airport security rules are
  • Get the right carry on bag (and put your spare lithium batteries in it)
  • Make a list: liquids and gels you can't lose and must have for the first night or week of travel
  • Buy sample sizes of or fill small containers with liquids and gels

Pack light, pack smart and then enjoy the journey!

If you wish to travel far and fast, travel light. Take off all your envies, jealousies, unforgiveness, selfishness, and fears.
--Glenn Clark
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