What can you travel with in your hand luggage?

What can you travel with in your hand luggage?

Elyse Welles was traveling from Athens to Newark this spring when it finally happened: She was pulled aside for an extra security check at her gate.

After searching through the backpack of Ms. Welles, the agent finally took a bullet-shaped vibrator from the bag and swung it in the air. “Is this an e-cigarette?” asked the agent. “No, it’s a sex toy,” she replied with a smile, as her personal belongings were immediately returned to her and she was free to go.

Mrs. Welles, an author and life coach who lives in Artemida, Greece, said she thought nothing of traveling with her vibrator in tow.

As the number of air travelers rises and returns to near pre-pandemic levels, so do questions about airline protocols and regulations — especially what travelers can and cannot bring in their carry-on bags when flying within the United States. For example: Is guacamole a solid or a liquid? (It’s a gel that falls under the same restrictions as liquids and is not allowed in carry-on luggage — unless it’s inside a 3.4-ounce container.)

Here’s a guide to help you navigate the more ambiguous hand luggage rules – with some quiz questions to test your knowledge too.

Let’s talk a little more about vibrators. Although most sex toys, including vibrators, are allowed in your carry-on luggage, according to the Transportation Security Administration, they can still lead to a stop, as in Ms. Welles’s case. There are a few ways to reduce the chances of these unpleasant encounters, especially if something starts to buzz.

Shan Boodram, an intimacy expert and host of the Lovers and Friends podcast, suggests removing any batteries or removing batteries from rechargeable toys before packing them. “Or find a hard bag to put it in that’s a little bigger so the power button has less of a chance of being pressed when pressure is applied to your bag,” she said.

There are also vibrators with built-in travel settings now, to prevent them from going off at an inopportune moment, such as the Surge rechargeable silicone vibrator, which has a built-in travel lock.

“The most common mistake we see people make when it comes to prohibited items at airports is large liquids, gels and aerosols in carry-on bags,” said Lisa Farbstein, a TSA spokeswoman.

TSA’s much-publicized 3-1-1 rule dictates that passengers can travel with liquids, gels and aerosols as long as they are in 3.4-ounce containers in a resealable quart size. So even if a bottle of water doesn’t make it through a preview, how about something in a more nebulous category, like a jar of peanut butter?

“If you can spill it, spread it, spray it, pump it or pour it,” Ms. Farbstein, “it’s a liquid, gel or aerosol.”

This is why a Magic 8 Ball, which is filled with liquid, is not allowed through a TSA checkpoint. The same applies to a snow globe. Unless, of course, like Ms. Farbstein points out, either is a version small enough to fit into a traveler’s 3-1-1 bag.

“TSA is not looking for drugs,” Farbstein said. “Our dogs sniff for explosives; they don’t sniff for drugs.”

But just because they aren’t looking for drugs doesn’t mean agents never find them. If they do, TSA officers are required to report suspected violations to police, Farbstein said. And although marijuana has been legalized for recreational use in 19 states and for medical use in 37, it remains illegal under federal law and is thus restricted on airplanes, even though it is technically legal in both the departure and destination states.

Some plant lovers may want to fly home with a new addition to their collection.

Plants are allowed on domestic flights as long as they fit in the overhead bin or under the plane seat, according to the TSA website. However, the return of potted plants from abroad is prohibited, although a limited number of bare-root plants (not in soil) are permitted, as long as they meet certain criteria set by the Ministry of Agriculture’s animal and plant health inspection. There is also additional information for travelers arriving in the US mainland from Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

“I always have an eye for beautiful, healthy specimens of rare plants, so I like to capture them when I see them,” said Lexi Osterhoudt, a Ph.D. student at Columbia University’s Integrated Program in Cellular, Molecular and Biomedical Studies. Often, she said, her plant souvenirs are impulse buys she picks up while traveling domestically, or they’re great finds that are less expensive than they would be if she bought them in New York, where she currently lives.

“I’ll Saran wrap the pot to hold the soil together, put them in a paper bag and stick them under the seat in front of me,” she said.

If more clarification is needed, TSA has provided a comprehensive and searchable list where travelers can look up items they are concerned about bringing. Knitting needles, for example, are allowed in hand luggage, as are live fish, provided they are in water and a transparent container. But wait – isn’t that a liquid rule?

“Live fish are actually allowed to be transported through a security checkpoint,” Farbstein said. “And of course to keep them alive, they have to be in water. TSA officers will screen the container of water that the fish is in. It will take extra time for the screening process. Live fish in water do not have to meet the 3-1-1 – the rule.”

Cremated human remains get a little more complicated, while cricket bats and cutting boards are best kept in checked baggage. Musical instruments such as violins are allowed after they undergo a TSA screening, but for brass instruments the proposal is to check them. And if you’re a Harry Potter fan, fear not – wands are allowed on flights.

Despite the TSA’s rules, there is one item in particular that Ms. Farbstein said she still sees confiscated far too often: knives. “We see knives every day,” she said.

As many as four tons of various types of knives and large tools are confiscated at Newark Liberty International Airport in an average year, according to Farbstein. The TSA then ships them in bulk to the state of Pennsylvania, she said, which sells them for a profit at a thrift store in Harrisburg.

Travelers should remember that knives of any kind are not allowed on flights, Farbstein said.

Something that doesn’t get confiscated? A duffel bag with eight rolls of Goetta sausage. However, it could land you on the TSA’s Instagram account.

Quiz photos by Tony Cenicola.

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