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Airport Security Q&A

airport security checkpointIf you haven't flown in a while, you may not be up on the latest airport security changes from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Most travelers are aware that the TSA has instituted strict regulations about the amount of toothpaste, bottled water, and other liquid and gel items that travelers are permitted to bring in carry-on luggage. But what exactly are the rules? Just how much of your must-have favorite shampoo can you bring? And are the rules different if you're flying overseas?

We've gathered answers to these and other common questions to help you figure out your packing strategy under the TSA's carry-on rules. With air traffic soaring, it's more important than ever to follow the guidelines -- that way you won't be the fool holding up your entire security line.

Q. Are liquids and gels permitted in my checked baggage?

A. Yes. The liquid/gel restrictions only apply to carry-on baggage.

Q. May I bring liquids and gels in my carry-on?

A. Yes, but only in limited amounts. Liquids and gels must be in individual containers of 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less and placed inside one clear, quart-size, plastic, zip-top bag. The TSA emphasizes that containers should fit comfortably into your bag, and that only one bag is permitted per passenger. If you need to bring more than 3.4 ounces of any liquid or gel substance, it should go into your checked luggage or be shipped ahead.

Q. What about prescription medications, baby formula or milk?

A. These substances are exempt from the rules above. As long as you declare them at the security checkpoint, you may carry more than 3.4 ounces, and they do not need to be placed in a plastic bag. The TSA recommends but does not require that prescription medications be in their original labeled containers to expedite the screening process. The TSA also makes exceptions for other medical necessities such as insulin, eye drops or syringes; see the TSA website for more details.

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Q. May I pour shampoo and other liquids or gels into unmarked, travel-size containers?

A. Yes.

Q. Do solid vitamins and medications need to be packed in their original containers?

A. While keeping medications and vitamins in their original labeled containers may expedite the screening process, it's fine to transfer them into more convenient smaller containers such as daily pill minders.

Q. What are the rules for makeup?

A. Makeup is subject to the same liquid and gel rules as all other substances -- so if you're bringing liquid mascara, lip gels (such as Blistex) or other liquid- or gel-like items, they will need to be placed in your quart-size plastic bag in 3.4-ounce or smaller containers. Lipstick, powders, solid lip balms (such as ChapStick) and other solid beauty products are not subject to the rules, and may be carried in your hand luggage without restriction.

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Q. What are the rules for food?

A. Even though a TSA representative once told us to "try not to over-think" the guidelines, that can be tricky when it comes to food items. Does a cheesecake count as a gel or a solid? What about pecan pie? And can you bring your holiday leftovers like turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes?

A TSA rep told us that turkey and stuffing should be solid enough to pass muster, but mashed potatoes are a bit too gel-like. As for baked goods, the latest word from the TSA is that travelers can take pies, cakes and other bakery products through security -- but be prepared for additional screening.

pretzelsYou may bring solid snack foods such as pretzels, potato chips or carrot sticks for the plane, but you may want to hold the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Single-serving packages of condiments are permitted as long as they fit within your single zip-top bag, so you can add mustard to your ham sandwich after you get through security. All food must be securely wrapped or in a spill-proof container.

Gel packs to refrigerate food are permitted for medication, but otherwise must be completely solid when you go through the checkpoint. If your freezer pack is partially defrosted and there's any water in your container, the TSA will confiscate the item.

Our advice? If you have any doubts about a particular food, either check it or leave it at home. After all, you can always buy food or drinks after you pass through the security checkpoint if you need some munchies for the plane.

Q. If I purchase beverages or other liquids/gels beyond the security checkpoint at the airport, may I bring them on the plane?

A. Yes.

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Q. I'm traveling with children 12 or younger. Are there any special rules?

A. Yes. The TSA has begun to implement new screening policies for children to reduce pat-downs for travelers 12 and under. Children will not have to take their shoes off before going through the security checkpoint. If the metal detector or full body scanner finds anomalies, the screener may choose to let the child go through again and/or swab the child's hands for explosives in lieu of a pat-down.

Q. Are there any special rules for batteries?

A. Loose lithium batteries are not permitted in checked bags. If your batteries are installed in a device (such as a camera), you may pack the device in either a checked bag or a carry-on, but loose lithium batteries may only be transported in your carry-on luggage. Certain quantity limits apply to both loose and installed batteries; for more information, see the Department of Transportation's website.

Q. What are the rules for cigarette lighters?

A. Common lighters without fuel are permitted in carry-on or checked baggage, while torch lighters (which are typically used to light pipes and cigars) are prohibited in either type of baggage. You may only bring one standard lighter per passenger in your carry-on, or two in your checked bag.

Q. May I bring tweezers, razors or scissors on the plane?

A. Tweezers are permitted, as are disposable razors and their cartridges. Straight razors are only permitted in checked baggage. Scissors are permitted as long as the blades do not exceed four inches.

Q. May I bring needlepoint or knitting needles on the plane?

A. Yes. However, circular thread cutters, scissors longer than four inches and other needlepoint tools with blades must be packed in checked luggage.

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