As a traveler who’s seen it all – from last-minute unpacking at security lines to breezing through checkpoints with ease – I understand how tricky it can be to know what is allowed in and prohibited from your carry-on. 

That’s why I’ve put together this straightforward guide. It lists everything you can bring in your hand luggage, helping you start your journey smoothly at the security checkpoint.  Whether it’s your favorite hair gel, a handy Swiss Army knife, or a comforting snack, this article will navigate you through the do’s and don’ts of carry-on packing.

Note: This guide is specifically tailored to TSA regulations for those flying from the United States, but remember, airport security rules can vary around the world. So if you’re flying from another country, it’s important to check the local regulations.

What is allowed in and prohibited from your carry-on

To save you from the hassle of unpacking or losing cherished items at the security line, here’s a handy list based on TSA guidelines and commonly accepted rules by major airlines like Delta, American Airlines, and British Airways.


  • Personal Items and clothing essentials: Such as clothes, wallets, and similar essentials.
  • Valuables: Money, jewelry, important documents, and similar items.
  • Electronics: Laptops, phones, chargers, e-readers, etc.
  • Medications and Special Needs Items: Prescription and essential non-prescription medications, inhalers, EpiPens, crutches, etc.
  • Liquids, Gels, and Aerosols: Containers must be 100 ml (3.4 oz) or less, all in a single, quart-sized, clear plastic bag.
  • Baby Essentials: Food, equipment, and other necessary items.
  • Small Tools: Such as screwdrivers, wrenches, and pliers (under seven inches in length).
  • E-cigarettes, matches, lighters, and Vaping Devices
  • Snacks and Food: Solid foods are allowed, but rules on liquids apply.

Not Allowed:

  • Sharp Objects and Large Tools: Such as large scissors or pocket knives.
  • Martial Arts and Self Defense Items including mace, and pepper spray.
  • Flammable Items: Like aerosol cans outside of toiletries.
  • Liquids Over 3.4 Ounces: This includes larger bottles of toiletries and drinks.
  • Sporting Goods: Athletic equipment not suited for carry-on.
  • Alcohol: Large quantities over 3.4 ounces.
  • Guns and Firearms
  • Explosive Materials: Such as fireworks and blasting caps.
  • Chemicals: Bleach, spray paint, fertilizers, tear gas, etc.

Remember, these are general guidelines, and specific airline policies may vary. Always check your airline’s regulations before flying to ensure a smooth journey. Read on in our guide for more detailed information about each type of item and what limits apply.

Airline restrictions for carry-on and personal item bags

What is allowed in and prohibited from your carry-on bag

When preparing for air travel, it’s essential to understand the restrictions that apply to hand luggage. This includes both your carry-on bag and your personal item. While different airlines may have specific rules, there are general guidelines you should know about:

Carry-On bag restrictions

Size and Weight: It’s crucial to know the size restrictions of carry-on luggage. Not all bags will fit in an overhead bin or under the seat in front of you. If a bag fails to meet the airline’s standards, it could land in the plane’s cargo hold or even incur additional charges.

Keep in mind that each airline has its own set of rules regarding the acceptable size and weight of carry-on luggage. The standard size for a carry-on bag typically falls within 22 x 14 x 9 inches (56 x 36 x 23 cm), including handles and wheels. The weight limit can vary, often ranging from 15 to 22 pounds (7 to 10 kg). 

Do note that these dimensions include the suitcase’s wheels, handles, and extruding compartments. Don’t be surprised if your bag is measured at the gate! It’s advisable to measure your carry-on before heading to the airport.

One significant pivot to the above thumb rule is the regional and small airlines. They usually have smaller overhead storage, consequently resulting in stricter size guidelines.

  • Content Restrictions: Carry-on bags are subject to various content restrictions, especially regarding liquids, gels, and aerosols, which must adhere to the 3-1-1 rule (containers of 3.4 ounces/100 ml or less, in a single quart-sized bag, one bag per passenger). Sharp objects, flammable items, and certain tools are generally prohibited.
  • Electronic Devices: Laptops, tablets, and other electronic devices are allowed but may need to be removed and screened separately during security checks.
  • Storage: You should be able to lift and store your carry-on bag in the overhead bin unassisted.

Personal item bag restrictions

  • Size Limitation: A personal item is typically smaller than a carry-on bag. Think backpacks, handbags, or small duffels. The common size guideline is 18 x 14 x 8 inches (45 x 35 x 20 cm), but this can vary by airline.
  • Content: Personal items can hold essentials like travel documents, valuables, snacks, and items you might need easy access to during the flight.
  • Storage: The personal item must fit under the seat in front of you, so it’s crucial to keep size limitations in mind.
  • Be Prepared for Security: Have liquids and electronics easily accessible for security checks to speed up the process.

Understanding these guidelines will not only help you pack effectively but also ensure that you comply with airline policies, making your travel experience smoother and more enjoyable. Remember, while these are general guidelines, always verify the specifics with your airline to avoid any surprises at the airport.

Permitted Items in Carry-On Luggage

What is allowed in and prohibited from your carry-on bag

What can you bring, and what should you leave behind? My golden rule is simple: When in doubt, leave it out. The TSA provides comprehensive guidelines on what is permitted in your hand luggage.

To help you out, I’ve put together a list of items that are allowed in hand luggage (this includes both your carry-on and personal item bags):

  • Clothing and personal items

When packing for your trip, the key is to strike a balance – bring what you need while keeping an eye on those size and weight limits for your carry-on be it your clothes to your shoes and other necessary wears.

Now, onto other personal items. You’re free to pack your hairspray, makeup, nail clippers, electric razors, and such. Just remember, if they’re in liquid or gel form, they need to adhere to the 3-1-1 rule. For ease at security, keep these items within easy reach in your carry-on.

And yes, scissors are okay as long as the blades are less than 4 inches. Razors? Disposable ones are fine. Curling irons are also allowed, but just one per person, and it must have a safety cover.

  • Liquids, Gels, and Aerosols

There are important rules to follow when packing liquids and gels in your carry-on. One of the most widely recognized is the 3-1-1 liquid rule set by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). This rule mandates that liquids, aerosols, gels, creams, and pastes in your carry-on bag must be stored in travel-sized containers that are 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less. I cannot emphasize enough how critical it is to stick to this guideline, to avoid any hassles during security checks.

All such 3.4-ounce containers should be placed together in a clear, quart-sized, plastic, zip-top bag. To put it simply, remember that it’s 3.4 ounces per item, one quart-sized bag, and one bag per passenger. This bag needs to be taken out of your carry-on luggage when you’re at the checkpoint for easy inspection. Spare yourself unnecessary frustration by arriving prepared.

But, there are some exceptions – baby formula, breast milk, and medically necessary liquids like insulin, for instance. These essentials get a pass, but it’s a good idea to inform the TSA officer about them.

  • Valuables

When it comes to your valuables – think money, credit cards, jewelry, your ID, and crucial documents – there’s a simple rule I always follow: keep them close. Tuck these items safely in your cabin bag, preferably your personal item bag since ti’s the closest to you. It’s the best way to prevent any mishaps like theft or loss. Plus, having them within easy reach not only keeps them safe but also gives you peace of mind. You can sit back and relax, knowing your most important items are right there with you.

  • Medication and Special Needs Items

When flying, it’s important to think about how you’ll handle your medications and any special needs items. Here’s my simple approach: keep essential medications and medical items in your carry-on. This includes both prescription and over-the-counter medicines, as well as medical necessities like inhalers, EpiPens, blood-sugar test kits, and even liquid nutrition for those with specific health conditions. It’s not just about convenience; it’s about ensuring you have what you need, when you need it.

Just remember, when you’re traveling with these medical items, especially things like needles or liquid medications over 3.4 ounces, let the TSA agent know. They’ll need to take a closer look, but it’s all standard procedure to ensure your safety and convenience.

  • Baby food, equipment, and needs

Traveling with a little one? Here’s what you need to know about bringing baby essentials on board. Whether it’s baby formula, breast milk, juice, or even those gel-filled teethers and jarred baby foods, you’re allowed to bring them on the plane. The good news is, that these baby-specific items aren’t bound by the usual 3-1-1 liquids rule.

However, there’s a bit of a process at the security checkpoint. You’ll need to take these items out of your carry-on and let the TSA officers know you have them. They might require some additional screening, but don’t worry, it’s quite routine and ensures everything is safe for your journey.

Beyond food and drink for your baby, other essentials like baby wipes, car seats, and baby carriers are also permitted through security.

  • Electronics

The TSA is pretty straightforward about electronic devices – your laptops, e-readers, cell phones, cameras, and even personal data assistants are all good to go in your carry-on bag.

Here’s a quick tip: when you’re at the security checkpoint, you’ll need to take out certain larger electronic items. Laptops, for example, need to be removed from their cases and placed in a separate bin for individual screening.

Smaller gadgets, like your smartphone or tablet, can usually stay tucked away in your bag during the screening process. So, no need to worry about fishing out your phone unless you’re specifically asked to.

  • Small Tools

If you’re someone who likes to be prepared for anything, even while flying, here’s what you need to know about packing tools in your luggage. For carry-on, the TSA is pretty clear: tools like screwdrivers, wrenches, and pliers are allowed as long as they’re no longer than seven inches. Need to trim your nails mid-flight? Nail clippers and pill cutters are good to go. And if you’re a crafter, those small scissors with blades measuring 4 inches or less from the pivot point can come along too.

But here’s the deal with larger or sharper tools: it’s best to wrap them securely and pack them in your checked baggage. This includes items like axes, hatchets, crowbars, hammers, drills, and saws.

  • Disposable and electric razors

Good news for those who like to stay well-groomed: both disposable and electric razors are permitted in your carry-on or checked luggage. So, whether you’re on a quick business trip or a longer vacation, you can always look your best.

  • Batteries

Dry batteries, like the AA, AAA, C, and D types, are fine in your hand luggage. However, lithium batteries have specific rules. If they’re 100-watt hours or less and installed in a device, you can pack them in either carry-on or checked luggage. However, if you have loose lithium batteries, they can only be in your carry-on.

  • Knitting needles

For all the knitters out there, you’ll be happy to know that you can bring your knitting needles and needlepoint materials in your carry-on bags. But here’s a little tip: make sure your needles are wrapped or covered somehow. This is just to ensure they don’t accidentally poke or injure anyone, like luggage handlers or security inspectors.

  • E-cigarettes and Vaping Devices

Now, about e-cigarettes and vaping devices: Despite the strict no-smoking policies on planes, these items actually need to be in your carry-on, not your checked luggage. It’s a safety thing. And remember, any liquids for these devices must follow the same rules as other carry-on liquids. Also, while vaping devices are allowed in your carry-on, using them on the plane is a definite no-go. Not only is it against airline policies, but it can also lead to some serious legal fines.

  • Mobility aids

For those who use mobility aids like pushchairs, walking aids, or wheelchairs, you can bring these in the cabin. They just need to go through security screening first. If you’re using a battery-powered wheelchair or mobility aid, you should check with your airline ahead of time for any specific guidelines or arrangements.

  • Gifts

If you’re planning to bring gifts on your flight, here’s a little tip: while it’s okay to carry wrapped presents, there’s a chance they might get unwrapped at security for inspection. To save your wrapping efforts, it might be best to leave the presents unwrapped until you reach your destination. This way, you can ensure they remain a surprise and also make the security process smoother.

  • Wedding dress

Taking a wedding dress on a plane? No problem. But let’s do it right. First, pack your dress in a protective garment bag to keep it safe and neat. Then, give your airline a quick call to ask about their policies for stowing such an item. Is it counted as your carry-on? Might there be an extra charge? Knowing this in advance helps. Also, arriving early at the airport gives you ample time to breeze through security and chat with an airline agent about the best way to store your dress on board.

  • Food and Snacks

Let’s talk about airport food – it’s no secret it can be pricey. To save some cash, consider bringing your own snacks from home. Most food items will pass through security without a hitch. Just keep in mind the 3.4-ounce rule for liquids, gels, or creams. This means that items like yogurt need to be under that limit. Solid foods, however, are generally fine.

Restricted and prohibited items in carry-on bags

When packing your carry-on and personal item bag, it’s crucial to know what items are a definite no-go according to TSA rules. Understanding these restrictions helps you decide whether to leave certain items behind, find alternatives, or pack them in your checked luggage instead.

They include:

  • Sharp Objects and Tools

Sharp objects or tools that could potentially be used as weapons are generally not allowed. This includes a variety of items like box cutters, ice axes, picks, knives (except plastic or round-bladed butter knives), meat cleavers, razor-type blades, and scissors with blades longer than 4 inches.

If you’re carrying any sharp tools in your checked baggage, make sure they’re well-covered or securely wrapped to avoid injuring baggage handlers and inspectors. While nail clippers and disposable razors are usually okay in your carry-on, things like pocket knives or large scissors are a no-go and will be confiscated.

  •         Martial Arts and Self Defense Items

Regarding self-defense items, there’s a clear line: you can’t carry them on. 

This rule includes items like black jacks, brass knuckles, kubatons, night sticks, nunchakus, stun guns, and throwing stars. Pepper spray is a common query, and while you may feel the need for protection, these items aren’t allowed in your carry-on.

The same goes for tasers, large knives, and brass knuckles. If you really need to travel with a self-defense spray, you can pack one four-ounce container in your checked luggage, but it must have a safety mechanism to prevent accidental discharge. Remember, these items, by their very nature, could cause harm, so they’re best transported in your checked bags.

  • Sporting Goods and athletic equipment

When it comes to sporting equipment, the rules for carry-ons are pretty straightforward. Most of the bigger items, like baseball bats, ski poles, golf clubs, pool cues, and similar equipment, are a no-go in your carry-on because they could potentially be used as weapons. This means they need to be checked in.

But it’s not all off-limits. You can pack smaller sports items like roller skates, rollerblades, fishing poles, and tennis rackets in your carry-on. Ice skates are also allowed, although this sometimes depends on the discretion of the airport security agent. A good tip is to pack them in shoe travel bags as an extra precaution, according to Travelpro.

Just remember, while you can bring balls for various sports in your carry-on, items like baseball bats, golf clubs, and hockey sticks must go in your checked baggage. If you’re into cycling, bicycles are sometimes allowed on flights, but policies vary by airline, so it’s best to check with them beforehand.

  • Large quantities of alcohol (more than 3.4 ounces)

You can’t bring beverages with over 70% alcohol content, like grain alcohol or 151 proof rum, in your carry-on or checked baggage. However, you can pack up to five liters of adult beverages (between 24% and 70% alcohol) in your checked luggage, as long as they’re in unopened retail packaging. Just be mindful of the 3.4-ounce rule for your carry-on.

  • Guns and Firearms

When it comes to firearms and similar items, there are clear restrictions. You can’t carry on or check items like flares, gun powder, and percussion caps. Firearms, BB guns, paintball guns, pellet guns, starter pistols, and replicas are check-only items. For your safety and others’, they must be unloaded, well-packaged, and declared at check-in.

The TSA specifies that firearms must be in a locked hard-sided container in your checked baggage. For ammunition, it should be securely packed in boxes or other packaging designed for ammo. Always check with your airline for any specific rules, limitations, or fees related to checking firearms.

Each airline has its own policy regarding weapons, so a quick call to your airline before your trip is always a smart move to avoid any surprises at the airport.

  • Explosive Materials

Let’s talk about items that are an absolute no on planes – explosive materials. This includes things like blasting caps, dynamite, fireworks, flares, hand grenades, plastic explosives, and even replicas of these items. It’s pretty straightforward: you cannot bring any of these, neither in your carry-on nor in your checked luggage. They pose a serious safety risk, and as such, are strictly prohibited on all commercial passenger aircraft.

  • Chemicals

Moving on to chemicals – there are several everyday items that you might not realize are classified as hazardous when it comes to air travel. Items like chlorine, bleach, spillable batteries, spray paint, fertilizers, and tear gas are not allowed on flights. This applies to both your carry-on and checked luggage. Even something as common as a fire extinguisher falls under this category. So, it’s a clear no for these items when you’re packing for a flight.

  • Flammable items

Flammable items are another category where the rules are quite strict. This includes aerosol cans (except for limited quantities of personal care items that are 3.4 ounces or less), butane, fuels, gasoline, gas torches, lighter fluid, strike-anywhere matches, flammable paints, turpentine, paint thinner, and various types of lighters, like arc, plasma, electronic, and E-lighters. Also, replicas of incendiaries are not permitted.

Essentially, if it can catch fire easily, it’s not going to be allowed on the plane, in either carry-on or checked luggage.

For a more comprehensive list, or if you’re unsure about a specific item, a quick visit to the TSA website can provide clarity. It’s always better to check beforehand than face surprises at the airport.


What are the penalties for not complying with TSA hand luggage rules

It’s crucial to remember that the Travel Security Administration (TSA) enforces its rules quite stringently. If you’re found attempting to bring prohibited items like weapons or dangerous materials onto a plane, you could face significant consequences.

The TSA doesn’t just give a slap on the wrist; we’re talking about
hefty fines that can reach up to $14,950. It’s not just about the financial hit, though – it’s also a matter of safety and security for everyone involved. So, it’s always best to double-check those TSA guidelines and pack accordingly to avoid any unwelcome penalties.

What is not allowed in carry-on luggage?

In carry-on luggage, certain items are restricted due to safety concerns:

  • Sharp Objects: Like knives, large scissors, and tools.
  • Firearms and Weapons: Including replicas and ammunition.
  • Sporting Goods: Such as bats, clubs, and sticks.
  • Flammable Items: Aerosols (except limited toiletries), fuels, and matches.
  • Chemicals: Like bleach and certain batteries.

Can I carry perfume on a flight?

Yes, you can carry perfume on a flight, but it must comply with the TSA’s liquids rule, meaning it should be in a container of no more than 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) and placed in your quart-sized liquids bag.

What is not allowed in checked baggage?

In checked baggage, avoid packing:

  • Explosives and Fireworks
  • Flammable Items: Like lighter fluid and matches.
  • Dangerous Chemicals: Such as acids or poisons.
  • Lithium Batteries: Only allowed in carry-on baggage.
  • E-Cigarettes or Vaping Devices.

How do I carry medications on a flight?

You can carry medications on a flight in both your carry-on and checked luggage. It’s recommended to keep them in their original packaging with labels. Liquid medications are exempt from the 3.4 ounces liquids rule, but you should declare them to TSA officers at the security checkpoint.

What are the rules for traveling with food and drinks?

You can travel with the most solid foods. However, any liquid or gel-like food items (like yogurt, sauces, or creamy spreads) must adhere to the 3.4-ounce liquids rule in carry-on luggage. In checked luggage, there are no such restrictions for food. Beverages also follow the 3.4 ounces rule in carry-ons.

Are there any specific restrictions for international flights?

Yes, international flights often have additional restrictions based on the destination country’s laws. These can include stricter regulations on foods (especially fruits, vegetables, and meats), tobacco, alcohol, and certain over-the-counter or prescription medications. Always check the regulations of your destination country and airline before flying internationally.

Final thought

Packing your carry-on bag doesn’t have to be a stressful ordeal. By following these guidelines and tips, you can ensure a smooth journey through airport security and enjoy a more relaxed flight. Remember, the key is to be prepared and informed.

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