Since its formation on Nov. 19, 2001, in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Transportation Security Administration’s mission has been to “[p]rotect the nation's transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce.”
Most people are familiar with the agency when they pass through airport security checkpoints. Transportation Security Officers are there for passenger safety, ensuring that prohibited goods don’t get past the checkpoint.
Some items like guns (real or replica), large scissors and flammable liquids are currently and will likely never be allowed through the checkpoint. There are, however, a number of surprising items that are actually permitted through security.
But do note that the rules often change, so it's best to check with the TSA directly before attempting to send an iffy item through the X-ray machine. You can take actually a photo of the item and send it to AskTSA either through Facebook Messenger or via Twitter, where an agent will respond with details about bringing your item onto planes. Staff members are online and ready to answer your questions from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. ET during the week and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET on weekends and holidays.
TSA treats adult beverages with between 24 percent and 70 percent alcohol just like other liquids. The bottles must be unopened, be 3.4 ounces or less, and fit into a clear quart-sized bag. But FAA regulations prohibit travelers from drinking their carry-on alcohol unless it's served by a flight attendant.
Antlers and Bones
While antlers and bones are technically allowed in carry-on bags, the TSA recommends that travelers wanting to carry on these items check with the airline they’re flying to make sure the items will fit under a seat or in an overhead bin. It's also recommended that antlers placed in overhead bins be packed so no one is injured when the bin is opened. Additionally, TSA agents at security checkpoints are allowed to confiscate any antlers and bones that they deem a safety issue, so it might be best to pack them in your checked luggage instead.
Baby Formula, Breast Milk, and Juice
All three items are allowed in "reasonable quantities" in travelers’ carry-on bags, although the TSA does not specify how it determines what is reasonable. These items must be removed and screened separately. Parents do not need to have a child with them in order to bring breast milk past the security checkpoint.
As long as the parts don’t have any traces of fuel, they can be stored in a carry-on bag. But the TSA recommends that travelers call their airline to make sure the parts fit in the overhead bin or under a seat.
CO2 Cartridge for Life Vest
Travelers are allowed to bring a life vest with up to two CO2 cartridges inside, plus two spare cartridges, in a carry-on bag. But be warned: travelers may have to go through a secondary screening, and the life vest could be forbidden to be brought onboard if it triggers an alarm during screening.
Cooked Meat, Seafood, and Vegetables (No Liquid)
These items are allowed in a carry-on bag, but again: check with the airline to ensure that the item will fit in the aircraft’s overhead bin or under the seat. And travelers should make sure that whatever they use to keep the food cold is approved by TSA to go past the security checkpoint, including ice and ice gel packs.
The TSA allows both of these items in carry-on bags but advises travelers to ensure that their needles are sheathed or securely wrapped when not in use.
In 2005, the TSA decided to ban cigarette lighters on planes. Two years later, it reversed that decision, allowing travelers to bring lighters in their carry-on bags. But torch and micro-lighters are still not allowed past security. And lighters with fuel are not allowed in checked bags unless they are enclosed in a DOT-approved case. Also worth noting: regular cigarette lighters are sometimes banned on aircraft in foreign countries, so be prepared to toss them if you're traveling internationally.
TSA allows travelers to pack battery-powered eCigarettes, vaporizers, vape pens, atomizers, and electronic nicotine delivery systems in a carry-on bag. But it advises travelers to make a call to their airlines to ensure they don’t have their own restrictions on these devices. And they can't be used once onboard the plane to comply with FAA smoking regulations.
TSA will waive the 3.4-ounce carry-on liquid rule for medically necessary liquids, gels, and aerosols in reasonable quantities. They must be declared to TSOs for hand inspection—the process is a lot easier if the medications are labeled with prescription details, including the name of the passenger carrying them.
Shell casings are pieces of metal that surround a bullet. Empty casings can be carried in a bag as long as the projectile is no longer intact or the primer has been removed or has been discharged.
Anglers can bring their poles, but they should check with the airline to ensure that it complies with size limitations and that they fit into an overhead bin.
Live Fish/Live Lobsters
The TSA requires both to be transported in clear, spill-proof plastic containers. A TSO will visually inspect a crustacean at the security checkpoint. The agency recommends checking with an airline about its carry-on lobster policy, as some airlines might have specific rules for transporting live aquatic animals.
The TSA got a lot of backlash in 2011 from customers with upset children after it banned liquid-filled snow globes. They are now allowed in carry-on bags—but only if it follows the agency's 3.4-ounce rule and fits into a quart-sized bag.
Travelers are allowed to have used syringes in their carry-on bag as long as they are placed in a Sharps disposal container or another similar hard-surface container. They can bring unused syringes when accompanied by injectable medication. Both items must be declared to security officers at the checkpoint for inspection. Medications with official prescription labels will help facilitate the inspection process.