There are plenty of reasons to pack your own food to bring on a plane. Whether you have a list of healthy foods you like to stick to, baby formula requirements, children who are picky eaters or would just prefer to avoid airline catering.
However, before you pack up a feast in your carry on bags for you and your family to enjoy on a flight, you need to know what the rules are for flying with food in 2023.
Most airline carriers are back to offering food and drink post-pandemic, but you may find that the portion size is not enough to sustain you and your loved ones comfortably over a long travel period.
Below we will give you the answers to the most frequently asked questions about bringing food onto flights in the US and whether the rules change if you are boarding international flights.
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Can I Carry Food in My Carry On Bags?
The TSA (Transportation Security Administration) is responsible for regulating what will and won't make it past security checks for flights. And they will tell you what food you can and can't take with you.
But, the good news is that there is a large variety of food items that will be able to make it onto the flight with you as long as they can fit in your carry-on and complies with the 3-1-1 rule.
As long as you are complying with carry on weight restrictions you can pack up your meal snacks in Tupperware, a lunch bag, or a plastic zip lock bag.
What is the 3-1-1 Rule?
According to the 3-1-1 rule, you can carry gels, liquids, and aerosols in travel-size containers which are up to 3.4 ounces or 100 ml. These containers must all fit in a one-quart size bag. Items that are larger than those limits should be placed in checked bags or else be discarded at the airport before the flight.
What Types of Food Can I Put in My Flight Carry-On?
Below you will find a breakdown of the main types of food you may want to take on your flight with you and any rules you need to consider before packing.
Can I Bring Baby Formula, Breast Milk, and Baby Food on Flights?
If you are traveling with very young children, there is some wiggle room if you need to bring more that the 3.4 ounces limit for liquids, as long as it is a "reasonable quantity."
However, you will need to make sure that you notify the TSA screener while you are going through the check and let them know that you don't want them to open up the formula, baby food, or milk. The TSA officer will then take some additional steps to screen you and the items you have brought along.
Can I Bring Canned Foods and Tins Onto US Flights?
If you want to expand your carry on food from dried fruit and protein bars, you can technically bring canned food into a flight. However, the majority of tins will contain more than the 3.4 ounces limit of liquid and will need to be placed in a checked bag.
These items are also harder to view properly on an X-ray machine and may result in you facing delays due to extra screening checks.
Can I Pack Cream Cheese in my Carry On?
Although solid cheese is allowed on flights, if you want to pack creamy cheese you need to make sure that it fits with the 3-1-1 rule which we have detailed above.
You should also be aware that whether solid or cream, cheese may result in extra questions and screening if it inhibits the screening of other items in your baggage.
Can I Bring Jams and Dips Onto a Flight?
If you hope to add a bit of flavor to your online meals, then you will need to make sure that the amounts you bring don't tip over the 3.4 ounce limit.
If you want to bring your favorite dips, peanut butter, or jam to family members across the country, you will need to keep it in your checked luggage if it exceeds this weight limit.
Is it Okay to Bring Frozen Foods onto an Airplane?
Frozen food you are hoping to bring on a flight must be frozen solid. This includes ice creams, soups, and even ice and gel packs. If your frozen food has begun to melt once you arrive at airport security, you will need to adhere to the 3-1-1 rule.
You can pack frozen food items into your checked luggage as an alternative, although you won't be able to access this during the flight.
Can I Bring Fruits and Vegetables on a Plane?
If you want to eat healthy on your flight, you won't be restricted to granola bars! Healthy snacks such as fruit and vegetables can be brought onto a flight, but you need to make sure to consume or dispose of them during the flight.
This is because, for many US destinations located off the mainland, you won't be able to make it past customs with fresh fruit and vegetables. Destinations where these rules come into effect include Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and Hawaii.
Is It Okay to Bring Meat or Seafood Onto a US Flight?
Solid items of meat or fish will be okay to bring onto your flight. But if you want to bring some cooling items to keep it fresh, you may run into issues. Icepacks for example will be subject to the 3-1-1 rule once they begin to melt.
Your TSA screener may also subject meat or fish to extra checks and ask you to remove the items from your luggage for this purpose.
Can I Bring My Own Drinks onto Flights in the US?
As we have detailed above, any liquids you bring onto your carry on will be subject to the TSA 3-1-1 rule. This includes water and other drinks you want to bring with you on your flights.
If you want to bring more than 3.4 ounces of a drink for a long flight, then you will need to try some of the workaround detailed below:
Freeze your drinks so that they are solid when they pass through TSA. However, this can be difficult to time perfectly and melting liquids will become subject to the liquid limit.
Wait until you have passed through security checks and then purchase some drinks at the airport. This will probably cost you more than if you purchased the same items on the way there.
Bring an empty bottle and fill it up with water once you have passed through the TSA checks.
Can I Bring Alcohol Onto My Flight?
You should be allowed to bring alcohol on the flight, as long as it fits within the 3.4 ounces rule and is less than 140 proof.
If you want to carry alcohol in your checked bags, this must be unopened and is limited to five liters (1.3 gallons) per passenger.
Takeaway - The Ultimate Guide to Packing Food for Air Travel
if you want to avoid having to purchase snacks and drinks on flights in 2023, there are a whole host of different snack options you can bring aboard with you. However, before you arrive at the airport you will need to make sure that your food choices fit with the TSA guidelines for solid and liquid foods.
Choosing your snacks wisely will help you and your family to keep your energy levels up during your travel and help you to avoid elevated prices on the food and drink available at airports.
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