The 411 on the TSA 3-1-1

(Part 1 of 4)

As we prepare for this season of travel, being informed can help make the difference between a pleasantly smooth journey, and a stressful trip with confiscated personal items.  This is particularly true of the TSA.  In this first post of a four-part Blog series, I will share information about the TSA that will be helpful for novice as well as expert travelers, to help navigate your way through our nation’s airports.

The 3-1-1 Rule: Basics

While packing for your flight, it is important to evaluate your liquids.  Any liquids that are not needed in-flight should be stowed in your checked baggage.

Liquids carried on board must pass the 3-1-1 Rule:

  •  3 ounces per container
  • 1 quart size clear container (such as a zip top bag)
  • 1 container per person

So your 10 ounce toothpaste, 12 ounce sunscreen, and aerosol mousse will not pass TSA security screening, and will be confiscated at the checkpoint.  To avoid this, separate your liquids while packing, and make a quick mental check before checking in your luggage at the ticket counter.

I saw a passenger who had an extensive collection of expensive liquid makeup items; I felt bad for her as she tried to stuff as many of them as she could into a quart sized zip top bag, but failed.  The TSA had to confiscate anything that exceeded the quart size limit.  Makeup and perfume count towards your liquid allowance.  Rule of thumb: don’t lose things to the TSA!

The liquid rules should also be kept in mind when bringing food for the flight through airport security.  From personal experience, the TSA considers peanut butter and yogurt as ‘gels’ – these will be confiscated at security.  Salad dressings are also liquids, and must pass the 3-1-1 rule (unless, possibly, the salad dressing is poured onto the salad).

Water globes also count as liquids.  The TSA states that water globes that fit into the one quart bag along with your other liquids are allowed as a carry on.  Most water globes are much bigger than that, so please remember to pack your water globe souvenirs in your check-in luggage, or have Disney ship them home.

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3-1-1:  Things you may not know

Travel Tip #6:  The TSA 3-1-1 limit is actually 3.4 ounces per container, not 3 ounces.  (I’ve seen some bottles at 3.4 ounces, and previously thought those were not allowed).  Remember, these rules apply to food as well!

Travel Tip #7:  There are exemptions from the 3-1-1 rule, such as medical liquids, breast milk / infant formula and juice.

  • Medical liquids: TSA examples include Insulin, liquid medications, IV fluids, and creams.
  • Travel Tip #8: If medications need to be kept cool, frozen gel packs that are NOT usually allowed through TSA security are allowed to keep medications cool.  The gel packs need to be frozen as they go through security.
  • Breast milk or infant formula are not subject to the 3.4 ounce limit, and do not need to fit in the quart size bag. They should be declared at the security checkpoint.  Passengers are encouraged to bring only what they need onboard for the flight.
  • Medical liquids may exceed the 3.4 ounce limit.  Along with medical supplies such as syringes, or ostomy supplies, these should also be declared at the security X-ray checkpoint.  For more details, see: Medically Necessary Liquids, Gels, and Aerosols

“However, travelers flying with or without a child may bring medically necessary liquids, such as formula, breast milk and juice, in quantities greater than 3.4 ounces in their carry-on baggage.”

  • According to this TSA resource, travelers “with or without a child” are allowed juice greater than 3.4 ounces in carry-on baggage. Additional security screening may be necessary for these liquids that exceed the 3.4 ounce limit.

The TSA “Know Before You Go” publication states that “travelers with special needs and/or infants and small children…may be permitted baby formula, breast milk, juice” in excess of 3.4 ounces.  Although the TSA representative I spoke to could not confirm that adult passengers are allowed juice, it appears that ‘travelers with special needs’ may be permitted juice if declared before reaching the X-ray screening point.

Personally, I have not yet tested the juice allowance, but have had stray water bottles confiscated at security.

Keep in mind the list of hazardous, Prohibited Items that are not permitted on flights. “A violation can result in five years’ imprisonment and penalties of $250,000 or more.”

“Hazardous materials include explosives, compressed gases, flammable liquids and solids, oxidizers, poisons, corrosives and radioactive materials. Examples: Paints, lighter fluid, fireworks, tear gases, oxygen bottles, and radio-pharmaceuticals. There are special exceptions for small quantities (up to 70 ounces total) of medicinal and toilet articles carried in your luggage.”

The TSA has additional information on their website:

What is your experience with TSA screening and the 3-1-1 rule? Please let me know your thoughts!

  • In Part 2 of this Blog article, I will share additional tips on traveling with children, and traveling with a medical disability.
  • In Part 3 of this Blog article, I will share tips for military and Wounded Warrior travel.
  • In Part 4 of this Blog article, I will wrap up with Trusted Traveler Programs including TSA Pre✓® and Global Entry.
All information is up to date as of the date of publishing of this article, December 2014.
DISCLAIMER: NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE          The information, including but not limited to, text, images, graphics, links, and other materials contained on this website are for informational and educational purposes only. The purpose of this website is to promote safer and happier travel by assisting travelers with helpful information.  It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding your medical condition, new medications – including over the counter medications – and safety for you to travel.  Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking professional medical care because of information you have read on this website.

4 thoughts on “The 411 on the TSA 3-1-1”

  1. Thank you for a very informative article. It can be very scary and confusing knowing what you can and cannot bring on your travels now, thank you for helping to make it less so. Look forward to the other parts.

    1. Thanks so much for your feedback, Krystal! Glad to share some information that might help demystify the airport travel process!

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