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How to Avoid Packing Prohibited Items in Your Luggage

By Kelly Hoggan

Always start with an empty bag before you pack anything into it.

According to the Transportation Security Administration, the security agency screens approximately 4.9 million pieces of carry-on luggage daily. To screen so many bags, TSA deploys screeners at airport checkpoints nationwide and they’re all on the alert for what the agency calls “prohibited items” to make sure they don’t make their way onto planes. Because of their focus, the security agency’s screeners find a wide range of questionable or prohibited items in air travelers’ luggage. Fortunately, though, flyers can easily avoid inadvertently packing such items by taking just a few simple precautions.

TSA Tools

TSA offers several easy and convenient tools for ensuring you don’t mistakenly pack something in your checked or carry-on luggage, including messaging AskTSA on Twitter. If you’re worried about what you can and can’t place in your luggage, AskTSA provides live assistance via tweet or through Facebook Messenger. Weekday and weekend hours vary so check with TSA on best times to tweet or message.


The security agency also offers a feature on the upper right-hand corner of its website homepage entitled “What Can I Bring?” Using it, air travelers only need to type in the name of an item they’d like to bring with them when they fly to find out if it’s allowed in a checked or carry-on bag. If you’re checking in for your flight and have a question about the items you’ve packed in your carry-on bag, download TSA’s free app, MyTSA, onto your smartphone or tablet. The app also has its own “What Can I Bring?” feature and you can access it to quickly determine what you can and can’t bring with you on your flight.


If you’d rather call to find out just what’s allowed in your luggage, you can also reach out to the TSA Contact Center at 1-866-289-9673. The center is staffed from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekends and holidays. There’s also an automated service available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


Helpful Tips


Besides checking with TSA about prohibited items, when preparing for your flight always start with an empty bag before putting anything in it. Going through your bags before packing anything in them helps ensure you find and remove any items that could cause problems at the airport. The MyTSA app also provides information on the agency’s 3-1-1 rule when it comes to any liquids, gels or aerosols you want to bring along, such as shampoo, hairspray, toothpaste and the like. In short, the liquids in your carry-on luggage must be carried in containers measuring 3.4 ounces or less and all such containers must fit in a single quart-size resealable bag. Put all large liquid containers in your checked luggage. If you have large amounts of medically necessary liquid medications or baby formula or milk, make sure you immediately notify the TSA screeners so that they can screen those items separately.


There are also steps you can take to ease your way through TSA’s security lines, including having your ID and boarding passes out and ready for inspection. You should also consider applying for TSA’s trusted traveler program, PreCheck, and take time to ensure your electronic items are separated as well as possible in your carry-on and laptop bags so that TSA screeners can easily make them out.


To sum things up, making sure you and your carry-on bags are as well-organized as possible before you enter a TSA security checkpoint will go a long way toward ensuring you have the best security screening experience possible every time you fly.

Kelly Hoggan, Founder and CEO of H4 Solutions, previously served as assistant administrator for operations at the Transportation Security Administration. In that role, he was responsible for aircraft and checkpoint security operations at the nation's 400-plus commercial airports.

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