12 Things That Could Be Getting Your Luggage Flagged by TSA (2022)

12 Things That Could Be Getting Your Luggage Flagged by TSA (1)EvgeniyShkolenko/Getty Images

Get to your gate quicker by knowing what TSA looks for

On a recent trip from New York to Chicago, my daughter and I lugged a carry-on suitcase filled with slime through security. As any parent of a tween knows, this was essential baggage. Unbeknownst to us, however, slime is technically a gel, which technically counts as a liquid, which technically needs to be in a 3.4-ounce container, according to the TSA. So, our precious slime had to be ditched, triggering a major meltdown. Don’t let this happen to you.

To help, we rounded up the items, substances, and packing strategies (or lack thereof) that are getting your luggage flagged by the TSA, causing your things to be tossed at security checkpoints or simply adding time to this not-so-fun part of your travel experience. Before your next trip, make sure you also know these rules to follow next time you fly.

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Bringing too much liquid

Liquids, gels, and pastes (including toothpaste) can’t exceed one 3.4-ounce container each (aside from these 12 items), per the TSA. Consumables must also comply with the rule if you’re carrying your luggage on board, however they can be packed in any quantities in checked luggage. All of these must fit into a one-quart bag (again, this is only for carry-ons). Only one bag is allowed per traveler. Exceptions include baby formula, medications, and other items for special-needs travelers. Next, check out these 12 things your TSA security agent isn’t telling you.

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(Video) What NOT to Pack in Carry On Bag in 2022 (TSA Airport Security)

Liquid medications

You’re allowed to bring clearly labeled prescriptions in your carry-on, per the TSA, which you should always do, just in case your other luggage gets lost or delayed. Additionally, you can bring medication in liquid form that’s more than 3.4 ounces—and you don’t even need to put it into a resealable bag, unlike other liquids. However, you must tell the TSA officer that you have these medically necessary liquids before your search, as they will likely require additional screening. Don’t miss these other smart things travelers always do before a flight.

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Wrapped gifts

This is the worst: You spent hours perfectly wrapping presents, only for TSA officers to rip through them at security. To avoid this miserable situation, they recommend simply popping your gifts into gift bags or gift boxes so they can be easily checked, or keeping them unwrapped for now and bringing the wrapping paper with you. Plus, is wrapping paper recyclable?

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Opaque laptop bags

While most airports and TSA agents require travelers to place laptops and other large electronic devices in their own bins, some don’t. The TSA may allow some laptop bags and backpacks because they have unobstructed views of the computer. Here are some of the best laptop bags and backpacks at every price point (though you may have to remove your computer from some of them).

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(Video) 10 TSA Checkpoint Tips | Flying Travel Hacks for Getting Through Airport Security

Large sums of cash

We’re not talking about a wallet stuffed with cash (although well done!). But if you’re entering or leaving the U.S., you’re required to declare any amount of money that’s more than $10,000, or its equivalent, in a FinCEN Form 105. Flying domestically? You can bring as much money as you want, but the TSA is allowed to ask you to account for it. Next, check out these crazy things plane passengers have done to cheat the system.

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Adult toys

So, you want to BYO fun on your trip and you packed an electronic sex toy. It’s totally OK to pack it in either your carry-on or your checked luggage, but if it’s in your carry-on, it may get you flagged. Make sure to remove the battery before going through security so you don’t have something buzzing in your luggage. Finally, don’t act weird—anyone acting suspiciously is more likely to get searched, so remember that it’s fine to have. Here are other things you shouldn’t do at the airport.

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Coffee beans

You love the coffee where you’re traveling, and now you want to bring it back home. No biggie, right? You can do it—but it’ll cost you time at TSA. That’s because it’s sometimes used to mask the smell of some not-so-TSA-friendly items, like drugs. Officers will likely swab the outside of the bag to see if it tests positive for anything illegal, but don’t worry, they don’t actually have to open your coffee. Want to avoid the hassle? Ship your coffee home or pack it in your suitcase, where it’s less likely to get any attention.

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(Video) Avoid making these TSA - Airport Security Mistakes!

Pocket knives

This is the most common item to get flagged, according to the TSA. While you’re totally allowed to pack a pocket knife or a Swiss army knife in your checked bag, you can’t bring them onto the plane. You may, however, bring a plastic or round-bladed butter knife. If you accidentally forgot to remove your pocket knife and are in the TSA line, you can either leave the line and pop it into a checked bag, or mail it to your destination. While this one is kind of a no-brainer, here are the real reasons behind some of the weirder airplane safety rules.

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Snow globes

Technically, snow globes are allowed, but they’re frequently flagged because they often look like explosives. The snow globe must appear to contain less than 3.4 ounces or 100 mL of water (about the size of a tennis ball), and it needs to fit into your quart-sized, resealable bag. If you’re curious, this is why pilots travel with soft-sided luggage.

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Peanut butter

Can you bring food on a plane? Short answer: yes. The issue with peanut butter is that it doesn’t look like a liquid, but it counts as one. Like all other liquids, peanut butter needs to be in a container that’s less than 3.4 ounces, as well as in a quart-sized bag. Even chunky peanut butter counts as a liquid, so don’t even try fighting that one.

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(Video) What happens to your luggage after check-in?

Unapproved luggage locks

Sure, you want to lock your luggage with a luggage lock, and that’s your right—but it has to be TSA-approved. The TSA developed locks with specific companies so they can be opened using master keys. Find an approved lock at a travel store or at the airport—otherwise, they will cut the lock. Here are more luggage secrets that baggage handlers want you to know.

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Dry ice

Want to pack some food in dry ice to keep it nice and cold? The Federal Aviation Administration allows up to five pounds of dry ice as long as it’s in a package that’s properly marked and vented. However, individual airlines have the final say with this one, so call yours ahead of time to see if you’ll need to check your bag or if it’s OK to bring onboard. Before your flight, check out these expert-approved travel pillows, and once you finally get on the plane, make sure you know these 32 things your flight attendant won’t tell you.


Originally Published: January 23, 2020

12 Things That Could Be Getting Your Luggage Flagged by TSA (14)

Danielle Braff

(Video) AskTSA: Preparing Carry-on Bags for Security Screening

Danielle Braff regularly covers travel, health and lifestyle for Reader's Digest. Her articles have also been published in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Boston Globe and other publications. She has a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and a master's degree in musicology from Oxford University in England. Danielle is based in Chicago, where she lives with her husband and two children. See her recent articles at www.Daniellebraff.com. You can follow her on Facebook @Danielle.Karpinos, Twitter @daniellebraff, and Instagram at danikarp.


What will get your checked bag flagged? ›

6 Things That Can Get Your Luggage Flagged By TSA
  • The liquids, gels and paste you don't think of. ...
  • “Intimate” items. ...
  • Not telling them about your meds. ...
  • Coffee beans. ...
  • Wrapped presents. ...
  • Carrying a load of cash.
13 May 2021

What gets you flagged by TSA? ›

You might think it's A-okay to be chatty with an officer, or you think you're just being friendly, but asking any questions related to weapons, firearms, explosives, or other dangerous, prohibited items puts you on the TSA's radar.

How do I not get flagged by the TSA? ›

Sign up for a Trusted Traveler Program like Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck. Since these programs involve an extensive background check, they may help you avoid getting flagged at security.

What does TSA look for when scanning bags? ›

They can detect both metallic and non-metallic objects, ranging from guns to foods and plastics. Some airports no longer use backscatter scanners because they're considered a privacy invasion, but they remain in use at major US, UK, and European airports.

Why does my checked bag always get searched? ›

Since Jan. 1, all U.S. airports have been screening every piece of checked baggage, the TSA says. The chances of your luggage being opened vary by airport, airline and what you're packing. Most airports screen checked bags electronically, by X-raying the bag or examining it for explosive-chemical residues.

How does checked luggage get searched? ›

Yes, once you check them in and they go off on the conveyor belt, your baggage will be screened by an X-Ray machine and also often with chemical sniffers. If there is any doubt or something suspicious about your bag, a member of security personnel will inspect it by hand.

Do they scan checked bags for drugs? ›

It may surprise you to learn that the TSA does not actively check for drugs. TSA agents are far more concerned with items that can put passengers' safety at immediate risk, like explosives.

What does it mean to be red flagged by airline? ›

Exercise Red Flag (also Red Flag – Nellis) is a two-week advanced aerial combat training exercise held several times a year by the United States Air Force. It aims to offer realistic air-combat training for military pilots and other flight crew members from the United States and allied countries.

Is TSA random selection really random? ›

The security personnel at the gate do not use a random number generator to select passengers to check. Rather, they stand by the gate and approach people. Now, the last couple of occasions they have chosen me, I've asked them what criteria they used, and both times I was told it was random.

Why do I always set off airport scanners? ›

Things like having you socks bunched or having hair extensions or bobby pins in your hair can get you flagged. Once TSA determines what set off the scanner, you're usually good to go. I've tripped the scanner with my hair half a dozen times, but once they feel my head they move me along.

How do you annoy TSA? ›

14 Things That Are Guaranteed to Annoy a TSA Agent
  1. Not Having Your ID and Boarding Pass Out. ...
  2. Trying to Sneak Through the PreCheck Line. ...
  3. Not Taking Off Your Shoes. ...
  4. Forgetting to Empty Your Pockets. ...
  5. Abandoning Your Bags on the Belt. ...
  6. Attempting to Sneak in Liquids Over the Size Limit.
30 Oct 2019

Why do I always get frisked at the airport? ›

Airport body searches, or “pat downs” involve being physically pat down by a security officer to confirm that you aren't carrying prohibited items under your clothing. Airport pat downs happen for two reasons: by random chance or because something about your clothing, appearance, or luggage seems suspicious.

How do airport scanners detect drugs in luggage? ›

How Do Airport Scanners Detect Drugs? Airports use scanners to check luggage and passengers. While airport scanners cannot outright detect a specific drug, they show security personnel the content of people's luggage and any items that may be carried on person.

What do TSA agents look for? ›

What Are TSA Agents Looking For At The Airports? - YouTube

Why should you put a tennis ball in your luggage? ›

And as it turns out, having one of these portable masseuses in your carry-on could prevent blood clots on long flights or road trips. You should always pack these things in your carry-on, too. Rolling a tennis ball along your body loosens up stiff muscles and stimulates blood flow.

Will my carry-on bag be searched? ›

Checked and Carry-on Baggage Screening

While the majority of checked bagged is screened with technology, some require an actual physical search. If your bag was chosen for a physical search, the TSA will put a notice inside your bag to let you know.

Does TSA look for small amounts of drugs? ›

Accordingly, TSA security officers do not search for marijuana or other illegal drugs, but if any illegal substance is discovered during security screening, TSA will refer the matter to a law enforcement officer.

Do airport dogs sniff for drugs or bombs? ›

Dogs at Airports Are a Security Asset

Dogs at airports are vital members of the security team. Their incredibly advanced sense of smell can detect all sorts of dangerous substances. They can sniff out drugs, guns, bombs, and even the Covid-19 virus. Think you could benefit from the help of a dog security team?

How do you know if you are flagged by customs? ›

There are signs that will indicate you have been flagged for additional screenings: You were not able to print a boarding pass from an airline ticketing kiosk or from the internet. You were denied or delayed boarding. A ticket agent “called someone” before handing you a boarding pass.

Can TSA make you open your phone? ›

Yes, you can refuse access to your phone, but border agents can then make your life difficult. Wessler said agents could detain you — courts are divided on how long is too long — take your phone and try to unlock it on site, and even take your phone and send it to experts to unlock it.

Why did I get an SSSS on my boarding pass? ›

SSSS stands for Secondary Security Screening Selection. It's a tag printed on your boarding pass to indicate that you have been selected to receive additional enhanced screening of your body and your personal items like carry-on baggage at the airport — either at the initial TSA screening area or the boarding gate.

Why did TSA scan my cell phone? ›

TSA said the screening “is solely intended to verify that there has been no physical tampering or hidden threat placed within the electronic device.”

Why did TSA take my cell phone? ›

TSA protects transportation systems: they scan your luggage, ensure your ticket is valid, and provide airport security. The only reason they might be interested in your phone is if it looks suspicious.

Can I put full-size shampoo in checked luggage? ›

Liquids, gels and aerosols must be placed in containers no larger than 3.4 ounces, with all containers fitting into a single 1-quart plastic bag. Those limits don't apply to checked bags, so pack full-size containers of shampoo, lotion, toothpaste and other restricted items in this bag.

What can I take on a plane in checked luggage 2022? ›

Solid food items (not liquids or gels) can be transported in either your carry-on or checked bags. Liquid or gel food items larger than 3.4 oz are not allowed in carry-on bags and should be placed in your checked bags if possible.

Can an airline make you check your bag? ›

You can also be sure to carry a shopping bag, purse or messenger bag that is small enough to fit under the seat in front of you. Airlines won't ask you to check a bag that small, and you can keep essentials (wallets, passports, laptops and medications) in it.

What should you not wear at the airport? ›

What Not to Wear: Cargo Pants or Shorts. “Cargo pants and shorts are one of the most difficult items of clothing at the airport,” Pruitt advises. “All the different pockets become a major hassle because they almost always set off the alarm.

Can I have a phone charger in my hand luggage? ›

Can phone chargers go in hand luggage? The answer is yes - a regular phone charger can go in your carry on luggage. There are no restrictions around regular phone chargers when flying that you need to be aware of - and they are not on the list of prohibited items.

Can you bring a razor in a carry-on? ›

So people ask us about this one all the time. Safety Razors: Because the razor blades are so easy to remove, safety razors are not permitted in your carry-on luggage with the blade. They're fine to pack in your carry-on without the blade. The blades must be stored in your checked luggage.

Can I take prescription pills on a plane? ›

You can bring your medication in pill or solid form in unlimited amounts as long as it is screened. You can travel with your medication in both carry-on and checked baggage. It's highly recommended you place these items in your carry-on in the event that you need immediate access.

What toiletries need to be in a clear plastic bag? ›

Liquids, gels, aerosols, creams, and pastes must be placed in a clear plastic 1-quart bag. You can have one of these bags per person. All of the items within these bags must be in 3.4-ounce containers or less.

How do you pack makeup in a carry-on? ›

TSA's 3-1-1 Rule: How to pack makeup in carry-on luggage. The TSA's travel size rule says you can bring a 1–quart-sized bag of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams, and pastes in your carry-on bag and through the checkpoint. The containers need to be 3.4 ounces or smaller and placed in the resealable clear bag.

Do they scan checked bags for drugs? ›

It may surprise you to learn that the TSA does not actively check for drugs. TSA agents are far more concerned with items that can put passengers' safety at immediate risk, like explosives.

Does toothpaste count as a liquid? ›

Is toothpaste considered a liquid by the TSA? Yes, toothpaste must adhere to the 3-1-1 rule for liquids and gels. Toothpaste can be brought through TSA security in your carry-on as long as it is 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less and placed in a 1-quart bag.

Will TSA take my vape out of my carry-on? ›

Electronic smoking devices are allowed only in carry-on baggage. Passengers are required to take effective measures for preventing accidental activation of the heating element of the device when transporting the devices. See the FAA regulations for examples of effective measures.

How can I avoid gate check? ›

Your best bet for avoiding a last-minute gate check is to avoid boarding last. Make that possible by not booking a restrictive basic economy ticket or – if you do book these tickets – holding elite status or certain co-branded credit cards.

What happens if my carry-on is too big? ›

If your carry-on is too large, you won't be able to bring it with you on the plane and will instead have to pay to check it at the gate. But even if it's not too big, know there's always a chance your carry-on bag will need to be gate-checked (free of charge) due to limited storage in the overhead bin.

How do I not have a checked bag? ›

  1. Fly with Airlines that Don't Charge for Checked Baggage. ...
  2. Earn Elite Status with an Airline. ...
  3. Choose the Right Airline Credit Card. ...
  4. Choose a Travel Card with an Airline Fee Credit. ...
  5. Avoid Basic Economy. ...
  6. Pack Light and Don't Check a Bag.
21 Apr 2022


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