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12 Things That Could Be Getting Your Luggage Flagged by TSA

Logging too much time in the TSA line? Try these tricks so your luggage will fly through the security checks.

Anonymous man at checkpoint in airport exploring luggage on screen with x-ray.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. For some extra travel fun, check out these weird things TSA agents found in luggage, and test your knowledge with this airplane trivia.

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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.

Bottles of prescription medicine in a pile.smartstock/Getty Images

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.

Christmas background with many decorative homemade gift boxes wrapped in brown kraft paper and red white twine. Flat lay.Julia Manga/Getty Images

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?

overhead view of a computer in an airport security bin ready to go through the x-ray machinegchutka/Getty Images

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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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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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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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.

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Danielle Braff
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.