- The Transportation Security Administration’s ‘MyTSA’ app has a handy ‘Can I Bring?’ search bar.
- The app offers granular guidance on what you can, and can’t, pack in carry-on and checked baggage.
- The TSA also has good advice on how to ace airport security screenings during the holidays.
The TSA wants everyone to breeze through airport security, especially during the crowded holiday crunch.
Luckily for you, smart flyers, the TSA has lots of tips for dashing through that checkpoint with a minimum of stress, pat-down searches, and alarm-triggering luggage.
The obvious tips — arrive early, no guns in carry-on, and the like — are well summarized in the TSA guide, “How not to be ‘That Guy’ at the airport checkpoint.”
For the much less obvious — can I fly with my live goldfish? Yes, in carry-on! — the handy MyTSA app has a “Can I Bring?” search bar that spans the alphabet from aerosol insecticides to yogurt.
But for the very, very holiday-specific, check out the TSA Twitter account, a weird but helpful winter wonderland, where tweets about traveling with poinsettias, gingerbread houses, and ugly Christmas sweaters are now twinkling amid its more typical posts about confiscated hatchets and nunchucks.
Here are the TSA’s top, non-ballistic, non-explosive, zero-caliber, often-surprising packing tips for the holidays.
Don’t wrap your presents
Use gift bags when you’re flying with ready-to-open gifts in your carry-on or checked bags.
Because if something inside triggers an alarm, Uncle Billy’s present will instead be unwrapped by a TSA officer.
“There’s gift boxes too,” notes Lisa Farbstein, the agency’s Northeast and Mid-Atlantic spokesperson. “We use those at home — you just lift the lid off and then we reuse the boxes.”
You can also pack an unwrapped gift along with its wrapping paper, tape and a small pair of scissors. “Under four inches from the pivot point are okay,” the TSA advises of flying with scissors.
—TSA (@TSA) December 7, 2022
Poinsettias are fine
“Absolutely — it’s a solid item,” Farbstein notes of poinsettias and any other live plant, all of which are good to go in carry-on or checked bags.
The MyTSA app’s “Can I Bring” search tool offers this additional guidance: “Check with the airline to ensure that the item will fit in the overhead bin or underneath the seat of the airplane.”
—TSA (@TSA) December 12, 2022
Gingerbread frosting? It depends.
Who knew flying with frosting could be so complicated?
No one at TSA will measure your frosting at the checkpoint if the frosting is on top of a gingerbread house in your carry-on bag.
But if it’s not actually on the house, officers will require that same frosting to meet the 3.4 ounce rule — the same as for any “gel” item, such as peanut butter, ranch dressing, and hair-styling product.
—TSA (@TSA) December 12, 2022
Finned and furry friends
Flying Fido — or your pet goldfish — to meet the folks in Fresno for the holidays?
Oddly, live fish are banned in checked baggage, but OK for carry on. And the 3.4 ounce rule for liquids is waived.
“The fish would need to be in a clear, transparent container of water,” Farbstein says. “The TSA would screen it just like we would screen juice for a baby, to make sure that it’s not in a liquid explosive.”
As for your furrier friends, never send them through the strong checkpoint X-ray, she advises. Send the empty carrier through the X-ray, and then carry the pet through the metal detector.
“If your pet is skittish, and we strongly recommend this for cats, you’re going to need a leash,” she warned. “Or ask to be screened in a private screening room. That way there’s a door that shuts if the cat does jump down if they get startled or scared.”
—Lisa Farbstein, TSA Spokesperson (@TSA_Northeast) December 7, 2022
Ugly X-mas sweaters — alarming!
Yes, sweaters that are overly metalic, bulb-bedecked or wired with blinking lights are alarming in more than just the aesthetic sense.
Don’t risk a pat-down by the TSA on top of any put-downs from friends and family.
—TSA (@TSA) December 16, 2022
TSA-approved locks — better than coal
TSA-approved locks make great stocking stuffers, Farbstein says.
If your locked baggage needs to be opened by an officer, they’ll use a TSA master key instead of clipping your lock.
—Lisa Farbstein, TSA Spokesperson (@TSA_Northeast) December 8, 2022
Farbstein has this parting advice:
Expect lines to be longest on December 21, 22, and 23 — the holidays’ biggest travel days, when you’ll want to allow extra time.
And people leave things behind in those plastic security bins all the time, “I highly recommend you affix your business card to your electronics,” Farbstein says.
Decals are also a great idea. Her own laptop sports her business card plus decals of New York City and the Grand Central Terminal.
“That way if you call and you say, ‘I left my silver Dell laptop at the checkpoint,’ there’s probably a million silver Dell laptops. I can say there are these decals on it.”
The TSA.gov website has a lost and found page.
Finally, get help in real time from a TSA representative by calling 1-866-289-9673. Agents are available from 8am-11pm, Eastern, weekdays and 9am-8pm weekends.