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Airline Carry On Luggage

Learn what's acceptable to pack in airline carry on luggage.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, restrictions for airline carry on luggage have increased. Passengers who are unaware of the newer restrictions often are forced to throw away personal items such as shaving gels, toothpaste and razors before entering airport gates. By planning ahead and being aware of airline carry on luggage restrictions, passengers can save money and avoid hassles.

Airline Carry On Luggage Size Requirements

According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), passengers are allowed to carry one small piece of luggage and one personal item onto the plane. All other luggage must be checked. Acceptable personal items include:

  • Camera case
  • Laptop computer
  • Purse
  • Small backpack
  • Briefcase

The maximum size of airline carry on luggage is 45 linear inches. (To calculate linear inches, add the length, width and depth of the bag.) Anything larger than this must be checked. Airline carry on luggage must be stowed in the overhead bins or under the seat in front of the passenger.

Permitted and Restricted Carry On Luggage

Due to the threat of terrorist attacks, TSA guidelines are very strict about what items they allow passengers to carry on the plane. However, except for hazardous materials such as explosives, gunpowder, flammable items and lighters, most items can be stowed in checked baggage. Passengers who are unsure whether an item is allowed should store the item in their checked baggage rather than risk having it confiscated and thrown away at the security checkpoint.

Restricted items include:

  • Sporting equipment. Baseball bats, bows and arrows, cricket bats, golf clubs, hockey or lacrosse sticks, pool cues, ski poles and spear guns are not allowed to be carried on, but passengers may check these items.
  • Guns and firearms. Passengers cannot bring ammunition, BB guns, compressed-air guns (including paintball equipment), firearms, flare guns, flares, gun lighters, gunpowder, parts of firearms, pellet guns, realistic-looking firearm replicas or starter pistols aboard the plane. Passengers may pack some of these items in checked baggage. Passengers should contact their airline prior to traveling if they anticipate packing any of these items.
  • Tools. These items include axes, hatchets, cattle prods, crowbars, hammers, drills and drill bits, saws, and screwdrivers, wrenches and pliers greater than seven inches in length. Tools may be included with checked baggage, but the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requests that passengers securely wrap any tools with sharp edges to prevent injury to airline security personnel and baggage handlers.
  • Martial arts and self-defense items. These items are not permitted in airline carry on luggage. They include billy clubs, black jacks, brass knuckles, kubatons, martial arts weapons, night sticks, nunchakus, stun guns and throwing stars. Passengers may check these items but they should wrap them securely before packing.
  • Sharp objects. These include box cutters, ice picks, knives, meat cleavers, razors (except safety razors), sabers, scissors with blades longer than four inches and swords. However, these items may be packed in checked luggage. Once again, sharp edges should be wrapped.

Travelers may carry personal items such as gels, lotions, liquids and aerosols aboard the plane, as long as each container has a capacity of less than three ounces and is secured in a clear zip-top plastic bag. The bag must be no larger than a quart and each passenger is allowed only one bag.

Some prohibited items are things people would not think could possibly be dangerous. For example, gel shoe inserts and snow globes are not allowed in airline carry on luggage under any circumstances. Passengers are advised to check with their airline and TSA to make sure they don't inadvertently try to pass a restricted item through security.

Dealing with Airline Carry On Luggage Issues

Although these rules exist for passengers' safety, many travelers find the restrictions a huge inconvenience. For this reason, some travelers look for ways to minimize the hassle.

Passengers who know they have an item in their luggage that is not allowed onboard should consider having the item shipped to its destination. While this option is more expensive, it alleviates having to worry about the item causing a problem with airline security.

Travelers can also buy travel-sized shampoos, toothpastes or hand sanitizers after they have passed the security checkpoint. Some airport stores inside the gates sell these items. Alternatively, passengers can buy them at a drugstore once they have reached their destination.

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