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What can I take onboard aircraft to the United States?

Updated: Jan 21, 2024  | Tags: Airport Security, Airline Safety

Whilst most international airlines follow the same basic rules, there are differences in the details of permitted items you can take on an airplane. You should always check with your airline before you start packing because if something is detected that looks like it might be prohibited, your luggage will be opened up and searched, even if you put a lock on it. The list below is not exhaustive, but it is a guide for visitors of the United States. The final decision on what you are permitted to bring on a plane rests with the security officer at the screening point.

What not to take on a plane

Non- permitted items

These are things that may seem harmless but could be used as a weapon. They include liquids over the permitted amount, baseball bats and similar sports equipment, metal knives and forks, long screwdrivers (over 7-inch), scissors (over 4-inch), and corkscrews with a blade.

You are allowed a cigarette lighter with fuel in your hand luggage but not in your checked luggage, although in some countries (such as the UK) you have to keep this with you in a plastic bag. Matches are not permitted.

The penalty for attempting to bring these items on board is usually nothing more than the confiscation of the offending article, and in some instances, it may be possible to transfer the item to checked luggage

Prohibited items

If something is illegal in the country where you board the plane, the security officer will notify the police and you could be arrested. The penalties can be severe, from a fine to imprisonment, so it is important that you understand the risks. Some things may not be illegal to buy or have in your home, but you cannot take them onto a plane. These include weapons, explosives, fireworks, flammable liquids, and realistic replicas of these items.

Permitted items

Electrical goods

Generally, items such as cell phones, laptops, hairdryers, and travel irons can be taken on board in your checked or carry-on bags, but e-cigarettes are only allowed in your hand luggage. Beware that, at the time of writing, the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is not allowed on any airline in the United States.

The rules on batteries are complex and they vary from one country to another. You can carry batteries in permitted devices but exercise caution over taking spare batteries with you. Generally, AA, AAA, C, or D type batteries are allowed in both carry-on and checked luggage, but you must take steps to separate the ends if you have more than one to prevent a short circuit. If not in their original packaging, you can tape the ends or place them in individual plastic bags. Loose lithium batteries are not allowed in checked luggage but may be allowed in carry-on bags. Check with the airline if in doubt of the requirements.

Personal items

Items such as scissors may be allowed if they are blunt-ended (such as safety scissors) or less than 4 inches (in some countries 2.5 inches) long. Nail clippers and nail files are also permitted, as are fixed cartridge razor blades and disposable razors. Single, non-cartridge razor blades are only permitted in checked luggage.

Aerosols, liquids, and gels

Quantities vary across the globe but in the U.S. and Canada, you are allowed 1.3 gallons (5 liters) of up to 140 proof (70% ABV) liquor in your checked luggage. There is no limit on liquor less than 48 proof (24% ABV).

You can take aerosols, liquids, and gels in your carry-on bag in containers of no more than 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters or 100 grams) but all items must fit in a quart-sized (one liter) resealable transparent bag.

Additionally, you will have a duty-free allowance of liquor, tobacco, and goods which, if purchased at the airport, you can take on board. Check your allowance for these items with the airline.

Medicines and medical equipment

Capsules, tablets, liquid medicines, special foods and liquids, gel packs, inhalers, and hypodermic needles are permitted but they may be subject to further screening and you should take with you proof that these are necessary for your journey such as a doctor’s letter or prescription.

Medical devices such as neurostimulators and insulin pumps are allowed on board, but if these are attached to your body you should notify security personnel at the screening point and if possible, detach it and send it through the x-ray machine. If you cannot, arrangements will be made to discreetly check the devices.

If you have specific medical or dietary needs, it is always best to declare this at the time of booking and to make the necessary arrangements in advance.

Baby care products

Up to half a gallon (2 liters) of breast milk, formula milk, soya milk, and sterilized water can be taken on board as carry-on if you are traveling with your baby. You can also take baby food and cooling gel packs on top of your liquid allowance.

Tips to speed up the screening process

Airport security differs from one country to another depending on the type of screening equipment used. Some require you to remove all items from your pockets whether metal or not, take off your shoes, watch, and belt. Other screening procedures are not as strict. Here is a list of practices that will help expedite your security screening at any airport:

  • If you’re carrying a laptop, place it so it can easily be removed from your hand-luggage. Make sure the laptop is charged up as you may have to prove it works.
  • Keep all your lipsticks, make-up and other small items in a clear plastic bag that can be readily pulled out and examined by airport security staff.
  • Avoid wearing a belt.
  • Wear shoes with no laces that can easily be slipped on and off.
  • Put all your loose change into a bag, small purse or wallet and leave this in your hand-luggage.
  • Keep all your travel documents, including your passport, boarding pass, and receipts, in a small bag that can slip into your hand-luggage when you don’t need it. Or, put them in a small bag that can be hung around your neck or waist when going through screening and during boarding.
  • If your hand luggage gets set to one side for further screening, don’t panic. The chances are it is purely random. Just smile, be polite to the security officer and comply with their instructions.


Air-travel can be stressful, even if you have no fear of flying. For some, the whole experience of entering an airport, checking in the luggage, the passage through security, and boarding the plane can be quite daunting, even for the frequent flyer. However, with a bit more thought and preparation, it can go smoothly.