Student Life

TSA Rules and Regulations: A Breakdown

TSA Rules and Regulations: A Breakdown

I remember the night before my first ever flight, viciously typing away at my keyboard, trying to figure out the gist of all the TSA rules laid out ahead of me. Without a handy ruler or scale, for that matter, and too exhausted from packing to decipher anything I read, I was at a loss. Finally, I messaged my sister, asking her advice for the flight. I quickly received an elaborate response. Armed with her advice on TSA rules, I could breathe again but nevertheless found myself learning more during every flight since. Here is my breakdown of the rules and regulations in domestic TSA flights.


Carry Ons

Yes, the ultimate challenge. Just how much can you take with you without having to drop extra on fees. Generally, a carry on suitcase (ideal) or a duffle bag, a pillow and/or blanket, and a personal item. The personal item is where things get complicated. See, I have always used my backpack which is perfectly allowed in regulation. However, I also tend to have a purse or something that would pass as one. By this, I mean either a small bag with my notebook or recently, my camera bag. If you really want to test limits, it's possible this third item will get by just fine but, again, isn't something I'd bank on. Do your best to stick to those two bags and don’t push a third unless necessary. Worst case scenario, they'll make you check a bag while you're trying to board, slamming you with an extra fee. Just know things aren't always as strict as they ought to be along those lines, however.


So you will have to have these all bagged up, in ziploc-esc bags, and in an easy-to-access spot. This last bit is because, while going through TSA, you'll have to remove your liquids and place them on top of your bag. Now, I have had instances where they just skip this and let everyone keep their liquids stored but it's standard procedure to remove them. The bottles need to be under 100 mL, which it will usually list at the bottom of said bottle. Again, I've had flights where they simply didn't bother removing the liquids and let by tanning lotion near 200 mL. I wouldn’t bank on this, though. In fact, I had to dump said tanner on my way back because they were stricter the second round. As for what counts as a liquid: if you can't decide, assume liquid. I always throw in mascaras and lip glosses with liquids; better safe than sorry. Another liquids rule is to only bring one bag. Honestly, I have never abided this and often have upwards of four plastic bags. Part of this is that I have mere sandwich sized bags but know that there is a bit of flexibility here. Each flight is different but that has been my experience. Basically, keep it small, bag it up, and keep it within reach.


You can't take a full water-bottle past security but an empty one is just fine. Then, just fill it once you're past. Food can usually go through but I don't have much experience in this category. There will be plenty of snacks for purchase past TSA but the prices are insane, in my opinion. If anything, eat big before arriving at and after you get out of the airport.

When Walking Through

You'll want to set all of your things up on the long conveyor belt. Here, you'll pull out your laptop, if you have one, and put it in a container all its own. No other electronics or chords need to come out, though. However, liquids will have to come out. These can be put in one of the containers along with other things, I usually toss it in with my shoes and purse. I always put my backpack in a container, just to keep the straps from getting caught in anything and wasting time. I tend to cut close to my departure time and unnecessary stops aren't very conducive to that. My roller-luggage always goes right on the table, skipping the container with this one. Lastly, you'll probably be asked to take off your shoes before walking through the scanner. So the whole thing will probably feel rushed, especially if you are there during a busy season. Having an idea ahead of time will definitely calm the process.

Miscellaneous Things

Now, you won't want to bring along anything sharp. This can be anything from scissors to a wine opener. If a jailer wouldn't give it to an inmate, you probably don't want it in your luggage. That last one, the wine opener, I know from personal experience and it really puts a damper on your party abroad. Save yourself the heartbreak and leave any favorite Swiss Army knives at home.


I hope this lets you feel a bit more prepared for your next flight so you can sit back and enjoy the ride. There is certainly a lot to know but soon enough the whole process will feel like second nature. From knowing what you can bring to gliding right through the TSA lines, you'll look like an all-around travel expert. Safe travels all.

Getting Involved on Campus

Getting Involved on Campus

How to Handle Travel Anxiety

How to Handle Travel Anxiety