7 Surprising Items TSA May Flag You for at Airport Security
You might not think these pose a threat, but security agents say otherwise.
When heading to the security checkpoint at any airport, your biggest concern is making it through as quickly and easily as possible. Even if you just packed the basics, there's sometimes a worry that your bag will be pulled for further inspection—which could keep you from making your flight on time. These concerns are normally unwarranted, but travelers do get stopped by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers even when they truly believe they haven't packed any security no-no's. Eager to avoid that situation? Read on to discover seven surprising items TSA may flag you for at airport security.
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During your travels, you're likely to pick up a souvenir or two to remember your trip. But if you grab a snow globe while on vacation, be warned that it might not get through security.
"I loved snow globes as a kid, so I know they make great gifts," Cheryl Nelson, certified lifestyle and travel preparedness expert, and founder of Prepare with Cher, LLC, tells Best Life. "However, if your snow globe is bigger than a tennis ball, don't pack it in your carry-on luggage. Since snow globes are considered liquids, they also have to be less than 3.4 ounces, and the entire snow globe including the base must fit in your quart-sized bag."
TSA's "What Can I Bring?" webpage confirms this, adding that larger snow globes have to be stowed in your checked luggage instead.
If you're looking to stay fit—and don't mind schlepping a heavier bag—you might toss some exercise weights into your carry-on. Doing so can be problematic, however, according to Rebecca Deitsch, founder of the travel blog Day Trip Queen.
"While TSA doesn't technically forbid weights in your carry-on luggage, they do forbid sports equipment that could be used as a bludgeon," Deitsch says. "Their example is a baseball bat, but other items can be removed at the discretion of the TSA agent."
She speaks from personal experience when her 2-pound weights were confiscated at Atlanta International Airport.
"I was bringing it along to do my physical therapy exercises, and it was so small that it never occurred to me that it could be used as a weapon!" Deitsch explains. "It is always safer to put weights and other heavy exercise equipment in your checked luggage."
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Food is always a questionable addition to your carry-on or personal item, and some do fall into gray area. For instance, believe it or not, peanut butter is considered a liquid.
"Last summer, TSA confiscated a jar of peanut butter I was bringing to a family member who lives abroad," Eric Segalstad, vice president of Gondwana Ecotours, tells Best Life. "I was traveling without checked luggage and didn't foresee that JIF Extra Crunchy was considered liquid. Now I know!"
On TSA's "What Can I Bring?" page, the agency confirms that peanut butter can only be taken in carry-on luggage if it's less than the 3.4-ounce limit. For checked bags, your full-sized containers of peanut butter should make it through without issue.
"If you can spill it, spread it, spray it, pump it or pour it, and it's larger than 3.4 ounces, then it should go in a checked bag," the agency said.
This rule also applies to soft and spreadable cheese such as Camembert, Roger Broussard, former pilot and founder, CEO, and creative director of Pilot School Hero, says.
Speaking of liquids, the rules also apply to your toiletries. To adhere to TSA's 3-1-1 liquids rule for carry-ons, you know that your shampoo and body wash have to be less than 3.4 ounces. But you might overlook this requirement if something you've packed doesn't constitute as a "liquid"—at least in your opinion.
Travel expert Becca Siegel, of Halfhalftravel.com, previously told Best Life that she was once stopped for trying to take an exfoliant through airport security.
"I once had exfoliating face wash (it has kind of a goopy rather than liquidy texture) tossed away by TSA, much to my dismay!" she said. "Travelers should know that any item that is able to be squirted in a semi-liquid state is not considered to be a solid item when going through airport security."
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If you're traveling for a birthday or a holiday, you likely have some presents to take with you—and if you're against checking a bag, you might pop these wrapped goodies into your carry-on. But travel experts advise against this, as wrapped items could land you in hot water with TSA.
Nelson recommends waiting to package up your presents until after your flight (even if you want to be one step ahead).
"If a wrapped gift looks suspicious on an x-ray machine, the only person unwrapping your perfectly wrapped gift will be the TSA screening agent," she says.
Taylor Beal, owner and author of the travel blog Traverse With Taylor, also advises against pre-wrapped items—especially if they're considered liquids.
"Local jams and mustards are a popular thing to bring back from Amsterdam—they pair perfectly with Dutch cheese!" she shares. "But make sure they get packed into your checked luggage, because they are considered liquids—even if they're shrink-wrapped in a gift set and completely sealed!"
When you think of Christmas "crackers," your mind might go to some festive food, but these crackers are actually cardboard cylinders that are pulled open to reveal a small gift inside. They're often used as table decorations, and while they're more popular in the U.K. and Canada than in the U.S., you've likely seen them during the holiday season.
If you're in charge of supplying them, though, they're not getting past TSA.
"Crackers are so named because of the 'cracking' noise they make as they are pulled, which is created by a small amount of gunpowder," Broussard explains. "As a result, most airlines are extremely cautious about letting passengers bring crackers on board."
According to TSA, these novelties aren't permitted in your carry-on luggage or your checked bags. And don't pack bang snaps—those small fireworks that make a snapping noise when thrown against hard surfaces—either.
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Small metal tools
It's common sense that any weapon shouldn't be brought to the airport (unless you've followed instructions to transport it properly), but TSA has a wider definition of what can actually be used as a weapon—similar to those 2-pound weights. Deitsch recommends looking out for "small metal tools of any type."
"If you are flying with your guitar and you have extra tuning keys, wire clippers, or any little metal objects, it's best to put these in your checked luggage, even if they seem inoffensive," she says. "This is especially true if you are entering a foreign country and there is a language barrier."
Corkscrews are a bit tricky, as they're not allowed if they have a blade, per TSA, but if they don't have a blade, they're safe to take through security. Swiss Army Knives will be confiscated as well, as the agency says that only "plastic or round bladed butter knives" can come through a checkpoint. When putting them in your checked bag, make sure that they're "sheathed or securely wrapped to prevent injury to baggage handlers and inspectors," per TSA's requirements.
If you have concerns about what you're packing, TSA makes it pretty easy to search for items on its website. For items that you can't find listed, take a picture or send a question to AskTSA on Twitter or Facebook Messenger, the agency says.