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This TSA PreCheck Secret Is Going Viral

A TikTok user has created quite the heated debate about carry-on liquids.

Air travel in 2022 has become a nightmare for a lot of travelers. From canceled flights to lost luggage, horrendous wait times, and myriad other issues, airports are more stressful than ever. Still, for the tens of millions of people who have TSA PreCheck, traveling can be slightly less anxiety-inducing.

Since its launch at the end of 2013, the TSA PreCheck program has made moving through security a simple process. According to TSA, as of March 2020, a staggering 94% of PreCheck holders had to wait less than five minutes in security. From personal experience, that seems to still be the case even as airports become more and more crowded. More than two million PreCheck users per day are utilizing the expedited security service. Yet the security measures themselves seem inconsistent.

In mid-June, this TikTok video by user @nowboardingallgroups about packing her carry-on luggage went viral, sparking a heated debate about TSA rules—and more specifically, TSA PreCheck's liquid regulations for carry-on luggage.

In the video, the creator shows how she packed for two weeks in Italy with just a carry-on, which included a large train case with three compartments for her toiletries. Commenters were quick to point out that the toiletry bag was far more liquids than the TSA allows in carry-on luggage.

The TSA 3-1-1 rule has been in effect since 2006, which dictates that passengers with carry-on luggage can have 3.4 oz liquid containers that fit into one quart-sized bag (3-1-1). Any containers over 3.4 oz must be put in checked baggage.

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While Americans might be intimately familiar with TSA's 3-1-1 rule, it isn't just a United States regulation.

Per R. Carter Langston, TSA spokesperson, the 3-1-1 rule is the international standard. "There is an international security standard that applies to the liquids rule," he tells Best Life. "The volumetric controls were developed following a 2006 plot to sabotage an aircraft by assembling an improvised explosive device using hazardous ingredients carried in seemingly ordinary liquids, aerosols, and gels."

However, in a follow-up post, the same TikToker posted another video in which she shows that she—and all of her carry-on liquids—successfully made it through TSA PreCheck. Commenters agreed it was a secret move that they, too, had done many times in PreCheck with no issues. Others warned that this is a great secret that will get your things confiscated by security.


Reply to @bguz79 Not a single toiletry left behind 😉 #fyp #traveltiktok #tsaprecheck

♬ original sound – Heather K

So does having TSA PreCheck mean certain travelers aren't held to the same regulatory standards as other passengers?

TSA says that isn't the case at all.

"TSA PreCheck passengers must adhere to the same baseline security requirements regarding prohibited items and liquids; however, liquids are allowed to remain in carry-on bags [rather than be removed for screening]," says Langston. He explains that PreCheck allows for expedited screening and does not change the rules for PreCheck holders compared to other travelers.

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Of the nearly two dozen frequent travelers we interviewed, the majority of PreCheck holders acknowledge that the carry-on liquid rules don't seem to be heavily enforced. Most say they try to follow them, while very few ignore them altogether. Several pack small-sized liquids in case they do have to toss some of them at security.

Frequent traveler and musician Alissa Musto said she's had things taken before despite not purposefully violating the regulation. "I'll definitely estimate and take a chance if I believe one of my liquids is slightly oversized," she says. "There have been times my bags have been pulled for a questionably sized liquid." Other times, she's gotten full-sized containers through security.

One PreCheck traveler, who has had a membership since the beginning of the program, says she used to be very careful about following the liquids protocol because the staff was checking very carefully. Now? They don't seem as strict with the 3-1-1 rules, she says. Despite having a mix of wet and dry products in 3-5 ziplock bags, she's never had to repack the liquids together.

"I've been traveling 1-2 times every couple of months for the last seven years and I've had mixed experiences with the rule," says the founder of nomad nature travel Alex Gillard. "I've had my bag pulled for having too many 3.4 ounce bottles in a single bag and I've had a bottle of hemp seed essential oil confiscated (after traveling with it internationally no problem) because I told the TSA agent it was 'hempseed' and they fixated on the word 'hemp.'"

Regardless of these personal anecdotes, Langston argues that it's best to just follow the rules.

If you use PreCheck, the program doesn't guarantee you the ability to ignore protocol–even if screening experiences can be a bit inconsistent.

Oversized items risk being confiscated, Langston says, and just because you've gotten away with ignoring the rule in the past doesn't mean you'll get away with it forever.

Amanda Finn
Amanda Finn is an award-winning theater, travel, and lifestyle writer. Read more
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