Everything You Need to Know About Airport Liquid Restrictions
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In today’s globalised world, travel for pleasure, business, and study is becoming cheaper and therefore abundantly more accessible. This heightened accessibility has the huge benefit of generating enthusiasm for global cultures, languages, and ecosystems, allowing not only for a closer, more deeply interconnected world, but a greater understanding of the environmental protections that are necessary to contribute to a cleaner, greener earth. However, the frequent globetrotting that, in 2016 alone, saw approximately 35.8 million flights navigate the skies, inevitably contributes to a frenetic security control system. This security system is forced not only to make regular rule modifications in accordance with the changing landscape of the aviation industry, but also to implement policies that – just to take the confusion levels up to 11– frequently vary from place to place. One of the most confusing of these policies pertains to liquids, aerosols, and gels.
If all this stokes your travel anxieties and threatens to hold you back from your dream adventure, fear no more, because we’ve gathered and demystified the supremely confusing yet fundamental liquid information that is key to enabling you to fly through airport security with all of the confidence and none of the hassle.
There’s never been a better time to hit the road (or the skies), so check out this handy information and start travelling with confidence.
Carrying liquids, aerosols and gels in carry-on luggage:
Flights have been monitoring the amount and type of liquids that can be carried into a plane’s cabin since 2006 and the rule, understandably, has been confusing hordes of travellers ever since. Liquid restrictions do vary from country to country, but the rule that should be memorised before any air travel is undertaken is the Transport Security Administration’s (TSA) so-called 3-1-1 rule. This refers to the practice of carrying 3.4 ounce (100ml) bottles in 1 quart-sized, plastic, zip-lock bag, restricted to 1 bag per passenger. Although the details of the wording may change – Melbourne and Heathrow airports, for example, specify clear bags not exceeding 20cm x 20cm (8in x 8in) – the general concept is the same and it is, therefore, safe to assume that any liquids (including creams, gels, and pastes) exceeding 100ml or unable to fit in your 20cm x 20cm bag will either need to be packed into your checked luggage or surrendered at the security checkpoint prior to scanning. Remember that bottles cannot exceed the size limit even if they are only partially full.
Relatively easy, right? Well, unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), there are some obvious but relatively confusing exceptions to this rule:
Virtually all countries and airlines allow necessary medicinal liquids to be carried into the cabin, although you should check with your airport to ascertain the exact rules, as some may be stricter than others. Melbourne Airport, for instance, states:
Prescription medicines may be taken in your carry on luggage when presented with a letter from your doctor. Non-prescription medicines are also exempt, though you may only carry the amount required for the duration of your flight on board. You may also carry medical items such as sprays, insulin, contact lens solution and cough syrups.
Compare this to Heathrow:
You are only permitted to carry quantities of liquid medication in excess of your personal liquid allowance where it is needed during the course of your flight. All medication should be accompanied by documentary proof of authenticity, such as a prescription or letter from a medical practitioner confirming that you need them for your journey.
Our recommendation: Play it safe and obtain a doctor’s note and/or valid prescription for all medicines exceeding the 100ml limit. If possible, keep your medications in their original packaging, complete with affixed prescription information.
Duty-free goods purchased at the airport:
Airports, like any business, want your money, but where liquids are concerned there are some general points to keep in mind. According to the TSA, duty-free liquids exceeding the 100ml limit can be carried in carry-on luggage if:
- The duty-free liquids were purchased internationally and you are traveling to the United States with a connecting flight.
- The liquids are packed in a transparent, secure, tamper-evident bag by the retailer and do not show signs of tampering when presented to TSA for screening.
- The original receipt for the liquids is present and the purchase was made within 48 hours.
Melbourne Airport elaborates slightly, noting that on direct flights there ‘are no restrictions as to what you may purchase after security …’ and that on flights with a stopover there are only restrictions ‘if you want to carry these items beyond your first stop,’ in which case you should seek further information from staff due to varying regulations. Indeed, as Melbourne Airport itself notes, ‘If you are transiting in Melbourne, you will need to pass through international security screening. This means that any items over 100ml will need to be surrendered at this point.’
Our recommendation: Only purchase duty-free liquid goods at the last leg of your journey. In other words, avoid purchasing them on connecting flights.
Don’t worry, your airline isn’t going to let your bundle of joy go hungry! In fact, Melbourne Airport carries exemptions for products including ‘baby milk, sterilised water, baby food and wet wipes,’ while the TSA similarly notes that ‘formula, breast milk, juice in quantities greater than 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters are allowed in carry-on baggage and do not need to fit within a quart-sized bag … You do not need to travel with your child to bring breast milk.’
Our recommendation: Play it safe by checking your airline’s official policy on carrying baby products, as the quantity permitted and other small details can vary from place to place.
Some countries, like Australia and Vietnam, have abolished liquid restrictions on domestic flights, meaning that liquids of any quantity, with the exception of potentially explosive or flammable ones that are already subject to restrictions, can be carried on board your flight. Before you start cheering, however, it’s important to note that even these exemptions come with further, somewhat infuriating asterisks. For instance, the Australian Government specifies that passengers ‘travelling domestically, but departing from an international terminal … are subject to liquid, aerosol and gel restrictions.’ This once again demonstrates just how important it is to do your research prior to embarking on your journey.
Just give me the facts:
If in doubt, it’s best to play it safe and abide by the few rules that seem relatively standard across the globe. Some points to remember:
- Store only 100ml bottles in carry on luggage. Bottles cannot hold more than 100ml even if they are only partially full.
- Ensure these bottles fit into a clear 20cm x 20cm zip-lock, such as a regular sandwich bag.
- Items should fit snuggly and the bag must be able to close.
- If carrying exempt items such as medication, alert a security staff member prior to scanning. Try to leave medication in its original packaging and take along a doctor’s note.
- Consider carrying an empty drink bottle through security, as you will be able to fill it up prior to your flight.
- Ensure all aerosols are fitted with their matching lid.
- Check flammable and other liquid restrictions so as not to carry any dangerous goods on board.
- Note that some reasonably solid items, like lipstick, are subject to liquid restrictions.
- Be mindful when purchasing duty-free liquids and consider leaving your shopping until the last leg of your journey.
So how do we do it?:
Don’t despair yet, because it’s actually relatively easy to become a pro at packing your inflight liquid bag!
In our experience, the best method for a successful carry on is to carefully consider your options. For example, bar soap, solid crystallised stick deodorant, and solid shampoo bars are great alternatives to their liquid counterparts that will help you free up space in your zip-lock toiletry bag. If no alternative exists or if you prefer to carry the liquid version, simply squeeze a small quantity of whatever shampoo, sunscreen, moisturiser etc. you already have at home into TSA compliant travel bottles, which should ensure easy scanning at airport security.
If you have to leave something behind, try not to worry, as you’ll likely find it easy to stock up when you arrive at your destination. In fact, if you’re staying in one location for a while or travelling predominantly via ground transport, it can actually be helpful to buy large bottles when you first arrive. After all, bulk purchases are typically cheaper than their travel-sized counterparts, and buying large quantities will ensure you don’t run out of anything throughout your trip. Simply keep your travel bottles on hand and refill them before you need to jump back on a plane.
To clear security more quickly and easily than ever before and to avoid time-consuming spills, we recommend travelling with easy-fill, non-drip bottles that fall within the accepted 100ml range. This is where the new Scrubba squeeze bottle triple packs come in. Small, light, and ideal for carrying laundry detergent for simple use with your Scrubba wash bag, these oh-so-packable bottles make it easy to ditch the excess baggage and travel clean, light and free with confidence!