TSA’s 3-1-1 rule

If you’re like me, you probably think the Transportation Security Administration’s ban on liquids is pretty ridiculous. Their current policy (what they now refer to as “3-1-1”) was implemented in August 2006 after they foiled some liquid-based terrorist plot. Remember that shoe-bomber guy, and how we now have to remove our shoes to go through airport security because of him? I’m just waiting for some terrorist to sharpen the underwire from bras into pointy weapons; I’m sure the TSA can’t wait to prohibit women from wearing bras. These inconveniences are like death by 1,000 paper cuts, and the sad part is that it’s being done to us by our own government.

All complaining aside, if you find yourself having to fly, you will need to mind their 3-1-1 policy for taking liquids with you on the flight. Here’s how the TSA explains it:

Make Your Trip Better Using 3-1-1

  • 3-1-1 for carry-ons = 3 ounce bottle or less (by volume) ; 1 quart-sized, clear, plastic, zip-top bag; 1 bag per passenger placed in screening bin. One-quart bag per person limits the total liquid volume each traveler can bring. 3 oz. container size is a security measure.
  • Consolidate bottles into one bag and X-ray separately to speed screening.
  • Be prepared. Each time TSA searches a carry-on it slows down the line. Practicing 3-1-1 will ensure a faster and easier checkpoint experience.
  • 3-1-1 is for short trips. If in doubt, put your liquids in checked luggage.
  • Declare larger liquids. Medications, baby formula and food, breast milk, and juice are allowed in reasonable quantities exceeding three ounces and are not required to be in the zip-top bag. Declare these items for inspection at the checkpoint.

There’s actually quite a lot you can do within their allowed parameters, and I’ll be going over each of these steps in detail separately:

  • Use a nondisposable plastic bag. There are way better alternatives that let you fit your bottles better.
  • Pack liquids in your own containers
  • Reduce the number of items that are in liquid form
  • If you’re traveling with a partner or a group (such as a family), each person can carry a 3-1-1 bag, so consider distributing liquids evenly among all party members.
  • Don’t bother carrying the stuff with you; that is, ship it, buy it there, store it there, or go without.


  1. Lani, what’s your source for the statement that juice is allowed through security? I’ve yet to find a TSA flunky who will allow any sort of bottled beverage.

    We were quite pleased to discover that contact lens solution doesn’t count towards the 3-1-1 allotment.

  2. If you’re talking about the quote from TSA about juice, it falls under the “baby food” section. From what I can tell, it’s specifically having to do with medical issues or with feeding baby. So a regular traveler would not be allowed to do so unless they were diabetic and they had a note from the doctor. And you’d have to declare it separately and have them hand-inspect.

  3. Lani, my experience is the same as Andrew’s. I have never seen a bottled drink of any kind allowed. In fact, they’ll have a garbage can right at the check and boarding gates where the inspections are being made. I’ve seen people throw out unopened bottles of juice and water that they just bought to take on the flight.

  4. Andrew and Jibba — The information about juice is related specifically to their consumption by babies as part of their food supply. The tips in the post are direct quotes from the TSA’s Web site (link).

    Interestingly enough, from the time I posted the entry and today, they have quietly removed “juice” from the sentence. If you take a look, the sentence is identical except for that.

    However, the TSA now has a full page devoted specifically to breast milk, baby food, and juice, in quantities larger than 3 ounces (link).

    The most relevant portion is as follows:

    When traveling with your infant or toddler, in the absence of suspicious activity or items, greater than 3 ounces of baby formula, breast milk, or juice are permitted through the security checkpoint in reasonable quantities for the duration of your itinerary, if you perform the following:

    1. Separate these items from the liquids, gels, and aerosols in your quart-size and zip-top bag.
    2. Declare you have the items to one of our Security Officers at the security checkpoint.
    3. Present these items for additional inspection once reaching the X-ray. These items are subject to additional screening.

    So the policy is definitely not that juice in large quantities can be brought indiscriminantly. It has to be part of the baby’s diet for the part of the trip that involves air travel, and it cannot be packed in with the rest of the liquid bottles. If you are not traveling with a baby or toddler you would not be allowed at all.

  5. I know that my roommate was diabetic and allowed to bring juice with her when we were traveling as per a doctor’s note. But that is the least of her worries with also having to get her insulin kit through security. I agree that you should just buy the majority of stuff there – mini shampoo bottles can be used and disposed of before getting back on the plane!

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