Commercial airlines have become more and more accessible these days, which means that more travelers need to get accustomed to the rules and regulations governing these trips. And you really can’t blame airlines and the government for imposing strict security measures, because we all want to be and feel safe whenever we fly.

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One particularly tricky topic is bringing liquids on a plane. So many passengers end up having to leave behind bottles of liquid at security checks because they turn out to be prohibited, regardless of how valuable they can be, which can be quite inconvenient. That’s why it’s very important for you to know what exactly you can carry on a plane, so you don’t end up having to leave stuff behind.

Why are liquids regulated by the TSA?

There are a lot of explanations as to why large amounts of liquids are dangerous on a plane, but the security measure imposed by the TSA was initially the result of an incident back in August 10, 2006, which was referred to as the “Liquid Bomb Plot.” It seems that the government uncovered a terrorist plot to blow up multiple jets on that day. The bombs contained hydrogen peroxide, a liquid substance that the perpetrators planned to sneak in, concealed in a soda bottle, assembling the explosive once they had boarded the plane.

Shortly after the incident, the response by the government was quite extreme. Passengers were not allowed to bring anything larger than a purse on the plane with them. Even pens were not allowed on board. Mobile phones had to be checked in as well, and this resulted in many passengers losing their phones.

Fortunately, these restrictions eased up after a while, but the regulation on liquids remained. Ten or so years later, many people have argued that the threat doesn’t really exist anymore. But whether or not the security measure on liquids is reasonable, the fact remains that it is there, and you’ll just have to deal with it for now.

Rules on carrying liquids on a plane

The rules on bringing liquids on flights is often referred to as the TSA’s 3-1-1 rule. The numbers on the rule represent the core elements of what you’re supposed to keep in mind:

- Each liquid must be in a container that’s 3.4 oz or less (NOTE: the rule refers to the container, not the amount of liquid);

- All liquid containers must be placed in (1) plastic bag that must be clear and quart sized; and

- Each passenger can only have (1) plastic bag.

Hence, the “3-1-1” rule!

The above rule, however, only applies to liquids you bring with you on your carry-on bags. You can still bring containers larger than 3.4 oz. on your checked-in luggage, so long as they don’t contain prohibited types of liquids, of which there is yet again a separate list. In this case, the liquids don’t have to be in special plastic bags.

Rules on liquids of larger quantities

Travelers are allowed to bring larger containers of certain kinds of liquid, such as baby formula or medication, but these are subject to special screening procedures.

Here are some of the more common examples of liquids that could be brought in quantities greater than 3.4 oz.:

- Drinks for babies (i.e. baby formula, breast milk, juice)

- Liquid nutrition and medication for people with special medical needs

- Prescription and over-the-counter medication

- Liquid cosmetic items

Note that ice can be brought through the security checkpoint so long as it’s frozen (dump out any water before going through the checkpoint).

International inbound flights

There is also a special rule for liquids of more than 3.4 oz. on international inbound flights. Generally, you can bring duty-free liquids in tamper-evident bags subject to the following conditions:

- The liquids were purchased during a connecting flight and you were flying to the United States

- The containers must be secure and show no signs of tampering

- The original receipt must be presented, indicating that the purchase was made no more than 48 hours before

Otherwise, these must be checked in with your luggage.

Make sure to read more about the 3-1-1 rule as well as the comprehensive list of prohibited liquids and other items on the TSA’s official website.

Some useful travel tips

When travelling with liquids, you might find these tips useful:

- Pack what you absolutely need: We tend to bring our favorite brand of shampoo or similar liquid with us when we travel, but if you can get by without, then just stick with the hotel shampoo. The less you bring the better.

- You might be better off buying stuff at your destination: Any liquid you might need during your stay is probably available at your destination, so you might not need to bring any yourself. It’ll save you the hassle of checking in liquids.

- Buy travel-sized bottles: These useful things are now available in almost any department store, grocery store, and pharmacy. You can buy them in all shapes, colors, and sizes, and even get them in packs. They’re a pretty good investment if you travel a lot, and they make great gift ideas for fellow travelers as well.

Following the 3-1-1 rule on liquids is important to avoid not only hassles at the airport, but also any legal penalties as well. Remember that violations of these regulations could make you liable for certain penalties. So, it definitely pays to take the time to learn the rules on bringing liquids.