Carry-On Rules, Tips, and Airport Security Info

Carry On Rules Travel safety, heightened airport security, and carry-on rules are back in the spotlight, so it is now more important than ever to know the rules BEFORE you pack and leave for the airport. A prepared traveler is a smart traveler.

You might be asking yourself, what can I pack in my carry on? What bags can I take on a plane? What can I bring on a plane? You’re not alone. Searches online continue to rise for these and other similar questions which means many people are trying to make sure they understand the rules so their trip goes as smoothly as possible. For answers to these questions and more, check out these carry-on tips and the airport security information below.

Know The TSA Rules

3-1-1 Kits - Bags That Meet Carry On RulesCheck the TSA Website before you pack and leave for your flight. Knowing the procedures in advance will save you time and headaches. The TSA website has all of the information you need to get through security faster including lists of prohibited items, rules for carrying on liquids, tips for traveling with children, and information for travelers with special needs. Some of these guidelines include:

  • The 3-1-1 Rule: 3-1-1 is the name for the rule about carrying liquids on board airplanes. The rule covers ANY liquids including toiletries, drinks, and food. The only exceptions are medications, breast milk, baby formula, juice, and other liquids necessary for travelers with children and travelers with medical conditions and in such cases, the items must be declared for inspection at the checkpoint. The 3-1-1 rule states that you can carry 3 ounce or smaller containers of liquid or gel in a 1 quarter-size clear plastic zip-top bag, and only 1 bag per traveler. The bag must be placed in the security bin (not packed in your carry-on luggage. See our collection of 3-1-1 Kits that meet these TSA guidelines. Many toiletries these days come in travel sizes that meet the 3 oz. requirements. Want to fill your own containers? Lewis N. Clark has a line of containers called GoToobs that are designed just for that purpose.
  • Checkpoint Friendly Laptop Bags: For business travelers and other passengers who carry their computers on board planes, the rules state that you must remove the laptop from the bag and place in security bins separately. The only exception is when a checkpoint friendly laptop bag is used. Not all laptop bags are checkpoint friendly so make sure your bag meets these guidelines (even if the company claims it is checkpoint friendly): 1) bag has a designated laptop-only section 2) The laptop-only section unfolds completely to lie flat on the X-ray belt 3) There are no metal snaps, zippers, or buckles on top, inside, or underneath the laptop-only section 4) No pockets on the inside or outside of the laptop only section 5) Nothing packing in the laptop-only section other than the computer itself.
  • Prohibited and Permitted Items: Packing for your trip and not sure what you can and cannot carry on-board? Be sure to check out the TSA website’s page for Prohibited and Permitted Items.

Check your airline’s website

In addition to reading the TSA rules, you should also check your individual airline for their rules. The airline’s website may list many of the same rules as the TSA, but the site will also provide information specific to their business including checked bag fees, additional fees for in-flight items, travel with pets, checking oversized or bulky items like skis, and, most importantly, carry-on luggage size and weight restrictions. It is particularly important to pay attention to the carry-on limits because even though a company claims their bag is carry-on sized doesn’t mean the airline will allow it to be carried on board – especially if you overstuff it. Be sure to:

  • Weigh your luggage: Use a luggage scale to make sure your bag is under the weight limit – especially if you have a habit of overpacking. Check out our selection of luggage scales.
  • Measure your luggage: Each individual airline has set its own carry-on luggage size requirements so make sure your carry-on luggage fits within those measurements. As a general rule, when shopping for carry-on luggage, look for pieces that are no more than 45 linear inches. This means that the height + width + length of the bag is no more than a total of 45 inches. The luggage you will find in the carry-on category on eBags meets these requirements.

Packing Cubes - Bags That Meet Carry On Rules

Pack Organized

Forgot to remove your 3-1-1 kit? Are you being asked to open your bag so it can be more closely inspected? In the event that you need to open your carry-on bag in the security screening area, make sure you packed in an organized way so you can not only find things easier and quicker, but also so your belongings don’t spill out on the floor. The TSA website recommends packing in layers – clothes then electronics then more clothes then heavier items. Another great way to pack and keep your items safe, organized, and easy to find is to use packing cubes. For more information about packing cubes, read our packing cubes article.

Holiday Travel

Don’t wrap gifts. You hear this tip every holiday, but some people still don’t listen. You will be asked to unwrap your gifts if you do not follow this rule so do not waste your time wrapping ahead of time. The best option if you’re traveling during the holidays is to ship gifts or purchase them at your destination. If you must carry your gift on board, wrap it at your destination.

Want to bring food with you either as a gift or for the holiday dinner? Make sure you check the TSA website for the list of prohibited food items. Remember that liquid foods are subject to the 3-1-1 rule. Consider purchasing the food item at your destination, shipping ahead, or simply leave it at home. If you have purchased a food item at the airport after the security checkpoint, you can carry that item on board your flight.

Check It or Leave It

When in doubt, check it or leave it at home. You’ve scoured the prohibited items list on the TSA website, the airline website doesn’t say anything about it, and you can’t find the information anywhere else. What do you do? Pack it in your checked luggage. Don’t want to pay the checked baggage fee? Leave it at home.



Please note that these guidelines are subject to change so you should check for the most up-to-date information on both your airline’s and the TSA’s website before you pack and leave.

Information sourced from the TSA website:


Written by Shari Mathias


  1. Anne Lively · 01/14/2010

    lol i always try to stay organized like this says but i fail miserably. i guess if you are traveling within the country its not that big of a deal, but, if going abroad it probably is.

  2. Luke Solina · 02/01/2011

    Wow that was odd. I just wrote an really long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyways, just wanted to say excellent blog!

  3. Sally · 05/11/2011

    Too complicated. Im checking my luggage!

  4. Isabella Maria Brown · 06/21/2011

    Hi. I am going on a trip to Washington D.C. on a airplane to visit my cousins and explore Washington D.C. And I am not sure what to bring, I am getting real confused! So I need some tips, and I am going with my brother and aunt. And can I bring pencils, pens, toothpaste, lotion, water, nail polish, nail remover, allergy medicine without a prescription, DSIXL and charger, hair spray, eraser, and other things like these?

  5. Lizzy · 06/22/2011

    Superb writeup, thanks for spending your time to write it.

  6. Shari · 06/22/2011

    Pleaes check the TSA website for specific prohibited items.

  7. Natasha · 12/17/2011

    Thank you for the information in such an easy and friendly format! I’m recommending your website.

  8. Victor M. Mendoza · 01/15/2012

    Can I carry two carry-on’s if they are; (#1) a Camera bag full photography equipment and (#2) a tripot in it’s case on a flight in the country or on a international flight?

  9. Shari · 01/20/2012

    Victor. Please check with your specific airline. They will have the most accurate information for you.

  10. Becky · 04/11/2012

    Ok, I get the 3-1-1 rule and have read the aerosal part, but I am still a little confused can you take hair spray if it is in the 3oz size?

  11. Monica · 06/21/2012

    Are soap bars allowed in a carry on bag?

  12. Michael · 09/26/2012

    I a trying to decide what to buy as an under seat carry on to go with the TLS MINI which will go in the overhead bin. I am considering the TLS CONVERTIBLE BACKPACK, TLS WEEKENDER BACKPACK or the TLS WORKSTATION LAPTOP BACKPACK. I am not sure that the CONVERTIBLE or the WEEKENDER will fit under the seat. I will be flying both domestically and internationally. Can anyone tell me if the CONVERTIBLE or WEKENDER will fit under the seat?

    Thanks for your help


  13. Holiday Packing Tips | eBags Blog · 11/16/2012

    […] including your airline’s rules and the TSA rules about permitted/prohibited items. Read our Carry On Rules post for more […]

  14. Jillian Kreider · 11/17/2012

    hi, i want to bring my laptop with me, but i dont really have a case for it, so what do i do? can i just pack it with my clothes and stuff???

  15. Shari · 11/17/2012

    Hi Jillian. The TSA requires that laptops not in a checkpoint friendly bag be taken out of any carry on bag and put into a bin by themselves. If you pack your laptop in your carry on luggage, it may not be easy to take out quickly at the security checkpoint and put in the bin. A checkpoint friendly laptop bag is the best option for carrying a laptop on a plane. You can read more about them on the TSA website and you can find them here on eBags:

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