Can we let you in on one of the best-kept airline secrets? Instead of overpaying for a soggy sandwich at your terminal, or shelling out $15 for a salad once you get on the plane, you can actually take your own food through security and onto your flight. USA Today reports that officially, there are no restrictions on how much food you can take with you. “You can pack as much food into your carry-on as you need or want. Technically there’s nothing to stop you from filling your entire bag with sandwiches, potato chips, or chocolate chip cookies, so long as your bag does not exceed the allowed dimensions,” the publication explains.
Most people probably won’t do that. But if you want to take a snack or a meal with you the next time you fly, you should learn which foods airlines allow on board. They’ll probably surprise you!
TSA agents will let you take a sandwich through the security checkpoint and onto the plane with you. The agency has specifically stated that it also allows travelers to pack a cheeseburger in their carry-on bags, too, according to Consumerist reports. It seems a little surprising that the question, apparently, comes up. (We can’t quite imagine that a cheeseburger tastes good cold.) Just remember that you need to wrap sandwiches and cheeseburgers. “No loose sandwiches or cheeseburgers in your bag, please,” Consumerist writes. “And you’ll have to get ketchup, mayo, or mustard packs after you get through the checkpoint.”
2. Instant noodles
You probably can’t take a container of authentic ramen through airport security. (After all, the broth forms an integral part of this Japanese dish, and the TSA doesn’t take too kindly to travelers who try to get through security with large containers of liquid.) However, The Houston Press says that the instant kind of ramen noodles is a straightforward (if not particularly healthy) meal for travelers to pack. Just ask for hot water when the flight attendants come around with the beverage cart.
3. Cakes or pies
Need to throw a surprise party for a friend when you get off the plane? (Or maybe you want to celebrate with your group on board the plane?) The TSA won’t stop you from stowing a cake or a pie in your carry-on bag, according to Consumerist. However, be careful about packing a pie that’s topped with meringue or one that has a cream filling. Things might get a little dicey if a TSA agent thinks the filling or topping is too much like a liquid.
4. ‘Creamy’ cheeses
Cheese connoisseurs might assume that soft cheese are off limits when they’re packing food to enjoy on board the plane or while they’re waiting at the gate. But you can actually pack the makings for an elaborate cheese plate and still get through the security checkpoint without issue. Condé Nast Traveler reports that you can even pack Limburger cheese if you want to. (Luckily, Saveur recommends serving cheese at room temperature.) The TSA explains that you can pack “creamy” cheeses in your carry-on bag — so long as you choose an amount smaller than 3.4 ounces (the upper limit for a container of liquid). Solid cheeses, on the other hand, aren’t subject to the same restrictions.
5. Creamy dips and spreads
Similarly, the TSA will actually allow you to take creamy dips and spreads through airport security — so long as they’re in containers 3.4 ounces or smaller and go in the plastic bag with all your other liquids (and liquid-like substances). Want to snack on hummus and pita at the gate? Go right ahead. Planning to eat a bagel and cream cheese when you get on the plane, or need some ranch dressing to accompany your celery and carrot sticks? The TSA won’t stop you.
Ever wished you could stow a cup of your favorite coffee in your carry-on to get you through an early-morning flight? You can — so long as by “cup” you don’t actually mean 8 ounces. The TSA reports that while you can pack any amount of liquid coffee in a checked bag, you’ll have to limit yourself to 3.4 ounces in your carry-on. So you’ll probably need to stick to a shot or two of espresso.
7. Fresh eggs
One of the more surprising breakfast foods that you can take through airport security is fresh eggs. The TSA doesn’t even have any special instructions for this item. We wouldn’t necessarily recommend packing a carton of raw eggs, especially if you don’t want them to end up all over your clothes and your suitcase. But hard-boiled eggs, for instance, make a nutritious, easy-to-eat snack that you can enjoy at the gate, on the plane, or at your destination when you arrive.
8. Fresh meat
Another surprising food you can pack in your carry-on bag? Fresh meat. We’re not surprised that the TSA permits fresh vegetables and fruits. (After all, those make great, nutritious snacks, and they usually aren’t very messy to pack or eat.) But most travelers probably don’t know that the agency also allows fresh meat. However, if you pack it on ice or ice packs, you need to make sure the ice or ice packs are completely frozen at the time of screening. You can also pack them on dry ice.
9. Fresh and live seafood
Planning a big seafood dinner when you get to your destination? Turns out that you can probably do your grocery shopping ahead of time. The New York Times reported that TSA agents at Boston Logan International recently encountered a 20-pound live Atlantic lobster — and let him through the checkpoint. The TSA explains that they’ll allow a live lobster through airport security if it’s “transported in a clear, plastic, spill proof container.” However, the agency also recommends that travelers ask the airline about its policy before arriving, lobster in tow, at the airport.
10. An entire meal
Whatever your favorite meal is, TSA will probably let you take it through the security checkpoint — as long as there’s no liquid involved. The agency explains that it allows “cooked meat, seafood, and vegetable[s]” but specifies that the container needs to have “no liquid.” Trying to decide on a meal you can eat on the plane? Try a ploughman’s lunch. Or follow chefs’ advice to The New York Times and try whole grain pasta with a separate container of tomatoes and vegetables, a sandwich made with crusty bread and charcuterie, or whole grain salads as an alternative to leafy greens that tend to wilt.
Sushi is another delicious meal that some chefs take through airport security and onto the plane, The New York Times learned. Your safest bet is vegetable-based sushi, since you’ll have fewer food safety issues to deal with if you forego the seafood entirely. You can easily make your own sushi at home and then pack your favorites with you on your next flight.
The TSA also won’t stop you from taking pizza through airport security and on board your plane. The agency reports that it allows pizza in both carry-on and checked bags. And it doesn’t seem to have any restrictions or special instructions in place, either. We’d just advise showing consideration to your fellow passengers and their noses when choosing your toppings — especially if you normally love some of the most hated pizza toppings.
13. A Thanksgiving turkey
If you ever need to fly to a different city and then cook a Thanksgiving meal, TSA agents won’t stand between you and your turkey. The Los Angeles Times reports that you can pack a cooked or frozen turkey into your carry-on luggage. You can’t get more than 3.4 ounces of gravy through the security checkpoint. However, Travel + Leisure reports that there are plenty of other Thanksgiving foods that you can get through airport security, such as cornbread stuffing, roasted Brussel sprouts, or even homemade Parker house rolls.
14. Ice cream
Ever wished you could enjoy some ice cream either on your plane or at your gate? You can actually make that happen pretty easily. The TSA explains that it allows ice cream in carry-on items so long as these “frozen liquid items” are “frozen solid when presented for screening. If frozen liquid items are partially melted, slushy, or have any liquid at the bottom of the container, they must meet 3-1-1 liquids requirements.”
Okay, it’s not technically food. Still, travelers who like drinking a cocktail on board their plane will probably be happy to learn that small bottles of alcoholic beverages are actually allowed in carry-on bags. The TSA’s website explains that “mini bottles of alcohol in carry-on must be able to comfortably fit into a single quart-sized bag.” (The same bag you use for the rest of your liquids.) Just note that it’s technically illegal to consume your own alcohol on board, so you should probably be discreet.