Certain exceptions of the 3-1-1 carry-on rule

In his May ’07 “Discerning Traveler” column, Philip Wagenaar described how, when going through security checkpoints at airports, anywhere, he places on the moving belt, for inspection, his quart-sized zip-lock see-through baggie with sundries in it, each of the sundry containers capable of holding no more than three ounces of liquid or gel, of course. Next to that, again for the inspectors to see, he places a 4-ounce bottle of contact lens solution.

He explained that the Transportation Security Administration website, www.tsa.gov, under the heading “Travelers with Disabilities & Medical Conditions,” states that — in certain circumstances — containers capable of holding more than three ounces are allowed in carry-ons in airplane cabins.

Since this seems to go against the very logic of restricting container sizes in carry-ons for security purposes, ITN asked Dr. Wagenaar to provide more information on the subject.


As most travelers know, the TSA’s 3-1-1-directive states the following: you can bring on the plane 3-ounce or smaller containers of liquids, creams, gels or aerosols, such as shampoo, toothpaste, makeup, etc.; you must use a 1-quart-size, clear-plastic zip-top bag to hold the 3-ounce or smaller containers, and 1 zip-top bag is allowed per passenger.

I always remove the 3-1-1 bag from my carry-on, place it in a bin and put the contact lens saline solution, in its original 4-ounce bottle, in the same bin right next to it. I do not “verbally” declare it. I have never had any problems; no screener has ever given it a second look, as it is absolutely legal. This has been the case at both U.S. and overseas airports. I have not tried this with a bottle larger than four ounces.

I called the number for the TSA (866/289-9673) provided on the website and was told that a 4-ounce bottle poses no problems. When I asked if I could bring an 8-ounce bottle, the agent said that the regulations do not prohibit this. When I asked if I could bring more than one oversize bottle, I was given the same answer. Of course, what somebody says on the telephone may not pan out in actual practice, as the airport screener has the final say.

Following are excerpts from the TSA website:

1. Each traveler must remove their quart-sized plastic, zip-top bag from their carry-on and place it in a bin or on the conveyor belt for x-ray screening… .

Please keep in mind that these rules were developed after extensive research and understanding of current threats. They are intended to help air travelers bring essential toiletries and other liquids, gels and aerosols for short trips. If you need larger amounts of liquids, gels and aerosols such as toothpaste or shampoo, please place them in your luggage and check them with your airline.

2. Additionally, we are continuing to permit prescription liquid medications and other liquids needed by persons with disabilities and medical conditions.

However, if the liquid medications are in volumes larger than three ounces each, they may not be placed in the quart-size bag and must be declared to the Transportation Security Officer. A declaration can be made verbally, in writing or by a person’s companion, caregiver, interpreter or family member.

Declared liquid medications and other liquids for disabilities and medical conditions must be kept separate from all other property submitted for x-ray screening.

The TSA website also states the following:

To ensure the health and welfare of certain air travelers, in the absence of suspicious activity or items, greater than three ounces of the following liquids, gels and aerosols are permitted through the security checkpoint in reasonable quantities for the duration of your itinerary:

• Baby formula, breast milk, and juice, if a baby or small child is traveling;

• All prescription and over-the-counter medications (https://www.tsa.gov/travel/special-procedures) (liquids, gels and aerosols), including KY jelly, eyedrops and saline solution for medical purposes;

• Liquids including water, juice or liquid nutrition or gels for passengers with a disability or medical condition;

• Life-support and life-sustaining liquids such as bone marrow, blood products and transplant organs;

• Items used to augment the body for medical or cosmetic reasons, such as mastectomy products, prosthetic breasts, bras or shells containing gels, saline solution or other liquids, and

• Gels or frozen liquids needed to cool disability or medically related items used by persons with disabilities or medical conditions.

You are allowed reasonable amounts over three ounces of the items above in your carry-on baggage, but you will need to perform the following:

• Separate these items from the liquids, gels and aerosols in your quart-size and zip-top bag.

• Declare you have the items to one of the security officers at the security checkpoint.

• Present these items for additional inspection once reaching the x-ray. These items are subject to additional screening.


The TSA website states that, once cleared through screening, food items also are allowed. The food has to be x-rayed and must be wrapped or inside a container. While a half-eaten fruit has to be covered, unpeeled produce does not.

Although you cannot carry aboard water bottles, etc., that you brought from home, you can take food or drinks obtained AFTER going through security. These items include bottles of water as well as sandwiches and hot food. (I suggest you avoid bringing anything that has an odor to it as it may offend your “next-door neighbor.”)

The TSA website also posted the following item:

3-1-1 Gains International Acceptance (June 2007)… Countries around the world support TSA’s approach to reducing the amount of liquids, gels and aerosols passengers can bring in their carry-ons… TSA implemented the 3-1-1 policy in response to the thwarted liquid explosive bomb plot in the United Kingdom in August of 2006. Today, the widespread acceptance of that policy demonstrates the international understanding of the threat to aviation from liquid explosives.

Countries that are currently harmonized with TSA’s rules for carrying liquids through the checkpoint include Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Brazil, Canada, Cape Verde, China, Cook Islands, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, French Polynesia, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Marshall Islands, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.

Note that although the TSA regulations recently have been emulated by a number of other countries, the actual physical screening at overseas airports often is somewhat lackadaisical.

In further perusing the TSA website, I found that aerosol insecticides are prohibited in both checked and carry-on luggage. I wondered if that included insect repellents, which are not insecticides but are vital in preventing insect-borne diseases. (Note that personal aerosol items, such as hairspray and deodorant in limited quantities, are allowed.)

When I called the TSA for clarification, I was told that insect aerosols are not allowed. Period!

Fortunately, there is a way around this. Many drugstores as well as the company REI (Sumner, WA; 800/426-4840, www.rei.com) carry insect repellent sticks, creams, liquids, lotions and spray pumps in sizes allowed in the zip-top bag. If the available ones happen to be too large, you can transfer the contents into empty containers of three ounces or less.

Also consider using permethrin, which is available as a garment spray or in already impregnated ready-to-wear clothes.

By keeping all of the above in mind, you can once again waltz through the airport in comfort!


Contributing Editor