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Easing Packing Luggage for Air Travel Pains 1: Knowing Your Limits

Updated on June 27, 2011

A lot of travelers know all too well about the hassle of packing their luggage for air travel. Why? If they have a lot of outfits to suit the place they are going, like tuxedos for white-tie galas or unitards for dance conventions, chances are that they’ll face capacity problems in their bags.

Also, they have to know what to pack in their carry-on luggage or else they will have a tough time at the security checkpoints at their international airports. What I mean by that is that they will be screen further, patted down, or worse – be denied from flying to that dream destination.

Those hassles of packing before flying raises this eternal question: how to do it? First, let’s examine the rules for a safe and effective flight.

Meet the (Gulp) TSA!

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) can be either your friends or foes. It can be your companions because they ensure us safe flights. It wants us to fly without problems or worry.

So why are some people considering this agency as their enemies? Some of them accuse them of sexual harassment because they randomly strip search them, pat them down, and do other security measures they find uncomfortable.

But screening of bags, both carry-ons and checked luggage, is another TSA complaint. No longer can you put your liquid candy, shampoo bottles, and what not (which are liquids) at free will. You have to put them in something where they can screen them at security checkpoints. For those packing at the last minute, it's a pain in the neck.

But the packing problem is not just gels and liquids. There are things that can be screened at their own discretion. One boy's play dough was confiscated because they suspect that it might be an explosive, for instance.

With all the stories on packing for the flight being too horrid to read, what are the rules of packing? How can we all abide by them so that we can make TSA more like our helpers rather than harmful people?

Here's an Example of Certain Things That are Only Allowed in Checked Bags

Utility knives, like this one, cannot be carried in your carry-on, but you can place it in your bag for checking.
Utility knives, like this one, cannot be carried in your carry-on, but you can place it in your bag for checking.

What You Can't Bring

There are certain items which you can't tote at all when flying on an airplane, whether you plan to put it in your carry-on or checked bag. Explosives, fireworks, and paint thinners, just to name a few, should not be packed at all.

In carry-ons, you can't bring along martial arts items (like billy clubs), hand weights, and other things that are considered insecure (and also bulky). Scissors are OK in them, but they should measure less than four inches.

Carrying your Shampoo, Toothpaste, and So On?

Either put it in your checked bag or follow the 3-1-1 rule. Buy bottles measuring at most 3 ounces of the toiletries and put them in a quart-size zipper-top bag as shown.
Either put it in your checked bag or follow the 3-1-1 rule. Buy bottles measuring at most 3 ounces of the toiletries and put them in a quart-size zipper-top bag as shown.

What the Heck is A 3-1-1?

People are asking, "What is a 3-1-1?" The TSA is referring to the simple rule called "3-1-1 for Carry-Ons:" bottles measuring at most 3 ounces (preferably at most 3 ounces) in a quart-size zip-top plastic bag in one carry-on per person. The quart-size bag is then removed from the bag into the security bin or screening conveyor belt to be screened.

So why abide by 3-1-1? In August, 2006, the TSA once banned all liquids on carry-ons in light of an exposed terror plot when terrorists tried to sneak in liquid explosives in the United Kingdom. So much for bringing that important bottle of breast milk for your baby when they once implemented that rule.

But in September of that year, that changed - security workers urged travelers to put small bottles of whatever liquids items or gel products in a clear bag to be screened. They don't want the hassle of screening bags with bottles strewn inside one at a time to slow security lines.

We Know that It's A Pain, But 3-1-1 Ensures Us a Safe Flight!

But what about liquids that exceed 3 ounces, like baby formula and medicine for allergies? Travelers should declare (that means show) them to the security officers when it's their turn to be checked. They might open them to inspect them even further.

As for deodorant, it's a shady case, even with solid stick types. Some security staff members consider it as a liquid, while some don't, so put it in your checked or quart-size bag just in case.

For duty-free liquid items, they should be put in tamper-proof bags to be checked in airports outside the US, especially if they exceed 3-1-1. Ask the store if they have it, but if they don't, then forget about shopping there for that Eau-de-Something that makes you smell great. But the safest thing to do is to wait until you have reached your destination to buy those items.

As for gift items containing liquids, like salsa and canned food, they should be put in checked bags should they exceed the rule as well.

What Size and Weight Baggage Should I Bring?

This is what many people dread when flying: more than one piece of luggage, checked or carry-on, and overstuffed bags.

Airlines have varying degrees on how much should your baggage weigh, how does it cost to bring that extra bag, and how big it is (length + width + height). If yours exceeds those tabs, chances are that you'll be paying extra for that overstuffed suitcase. Checking bags can also drain the wallet, as fees vary by airline, and expect to pay more for oversized ones.

But as for carry-ons, they have virtually the same rules. They also have to be at or below a certain weight and meet a certain size. Additionally, air travelers are limited to one each and a personal item (such as certain electronic items like a gaming console or that flashy purse).

If you want a painless flight to and from your desired place, read the policy and fees for excess or overweight baggage on your airline's website. You'll know beforehand that packing lightly is about to take a big role.

Most travelers think that the skies are frenemies rather than the friendly skies they hear about over and over again. The rules on baggage and liquids implemented by the TSA and airlines are the reasons why they have trouble flying. But if you, the traveler who has to fly to your brother’s funeral or that dance convention, know them ahead of time, you’ll be ready to tackle the security lines and save time and money.


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    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 6 years ago from Germany

      Great and useful hub. It is good to know what we are allowed to when travelling by air. It does not matter to me how strict the luggage control is as long as I am safe with my flight. Thanks for sharing.