Elyse Welles was traveling from Athens to Newark this spring when it finally happened: she was set aside for an extra security check at her gate.
After searching Ms. Welles’ backpack for some time, the officer finally grabbed a bullet-shaped vibrator from the bag and waved it in the air. “Is this an e-cigarette?” the agent asked. “No, it’s a sex toy,” she replied with a smile, whereupon her personal items were promptly returned to her and she was free to go.
Ms. Welles, a writer and life coach who lives in Artemida, Greece, said she didn’t think twice about traveling with her vibrator in tow.
As the number of air travelers rises, returns to almost prepandemic levels, as well as questions about flight protocols and rules — especially what travelers can and cannot take in their carry-on bags when flying within the United States. For example: is guacamole a solid or a liquid? (It’s a gel subject to the same restrictions as liquids and is not allowed in your carry-on bag unless it’s in a 3.4 ounce container.)
Here’s a guide to help you navigate the more ambiguous carry-on rules – with some quiz questions to test your knowledge.
Can I take my vibrator without causing a scene at security?
Let’s talk a little bit about vibrators. While most sex toys, including vibrators, are allowed in your carry-on, according to the Transportation Security Administration, they can still lead to a stop, as in Ms. Welles’s case. There are some ways to reduce the chances of these awkward encounters, especially if something starts to buzz.
Shan Boodram, an intimacy expert and the host of the podcast Lovers and friends, suggests removing all batteries or batteries from rechargeable toys before packing them. “Or find a hard case to put it in that is slightly larger so that the power button is less likely to be pressed when pressure is applied to your bag,” she said.
There are now also vibrators with built-in travel settings to prevent them from going off at an inopportune moment, such as the Surge silicone rechargeable vibrator, which has a built-in travel lock.
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What’s the liquid rule again?
“The most common mistake we see people make in terms of prohibited items in airports is large liquids, gels and aerosols in carry-on luggage,” said Lisa Farbstein, a spokeswoman for the TSA.
Widely published TSAs 3-1-1 rule specifies that passengers may travel with liquids, gels, and aerosols as long as they are in 3.4-ounce containers in a quart-size resealable bag. So while a bottle of water won’t pass the preflight screening, what about something in a more vague category, like a jar of peanut butter?
“If you can spill it, spread it, spray it, pump it, or pour it,” Ms. Farbstein said, “it’s a liquid, gel, or aerosol.”
This is why a Magic 8 Ball, which is filled with liquid, cannot pass through a TSA checkpoint. The same goes for a snow globe. Unless, of course, as Ms. Farbstein points out, either one is a version small enough to fit in a traveler’s 3-1-1 bag.
Is it okay to fly weed now?
“TSA is not looking for drugs,” Ms Farbstein said. “Our dogs sniff for explosives; they don’t sniff for drugs.”
But just because they aren’t looking for drugs doesn’t mean cops never find them. If they do, TSA officials are required to report suspected violations of the law to police, Ms. Farbstein said. And while marijuana has been legalized for recreational use in 19 states and for medical use in 37, it is still illegal under federal law and is thus restricted in aircraft, even if it is technically legal in both the departure and destination states.
I bought a plant on my trip! Can I take it home?
Some plant lovers may want to fly home with a new addition to their collection.
Plants are allowed on domestic flights as long as they fit in the overhead bin or under the airplane seat, according to the TSA website. Returning with potted plants from abroad is prohibited, but a limited number of bare root plants (not in the open ground) are allowed, provided they meet the certain criteria established by the Animal and Plant Health Inspectorate of the Ministry of Agriculture. There is also Extra information for travelers arriving on the US mainland from Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
“I’m always on the lookout for beautiful, healthy specimens of rare plants, so I enjoy catching them when I see them,” said Lexi Osterhoudt, a Ph.D. student in Columbia University’s Integrated Program in Cellular, Molecular, and Biomedical Studies. Often, she said, her plant souvenirs are impulse purchases she makes while traveling inland, or good finds that are cheaper than they would be if she bought them in New York, where she now lives.
“I’ll wrap the jar in Saran to hold the soil together, put them in a paper bag and stick them under the seat in front of me,” she said.
Is my Harry Potter wand okay?
If more clarification is needed, the TSA has a comprehensive and searchable list where travelers can look up what items they want to take with them. knitting needlesare allowed in your hand luggage, for example, just like live fish, provided they are in water and a clear container. But wait – isn’t there a rule for liquids?
“Live fish are indeed allowed to be transported through a security check,” said Ms Farbstein. “And to keep them alive, of course, they have to be in the water. TSA officers screen the container of water the fish are in. The screening process will take additional time. Live fish in water do not have to follow the 3-1-1 rule.”
Cremated human remains get a little more complicatedwhile cricket bats and cutting boards are best left in checked baggage. Musical instruments like violins are allowed after undergoing TSA screening, but before Brass Instruments, is the suggestion to check them. And if you’re a Harry Potter fan, fear not – wands are allowed on flights.
Despite the TSA’s rules, there’s one item in particular that Ms. Farbstein said she still sees confiscated far too often: knives. “We see knives every day,” she said.
According to Ms. Farbstein, in an average year as many as four tons of different types of knives and large tools are seized at Newark Liberty International Airport. The TSA then ships them in bulk to the state of Pennsylvania, she said, which sells them for a profit at a profit a surplus store in Harrisburg.
Travelers should remember that knives of all types are not allowed on flights, Ms Farbstein said.
Something that won’t be confiscated? A duffel bag with eight rolls of Goetta sausage. However, it can give you the TSA’s Instagram account.
Quiz photos by Tony Cenicola.
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