Before you are able to board a plane, you will need make sure that you adhere to all the baggage rules and regulations that have been set, regardless if you are flying domestically or internationally, or are only traveling with a carry on bag or are checking a bag in.
These rules and regulations dictate what items can and can’t be brought on a plane, and are strictly enforced to ensure the safety of all passengers.
While violation of these rules and regulations can result in fines and criminal refferal, it’s more likely (depending on what a passenger tried to bring onboard) to result in confiscation of the item.
Table of Contents
- 1 Carry on Baggage Rules and Regulations
- 2 Checked Baggage
- 3 Personal Item Allowances
- 4 TSA PreCheck
- 5 Lost or Damaged Baggage Procedures
- 6 International Baggage Regulations & Restrictions
- 7 Tips for Packing and Preparing Your Bags
- 8 Frequently Asked Questions
- 8.1 Can I Pack Electronics in My Checked Luggage?
- 8.2 Are There Any Restrictions on Packing Liquids in Checked Bags?
- 8.3 Can I Pack a Firearm in My Checked Luggage?
- 8.4 What Happens if I Accidentally Pack a Prohibited Item in My Luggage?
- 8.5 Can I Bring a Musical Instrument Onto a Plane?
- 8.6 Can I Bring a Pet on the Plane?
- 8.7 Can I Bring My Own Food and Drinks on the Plane?
Carry on Baggage Rules and Regulations
Carry on baggage allowances specify the maximum size, weight, and number of bags that passengers are allowed to bring with them on the plane.
These rules are set by the airlines themselves and are in place to ensure that there is enough space on the plane for all passengers’ bags to be safely stowed in the overhead compartments or under the seats.
While it can differ slightly by airline, carry on items must generally be no larger than 22 inches long, 14 inches wide, and 8 inches high.
Most airlines do not set a specific weight limit for carry on bags.
Depending on the fare, some airlines will let you bring both a carry on and personal item onto the plane, while others will only let you bring a personal item, such as with United’s Basic Economy ticket.
3-1-1 Rule (Liquid Limits)
The TSA have a rule in place called the 3-1-1 rule that prohibits passengers from bringing liquids, gels and aerosols in containers larger than 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters).
Note that this limit applies to the size of the container and not the amount of the substance inside the container. So if you try to bring a 5 ounce bottle of face wash that contains just 1 ounce of liquid, it still wouldn’t be allowed.
For any liquids, gels and aerosols that you want to bring onboard the plane, when you go through airport security, you should place these items in a clear, quart-sized plastic bag.
Some of the most common prohibited items in carry-on bags include:
- Firearms and ammunition: Guns, bullets, and replica firearms
- Sharp objects: Knives, scissors, and box cutters
- Explosives and flammable items: Explosives, fireworks, and flammable items like gasoline, lighter fluid, and aerosols
- Sporting goods: Sporting goods like baseball bats, golf clubs, and hockey sticks are prohibited because they can be used as a weapon
It’s worth noting that even if an item is not specifically prohibited by the TSA, the final decision on whether an item is allowed in your carry-on bag rests with the TSA officer at the security checkpoint.
Checked baggage allowances also specify the maximum size, weight, and number of bags that passengers are allowed to bring.
Again, it can vary by airline, but most airlines will allow passengers to check one or two bags, with a maximum weight limit of around 50 pounds (23kg) per bag, and with a maximum size of around 62 inches (length + width + height).
If you want to bring extra bags or your bag is overweight/oversized, additional fees will apply.
Some of the most commonly prohibited items in checked bags include:
- Explosives: Fireworks, flares, and gunpowder
- Compressed gas: Aerosol cans, propane, and scuba tanks
- Flammable liquids and solids: Gasoline, lighter fluid, and matches
- Oxidizers and organic peroxides: Bleach, fertilizers, and pool chemicals.
- Poisonous materials: Pesticides and insecticides like bug spray
Some items are allowed in checked bags, but only under certain conditions, such as lithium batteries.
We have a dedicated article where we make it clear if you can bring batteries on a plane.
Excess Baggage Fees and Restrictions
Airlines have strict rules when it comes to the weight and size of baggage that passengers are allowed to bring onboard, including both carry on and checked bags.
If you exceed the weight and size limits set by the airline, you will have to pay additional fees or check your luggage.
Generally, it’s rare for an airline to offer leeway when it comes to these limits, so you probably won’t be able to talk your way out of paying any additional fees.
As mentioned, airlines typically allow one or two checked bags per passenger, with a weight limit of 50 pounds (23kg) per bag.
We just mentioned how airlines don’t typically offer any leeway, but when it comes to your carry on bag, you’ll probably be fine to slighlty exceed the limits.
It is unlikely that the airline will weigh your carry on bag as they do when checking a bag in, so there is some leeway in that sense.
Special Baggage Items
Special baggage items are those that require special handling. While this can include oversized or overweight bags, it is more to do with fragile items, sports equipment, musical instruments, and medical equipment.
Common items include bicycles, golf clubs, skis, snowboards, guitars, and wheelchairs. Other items like roller skates or ice skates may be sporting equipment, but are small enough to be packed in your carry on.
Airlines have specific rules and fees for these types of items, so it would be a good idea to check with your airline ahead of time to ensure that you are aware of any restrictions or fees instead of just turning up at the airport unprepared.
Personal Item Allowances
Even with the purchase of the most basic, cheapest airfare, airlines will usually allow passengers to bring a personal item onboard.
Generally, personal items have a size restriction of 17 inches long, 10 inches wide and 9 inches high, though airlines generally won’t bother to take measurements.
TSA PreCheck doesn’t change the rules and regulations surrounding what you can and can’t bring on a plane, but the program can definitely save time, as it allows enrolled passengers to keep their shoes, belts, and jackets on, and their laptops and liquids in their carry-on bags
While the TSA doesn’t guarantee expedited screening for passengers who have TSA PreCheck, they say that 89% of TSA PreCheck passengers wait less than 5 minutes.
It’s important to note that TSA PreCheck isn’t available at every airport and for every airline, but it is currently available at more than 200 airports with 85+ participating airlines nationwide
Lost or Damaged Baggage Procedures
It’s rare for an airline to lose or damage luggage, but this doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen or won’t happen to you.
Luggage Hero reports there were more than 684,000 lost and mishandled bags by major US airlines in the first three months of 2022, though this only amounts to 0.7% of all bags being lost or mishandled.
Additionally, 97% of all missing luggage is returned to their owners within two days of being missing.
Either way, if an airline loses or damages a passenger’s bag, they are legally required to compensate you, with the amount of compensation you’re entitled to depending on the airline’s policy and liability limits.
According to the Department of Transportation, you’re entitled to up to $3,800 for a lost, damaged, delayed bag on a domestic flight.
For international flights, the Montreal Convention states that passengers are entitled to a maximum of $1,780 for a missing bag.
Note that airlines have specific time frames for reporting lost or damaged baggage, so it’s better to act quickly.
View our dedicated article about 3 Must Things to Do When an Airline Loses Your Bag
International Baggage Regulations & Restrictions
While international travel can result in additional considerations, you’ll find that most of the same regulations and restrictions for baggage apply.
The 3-1-1 rule, for example, is applicable worldwide.
However, each country has its own set of rules and requirements for what can be brought into their borders, especially when it comes to perishable goods and items that can affect the biodiversity of the country, such as plants and flowers.
It is also important to note that some countries may have stricter regulations than others, so it would be a good idea to research the regulations for the country you will be visiting before you start packing.
Handcuffs, for example, are illegal or restricted in some countries, so you wouldn’t want to try to enter a country with a pair.
Tips for Packing and Preparing Your Bags
To ensure that your flight goes as smoothly as possible, there are some tips that we can offer to help you pack and prepare your bags in compliance with TSA regulations.
Review the TSA website: For a quick reminder, you can visit the TSA website to see if the item you want to bring is allowed or not. You can also explore the Baggage Regulations section of our website to get more in-depth information on the most common items passengers want to fly with.
Know your baggage allowances: Make sure you know your airline’s baggage allowances, including the size, weight, and number of bags you can bring. This applies to both the carry on and checked bags you want to bring.
Pack liquids properly: If you want to bring liquids in your carry-on bag, make sure that each container is no larger than 3.4oz/100ml, and place them in a clear, plastic, quart-sized bag.This also applies to gels and aerosols.
Lock your bags: It’s always a good idea to lock your bags. Not only for safety purposes, but also to ensure that your bag won’t accidentally open during transit.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I Pack Electronics in My Checked Luggage?
Most electronic devices can be packed in both your carry on and checked bags, though we recommend packing them in your carry on, as it is less likely that they will be mishandled or lost.
Are There Any Restrictions on Packing Liquids in Checked Bags?
According to the TSA, there is a limit on “the total amount of restricted medicinal and toiletry articles in checked baggage”.
For these items, “the total aggregate quantity per person cannot exceed 2 kg (70 ounces) or 2 L (68 fluid ounces”), and “the capacity of each container must not exceed 0.5 kg (18 ounces) or 500 ml (17 fluid ounces)”.
Can I Pack a Firearm in My Checked Luggage?
You are allowed to bring a gun on a plane – but it must be packed in your checked bag.
- You declare the firearm to the airline during check-in.
- The firearm is transported in a hard-sided container that completely secures the firearm from being accessed.
- The firearm is unloaded, and ammunition is securely packed in a separate container.
What Happens if I Accidentally Pack a Prohibited Item in My Luggage?
If you bring a prohibited item in your luggage, whether that be in your carry on checked bag, it will very likely to flagged by the TSA during the screening process.
Depending on what the item is, the item may either be confiscated, you may be fined, or even face civil or criminal enforcement.
Can I Bring a Musical Instrument Onto a Plane?
Depending on the size of the musical instrument, you may be allowed to carry it onto the plane or will have to check it in.
If you plan to carry the instrument onboard, it must fit in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you. If you plan to check the instrument in, make sure to pack it in a hard case to protect it from damage.
Check with your airline before you get to the airport to see if there are any additional fees or restrictions for bringing a musical instrument onboard.
Can I Bring a Pet on the Plane?
You can bring a dog on a plane, as well as other pets, though the rules and restrictions will vary depending on the airline and the type of animal.
Cats and dogs will usually be placed into the cargo hold during a flight, though it is possible to also bring a dog with you into the cabin in a pet carrier.
The animal must be in an approved pet carrier or crate on the flight, and the airline may provide you with either one if requested.
Can I Bring My Own Food and Drinks on the Plane?
You can bring your own food and drinks on the plane, but you need to keep in mind the 3-1-1 rule.
So depending on the type of food, you might be able to bring the food through TSA and onto the plane.
You will have no problem bringing any food and drink bought after you have passed airport security onto the plane.
Ella Dunham, a Freelance Travel Journalist and Marketing Manager, boasts an impressive career spanning eight years in the travel and tourism sectors.
Honored as one of "30 Under 30" by TTG Media (the world’s very first weekly travel trade newspaper), a "Tour Operator Travel Guru" and "Legend Award" winner, Ella is also a Fellow of the Institute of Travel, a Member of the Association of Women Travel Executives, has completed over 250 travel modules, and hosts travel-focused segments on national radio shows where she provides insights on travel regulations and destinations.
Ella has visited over 40 countries (with 10 more planned this year).