Airplane food is usually unappetizing, and some airlines these days aren’t even providing food on certain flights. Or maybe you have a dietary issue that makes it difficult to eat the standard food on offer on the flight. There are many reasons why you might wonder about bringing your own food on the plane. But this isn’t a clear cut issue, and with all the rules surrounding what you can and can’t bring on a plane, it’s understandable that many people get confused. Keep reading for answers to the question, can you bring food on a plane?
Can you take food through airport security?
The biggest hurdle to taking food on a plane is security. The TSA food rules are basically about liquids. If your food is a liquid, it must follow the standard rules about liquids in carry-on luggage. This means all liquids must be in containers that are 3.4 ounces (100ml) or smaller, and all containers must fit in a one quart (one liter) clear zip-top bag. Bigger containers will not be allowed, even if there is less than 3.4 ounces remaining in them.
Where this gets tricky is knowing what counts as a liquid. If you can spread it or pour it, it’s probably considered a liquid. Here are just some food items you might not realize are considered liquid:
- Peanut butter
- Jelly and jam
- Condiments like ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise
- Creamy cheeses
- Hummus and other dips and spreads
Then there are foods that are part solid, part liquid. Chances are these will be over the limit as well, so I wouldn’t recommend packing foods like canned fruit, canned tuna, or soup.
Another gray area includes salads and sandwiches. While you can’t bring a full jar of peanut butter through security, it seems that you can bring a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Salads with salad dressing seem to be acceptable, as long as there isn’t so much dressing that it pools at the bottom of the container. I haven’t found anything on the TSA website specifically talking about these kinds of foods, but my research has turned up lots of people who have done this successfully.
>>But please consider not bringing peanut-based snacks in case there are passengers near you with allergies. Read more about respecting others with your food choices towards the end of the post.
If you’re worried, scoop your spreads or pour your dressing into small containers that can go into your liquids bag and assemble your food after security. Check out these containers or these containers on Amazon.
Note: TSA may ask you to remove any food items for additional screening.
What food can you take on a plane?
Once you understand the liquids rule and how it applies to bringing food on a plane, there are actually a lot of foods and snacks that you can bring in your carry-on bag. This is good for those of you who want something healthier to eat than the food typically sold in airports. Or even if your airline is serving food, sometimes it’s good to have something you know you’re willing to eat.
You can take almost any food on a plane, as long as it isn’t more than 3.4 ounces of liquid. So what foods make good airplane snacks? Granola bars, nuts, trail mix, crackers, fruits and veggies are all easy and tasty snacks to bring on an airplane. Candy and chocolate aren’t healthy, but they are easy snacks to pack in your hand luggage. If you want something a little more substantial, make a sandwich or a salad.
Since you can’t keep things cold or heat things up, make sure whatever food you pack for your flight will survive being out of the fridge for a few hours and tastes good at room temperature.
And if you don’t want to pay for that overpriced and environmentally unfriendly bottled water at the airport, you can bring your own refillable bottle. Just make sure it’s completely empty before you go through security, and then fill it up at a water fountain or sink on the other side.
Can you take food in hand luggage if it’s frozen?
You might be wondering if you can get around the liquids restriction by freezing your liquid airplane snacks. Frozen juice, for example, is not technically a liquid.
TSA’s take on this is that if the item is completely frozen solid all the way through, you can take it through security. But can you really keep something frozen solid in the amount of time it takes to get from your freezer at home to the security checkpoint at the airport? Probably not. So you’re welcome to try this out, but keep in mind that TSA might decide your frozen food item isn’t 100% frozen anymore, and they can confiscate it.
This rule also applies to ice packs you might want to pack to keep your food cold. If you want to take food on a plane that requires refrigeration, an ice pack seems like a good option, until it starts melting before you reach security. But if you plan on eating the food soon after passing through security, maybe that’s long enough to be worthwhile. This is a judgement call.
Can you take food on international flights?
Taking food on international flights can be a little more restrictive than taking it on domestic flights. Many countries have rules about the types of food they allow passengers to bring in due to concerns with insects or diseases the food might be carrying. Usually meats, some cheeses, fruits, vegetables, and plants are restricted, but the exact details vary from one country to another.
So if you’re wondering, can you take food through customs, you need to look up the customs and agricultural rules for the country you’re traveling to. If you’re hoping to bring food back to the US, you can read some of their rules about bringing food through customs here and here.
If you simply want to take a piece of fruit on your flight to eat while on the plane, I wouldn’t worry about it. The main concern is any food you have with you when you actually land and go through customs. I travel with granola bars to other countries all the time without a problem, but I stay away from traveling with fruit or other items that might be problematic for customs agents.
Can you take baby food, formula, or breast milk on a plane?
For those of you traveling with babies, you’re in luck. TSA has some exemptions from the liquids rules that apply to food you’re bringing on the plane for your baby or toddler.
TSA says that reasonable quantities of formula, breast milk, or juice that you’re bringing for your baby or toddler is allowed in excess of the normal 3.4 ounce rule. This also means they don’t need to be in your liquids bag. When you get to the security checkpoint, you should tell the TSA agent that you have formula, breast milk, or juice for your baby, and remove these items from your bag to be screened separately.
The TSA website also states that you are allowed to bring reasonable quantities of baby food in your carry-on baggage. It’s worth taking this out of your bag for separate screening as well, just like with the formula or milk, and let the TSA agent know you have baby food.
The rules say that you are also allowed to bring an ice pack to keep the milk or formula cold. If the ice pack is partially melted by the time you get to security, that’s allowed too.
Your formula, milk, or juice, as well as an ice pack, might have to undergo additional security screening, so don’t be caught off guard if this happens. For more info about TSA’s procedures for traveling with children, read here.
Does your airline allow food to be brought on board?
Most airlines have no problem with you bringing your own food. But there are a few airlines, mostly low cost carriers, that say they do not allow you to bring your own food. For example, Scoot Airlines, a low cost airline in Asia, says, “Consumption of outside food and beverages is not allowed on board.” Clearly they want you to buy theirs.
These airlines will make exceptions if you have food allergies or dietary restrictions they can’t accommodate.
But even beyond that, there’s little they can do if you pull out a granola bar mid flight. While researching this issue, it seems that most people who brought their own food on the plane with airlines like this were discreet and stuck to small snacks, not full meals. You never want to anger the flight attendants, but if you wait until the plane is in the air, bring smaller food items, and don’t wave the food around in their faces, it is unlikely you’ll have any issues with bringing food on these kinds of flights.
Bringing food on a plane: be respectful
When taking food in your carry-on bag to eat on the plane, please be respectful of the people around you.
Stinky foods are not appreciated when you’re stuck in a confined space for several hours. Fish, certain vegetables, hard boiled eggs. These are just a few foods you should consider leaving at home out of respect for the other passengers sitting near you on the plane.
Nut allergies, especially peanut allergies, are on the rise, and even being in close proximity to peanuts can cause issues for those with allergies. Most airlines no longer serve peanuts on board, and while they can’t technically forbid you to bring peanuts on the plane, it’s highly recommended that you don’t. Think about it, if you were highly allergic to peanuts, would you feel comfortable knowing someone a couple rows over was eating them? It’s pretty easy to simply pick a different snack.
Hopefully that answers all your questions about bringing food on a plane!
You might also enjoy:
- What to Pack For Trip: Travel Packing Checklist for Carry-On Only
- Carry On Luggage Size Chart with 170+ Airlines Worldwide
- Can you bring makeup on a plane?
- Or find answers to all your packing questions here