Can I take food on a plane? Wrapped presents? Holiday travel tips from TSA

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From traveling with food to carrying on wrapped presents, these travel tips from TSA will make it a bit easier to get around this holiday season. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The holidays might be known as the most wonderful time of the year, but things can also get pretty stressful, especially when there's travel involved. Check out these holiday-specific travel tips from the Transportation Security Administration to make getting around during the holidays a little bit easier.

When in doubt, the "What can I bring?" section on the TSA's website offers a list of dozens of commonly asked-about items and explains if and how you're allowed to travel with them. TSA also has Facebook and Twitter accounts dedicated to answering traveler questions.

Traveling with food and drinks

You can't show up to a holiday dinner empty-handed, but you'll want to do some planning before arriving at the airport with all of your ingredients. While most food items are allowed in checked baggage, the rules get a little tighter when it comes to things you intend to carry on.

TSA's 3-1-1 liquids rule doesn't apply just to mouthwash and shampoo; you'll also want to keep it in mind for any soups, dips or spreads, gravy, or other "creamy or spreadable foods" you're traveling with: "These are limited to travel-sized containers that are 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less per item, which must be placed in a 1 quart-sized, zip-top bag," according to TSA.



"If you're unsure if your food item should go in a checked bag, consider this: If you can spill it, spread it, spray it, pump it or pour it, then please pack it in your checked bag," the agency added.

The 3-1-1 rule also applies to alcohol, though alcohol over 140 proof is not allowed in carry-on or checked baggage. No matter what alcohol you bring on a plane, FAA regulations only allow passengers to drink alcohol they're served by the flight crew.

Solid foods are A-OK -- though some may prompt additional screening -- and you can even bring cakes, pies and cooked turkey through a checkpoint. As for frozen food, though, any ice or ice packs used to keep the food frozen must be completely frozen at the time of screening. The FAA allows passengers with perishables to travel with 5.5 pounds of properly packed dry ice, but travelers should contact their airline as regulations do vary.

If you're traveling internationally, check with Customs and Border Protection before bringing food into the United States. To prevent pests and certain diseases from entering the country, CBP has regulations governing which fruits, vegetables, plants, flowers, meat and animal products can be brought across the border, but they vary depending on where you're traveling from.

Traveling with presents

It's best to travel with wrapped presents in your checked bagged or to hold off on wrapping until you reach your destination. While wrapped gifts are permitted through security checkpoints, TSA agents will unwrap them for further screening if necessary. If you must carry on wrapped presents, look into using a gift box or bag that can be easily opened for screening.

Be on the lookout for certain gift items that cannot be carried on, too. Knives, toys designed to look like weapons and certain sporting goods like lacrosse sticks and bats must be transported in checked luggage.

The 3-1-1 liquids rule also applies to snow globes. Generally, snow globes smaller than a tennis ball are acceptable, but larger globes must be packed in checked luggage, TSA advised.

General airport tips

Airports are notoriously busier during the holidays, and travelers shouldn't leave anything to chance. If you're flying out of a major airport, TSA recommends arriving two hours before your scheduled departure time for domestic flights and three hours early for international flights. In addition to the possibility of traffic delaying your arrival at the airport, consider whether or not you'll have to wait in line to return a rental car, check baggage or speak to a ticketing agent.

If you're a frequent flyer, it could be worth it to look into expedited screening programs like TSA Precheck, Global Entry and Clear. Precheck allows approved passengers to use a special screening lane where you don't have to take off your shoes, belt or light jacket and your laptop and liquids can remain in your carry-on bag.

Travel doesn't always go as planned, but there are laws in place to protect you in the event your flight is canceled, you are forced to give up your seat to another passenger or your plane is stuck on the tarmac for an extended period of time. Learn more about your rights as a passenger on the Department of Transportation Aviation Consumer Protection website.
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