Airline food leaves a lot to be desired, especially when you travel coach. Instead of settling for candy or unhealthy snack chips, pack your own tasty treats for your next flight. While there are limitations on what you can bring in the cabin, many food items are allowed as long as they're in packages. The rules are even more relaxed for food shipped in your checked bags.
Food Prepared at Home
Yes, it is possible to bring food from home on a plane, as long as it meets the Transportation Security Administration's standards. Liquids are the biggest issue; this includes gels and just about anything not completely solid, such as nut butter, yogurt, gelatin and hummus. These foods follow the same rules as other liquids at security checkpoints – each item must be 3.4 ounces or less. Pack them in leak-proof containers. Clear containers are best; this way, the TSA agents can see what's inside. Any amount of liquid-style food is allowed in a checked bag, but surround it with extra packaging to ensure it doesn't leak.
The carry-on liquid rule applies to gel, cream or liquid items carted on their own, such as peanut butter in a squeeze pack. A peanut butter sandwich is perfectly fine to take on board, as long as it's wrapped up. Any food brought through security must be wrapped or in a container, other than loose fruits such as apples. Strangely enough, items such as pies and canned goods are allowed through checkpoints without following the liquid rule, although these may go through extra screenings. The TSA suggests leaving canned goods at home, or packing them in checked bags, as some agents may not let them through the checkpoints.
Just about any quantity of dry food – such as crackers, cookies or chips – is allowed through airport security. Don't open the package until you are already through checkpoints, as the foods may spill. If you've packed your own blends of dried fruits, for instance, place them in a zippered plastic bag or other sealable container.
Frozen food items are allowed in both carry-on and checked bags, although special rules apply for carry-ons. Frozen foods that contain some liquid, such as a pasta dish with sauce, must be completely frozen to pass through security. If the item is even slightly slushy, it won't be allowed through. Ice cream is the one frozen item not allowed in carry-on luggage, although it is allowed in a checked bag.
Gel-style ice packs are allowed through security checkpoints, but must be completely frozen, otherwise they follow the 3.4-ounce liquid rule. If you must pack frozen food in your checked bags, keep the ice packs and food in an additional sealed bag, in case the packaging gets damaged. This way, your clothes will stay clean. Even though fresh and frozen foods are allowed in checked bags, luggage may get lost or delayed on the way to its destination, so it's better to travel without them.
Food Bought at the Airport
Food items purchased at airport shops once you've passed through security checkpoints are allowed on your flight. This includes beverages that are more than 3.4 ounces. You may want to think twice about bringing a fish sandwich or onion bagel on board the plane, however. Keep in mind that other passengers can smell it too. No one likes being forced to spend hours in a stinky enclosed cabin.
Alcohol follows the same rule as other liquids for security checkpoints, so forget about bringing a favorite wine on board as a gift for a friend you're visiting. Mini-bottles are allowed, as long as they're sealed and are less than 3.4 ounces. You won't be allowed to drink them on the plane, however.
Alcohol is allowed in a checked bag, as long as it's 140 proof or less, sealed in original packaging and less than 1.3 gallons. Luggage may be tossed or partially crushed during transport, so it's best not to pack glass whenever possible. If you do, wrap it well and place it in another sealed bag before placing it in a suitcase.
Even if certain foods pass through security, you may not be able to bring them to your final destination. For instance, fruit purchased in Hawaii isn't allowed into the mainland United States. The same holds true for bringing fresh or frozen foods into some foreign countries. It's better to err on the side of caution and not import such items; otherwise, consume them on board.