Maybe Grandma insisted on sending you home with a big batch of her famous chili, or you pumped a dozen bottles of breast milk while away on business and have to get them home to baby. It's got to stay completely frozen for the whole trip home – but how? The TSA allows passengers to pack frozen food for flight, but with restrictions. Keeping the food adequately cold while also satisfying the requirements of the TSA and your airline is possible, if you know how to pack.
First, Check the Airline's Restrictions
The TSA has no issue with passengers traveling with frozen food, either in carry-on bags or checked luggage, but check the airline's guidelines if the frozen food is packed in dry ice. It's handy for keeping frozen foods cold. Major airlines generally allow passengers to pack up to 5.5 pounds (2.5 kilograms) of dry ice if it's packed according to the airline's specifications.
Each carrier has its own restrictions, however. For example, American Airlines allows a container with dry ice as a carry-on, while JetBlue says that containers with dry ice must be checked. On the international side, Air France allows passengers to travel with dry ice, but only if they seek authorization first. And some airlines won't allow passengers to travel with certain foods on international flights, so it's important to remember to check.
Next, Prepare the Container
Two different packing methods will work for transporting frozen food. To travel with a small amount of food as a carry-on, place it in a soft-sided cooler bag and surround it with ice packs. Note that the ice packs must be completely frozen at the time they go through the screening checkpoint or the TSA will reject them. You'll have to toss them, potentially ruining your frozen food. To keep ice packs and food frozen on a long trip to the airport, pour ice cubes into the container before you set out, then dump the cubes outside or in a sink within the terminal after checking in.
To pack a larger amount of frozen food, or to pack food that must remain fully frozen during a long flight, use a vented, leakproof container and dry ice. Note that your airline may not allow standard plastic foam containers for this purpose. When the food is packed, seal the container and clearly label it with a description of the food inside, the weight of the dry ice and the words “dry ice” or “carbon dioxide solid.”
Finally, Inform Airport Staff
Upon arriving at the security checkpoint with a bag of frozen food, tell the closest agent that you have a bag containing ice packs. The bag of food will need to be screened either by hand or using the X-ray machine.
To fly with a checked container of dry ice, consult an agent at the airline's ticket desk. It may be necessary to pay a checked-bag fee for the box, and it will need to be carefully screened by security. But as long as it's properly labeled, expect to be reunited with the box at the baggage carousel in your destination airport.