Elyse Welles was traveling from Athens to Newark this spring when it finally happened: she was pulled aside for an extra security check at her gate.
After searching Ms. Welles’ backpack for some time, the agent finally took a spherical vibrator from his pocket and waved it in the air. “Is that an e-cigarette?” asked the agent. “No, it’s a sex toy,” she replied with a smile, after which her belongings were promptly returned and she was free to leave.
Ms. Welles, a writer and life coach who lives in Artemida, Greece, said she never gave a second thought to traveling with her vibrator in tow.
With the rising number of air travelers returning to near pre-pandemic levels, there are also questions about flight protocols and rules — specifically, what travelers can and can’t take in their carry-on baggage when flying within the United States. For example: is guacamole solid or liquid? (It’s a gel, which falls under the same restrictions as liquids and isn’t allowed in your carry-on — unless it’s in a 3.4-ounce container.)
Here’s a guide to help you navigate the ambiguous carry-on rules – with some quizzes to test your knowledge, too.
Can I take my vibrator without causing a scene at security?
Let’s talk a little more about vibrators. Although most sex toys, including vibrators, are allowed in carry-on baggage, they can still result in a stop, as in the case of Ms. Welles, according to the Transportation Security Administration. There are a few ways to reduce the likelihood of these awkward encounters, especially when something starts to buzz.
Shan Boodram, an intimacy expert and host of the Lovers and Friends podcast, suggests removing all batteries or removing batteries from rechargeable toys before packing. “Or find a hard case that’s a bit larger so the power button doesn’t get pushed if there’s pressure on your bag,” she said.
There are now vibrators with built-in travel settings to prevent them going off at an awkward moment, like the rechargeable silicone vibrator Surge, which has a built-in travel lock.
What is the liquid rule again?
“The number one mistake people make about prohibited items at airports is with large liquids, gels and aerosols in carry-on bags,” said Lisa Farbstein, a spokeswoman for the TSA
The TSA’s widespread 3-1-1 rule dictates that passengers can travel with liquids, gels and aerosols as long as they are in 3.4-ounce containers in a one-liter-sized resealable bag. So while a bottle of water doesn’t make it through preflight screening, what about something in a more nebulous category, like a jar of peanut butter?
“If you can spill it, spread it, spray it, pump it, or pour it,” Ms. Farbstein said, “it’s a liquid, gel, or aerosol.”
For this reason, a Magic 8 Ball that is filled with liquid may not be allowed through a TSA checkpoint. The same goes for a snow globe. Unless, of course, as Ms. Farbstein points out, it’s a version small enough to fit in a traveler’s 3-1-1 bag.
Is it ok to fly with grass now?
“TSA is not looking for drugs,” Ms. Farbstein said. “Our dogs sniff for explosives; They don’t sniff for drugs.”
But just because they’re not looking for drugs doesn’t mean agents never find them. When they do, TSA officers must report suspected violations of the law to police, Ms Farbstein said. And while marijuana has been legalized in 19 states for recreational use and 37 for medical use, it’s still illegal under federal law and therefore restricted on airplanes, even if it’s technically legal in both the departure and destination states.
I bought a plant on my trip! Can I take it home?
Some plant lovers might want to fly home with a new addition to their collection.
According to the TSA website, plants are allowed on domestic flights as long as they fit in the overhead bin or under the plane seat. However, returning with potted plants from abroad is prohibited, although a limited number of bare-root plants (not in soil) are allowed as long as they meet certain criteria set by the Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. There is also additional information for travelers arriving in the US mainland from Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
“I’ve always been on the lookout for beautiful, healthy specimens of rare plants, so I’m happy to snap them up when I see them,” said Lexi Osterhoudt, Ph.D. Student in the Integrated Program in Cellular, Molecular, and Biomedical Studies at Columbia University. Often, she said, her plant souvenirs are impulse buys that she takes with her on trips inland, or they’re good finds that are more affordable than if she bought them in New York, where she currently lives.
“I wrap the pot in plastic wrap to hold the soil together, put it in a paper bag and tape it under the seat in front of me,” she said.
Is my Harry Potter wand okay?
If further clarification is needed, the TSA has provided an extensive and searchable list for travelers to check what items they wish to bring with them. For example, knitting needles are allowed in carry-on baggage, as are live fish, provided they are in water and in a clear container. But wait – isn’t there a liquid rule?
“Live fish are actually allowed to be transported through a security check,” said Ms. Farbstein. “And of course, to keep them alive, they have to be in the water. TSA officials are checking the water tank containing the fish. The verification process will take additional time. Live fish in water do not have to follow the 3-1-1 rule.”
Cremated human remains get a little more complicated, while cricket bats and chopping boards are best left in checked baggage. Musical instruments such as violins are permitted after undergoing TSA screening, but screening is recommended for brass instruments. And if you’re a Harry Potter fan, fear not – wands are allowed on flights.
Despite TSA rules, there is one item that Ms. Farbstein says she still sees confiscated far too often: knives. “We see knives every day,” she said.
According to Ms. Farbstein, up to four tons of different types of knives and large tools are confiscated at Newark Liberty International Airport in an average year. The TSA then ships them in bulk to the state of Pennsylvania, she said, which sells them for profit in a surplus deal in Harrisburg.
Travelers should keep in mind that knives of all kinds are not allowed on flights, Ms Farbstein said.
Something that will not be confiscated? A duffel bag containing eight rolls of Goetta sausage. However, it could land you on the TSA’s Instagram account.
Quiz photos by Tony Cenicola.