On the Spot: TSA rules on flying with liquids

Los Angeles Times Travel editor

Question: Please clarify the Transportation Security Administration’s limitations on volume of fluids allowed in a single container to be carried onboard in the 1-quart plastic bag, which raised the issue of 3-1-1 (3 ounces, 1-quart bag, 1 bag per person). I was in Italy and wanted to bring back a vial of Modena’s famed balsamic vinegar. In Europe, volume is expressed in metric, and the smallest container I could find was 100 milliliters, which is 3.3 ounces. I chose not to bring anything back. What is the TSA rule on 100-milliliter containers?

Stephen Dahms


Question: When we were in Napa recently, we noted signs that said people traveling by air from Santa Rosa airport could carry on wine they bought. What is that about?

Lola Moline

Los Angeles

Question: How is it that the TSA folks insist that I remove my hat, a knit beret, which I did. I don’t understand why I was not asked to remove my wig. How many men and women travel wearing a wig but are not asked to remove it?


Linda Hamilton

Los Angeles

Answer: An Oct. 9 column on duty-free liquor [“Carry on That Wine, Unless ...] spawned these questions and one more about whether carry-on wine poses a hazard as a flammable liquid and whether I am a moron. We’ll get to those issues if there’s space.

First to the metric question: Dahms is right that 100 milliliters is more than 3 ounces (3.3814022701, not to put too fine a point on it). Here’s what many people don’t know: TSA actually allows 3.4 ounces, not just the 3 it advertises in 3-1-1. (I suppose 3.3814022701-1-1 doesn’t roll quite as trippingly off the tongue.)

The limit also applies to the size of container; that’s why you see people with nearly empty 12-ounce tubes of toothpaste sometimes lose them at security, although TSA spokesman Nico Melendez says agents can use their discretion.

Next, the Napa question. Melendez says this is incorrect. The airport website says this: “Wine is allowed in checked baggage but not in carry-on bags. Alaska Airlines will accept a case of up to 12 bottles of wine per passenger as checked baggage at no extra charge from customers on flights departing Sonoma County.” (Alaska’s website says the same under its “Exceptions to Checked Baggage Charges.”

On to hat/wig removal. Melendez says hats and wigs could be removed at the agent’s discretion. And that’s not just for everyday people, he says. “Lady Gaga comes through quite often,” Melendez notes. “She uses a ton of bobby pins. With all that, it sets off [the metal] detectors.” She has to remove some of those pins to make sure “nothing is hidden under the wig.”

Finally, as to whether carry-on wine poses a hazard because it’s a flammable liquid, here’s what the TSA site says: “You can’t take alcoholic beverages with more than 70% alcohol content (140 proof), including 95% grain alcohol and 150-proof rum, in your checked luggage.


“You may take up to five liters of alcohol with alcohol content between 24% and 70% per person as checked luggage if it’s packaged in a sealable bottle or flask.

“Alcoholic beverages with less than 24% alcohol content are not subject to hazardous materials regulations.” Wines generally don’t ignite because the alcohol content is too low. “From a culinary standpoint, you’d have a really hard time flaming anything that was short of 80 proof,” or 40%, said Russ Parsons, food editor for The Times. “That’s not to say it couldn’t be done.”

Sorry, but we are out of space on the moron question. Keep checking here though.

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