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Traveling with my family this week, and my wife is a stickler for the rules. The TSA Travel Checklist website says you must follow the 3-1-1 liquids rule:

  • 3.4 ounces or less per container
  • 1 quart size, clear, plastic, zip top bag (all liquids must fit in bag)
  • 1 bag per passenger

When I travel (not with family) I usually just stick everything into a single toiletries bag (not clear, and larger than 1 quart), and have never been asked to take it out of my bag, or challenged that it should be clear zip-loc etc.

Is this something that is just not enforced, or no-longer enforced? Or is it something that might come up if we get the wrong TSA agent?

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    It may depend on where you're going - the UK have always been sticklers for it, and many airports don't yet have the new scanners that eliminate this check in operation [they're running late.] The tourist flights are the most amusing - they have large wheelie bins full of all the stuff people 'forgot about' & they wouldn't let through. Drink it now or it goes in the bin… which leaves less of a choice if it's cosmetics;)
    – Tetsujin
    Jan 28 at 15:11
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    They usually give out free standard size bags in UK airports though, so if you forget you'll usually just asked to put them into the proper sized bags. If it's a clear bag they usually don't care about the size unless it's much larger, but the 3.4ounce / 100ml limit is something that they almost always check though.
    – SztupY
    Jan 28 at 15:21
  • anecdote: It happened - of all things - in a US airport that after the security check, I was somewhat thirsty, so my SO handed me a 1 liter bottle of water from her backpack. Jan 29 at 19:34
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    (It's not called ‘3-1-1’ in the UK, though!  (At least, I've never heard that name before.))
    – gidds
    Jan 29 at 21:28
  • doesn't have to be 1qt AFAICT - in fact, doesn't have to be one bag either AFAICT. I put everything into ziplocs - keeps them clean and un-fiddled with in those bins - that includes electronics and CPAP machine, and I zip my wallet + keys + phone in an extra one I have in a pocket too. If the liquids/gels go injmore than one bag that's always been fine.
    – davidbak
    Jan 30 at 1:56

3 Answers 3

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Yes, it's occasionally enforced. There is a lot of variability between different agents and check points. Once I got a stern talking to because I had a stick deodorant in my toiletries bag. I've done this 100s of times and it's perfectly fine by the official rules link but apparently this agent wasn't having it nevertheless.

You never know until you get there.

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Not sure about the current situation in the US, but in some places if they have the latest and greatest scanners they don’t need you to get the bag out of your luggage so they don’t check anything about the type or size of the bag and so on.

Some countries have plans to completely lift the current restrictions on liquids as soon as all airports will be equipped. In the meantime the situation is variable. Some places (specific airports) already lifted the restrictions officially, others still officially have restrictions but don’t enforce them, and so on.

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    ... Some country's officials also apply bogus rules in order to extort a bribe from you. A certain West African officer wanted to take my (low Wh) lithium batteries, after two weeks of dealing with almost daily low-grade scam attempts I was over it, simply said 'those aren't the batteries you want, THESE ARE' and threw a 4-pack of AA at him. Job done, flight boarded with the 'banned' lithiums. At the destination airport we were accused of being Nigerian spies - cant make this stuff up, hilarious. Jan 28 at 23:22
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    @LamarLatrell Can you explain further? Why did they (I'm assuming multiple different 'officers') want your lithium batteries and why were they placated when you gave them the 4-pack?
    – Mathemats
    Jan 29 at 2:36
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    @Mathemats They just wanted anything, from their perspective the (costly) lithium batteries may have had value to on-sell, but the AA batteries made much more immediate sense as they could be used by the officials themselves. And like I said, I was just so over the BS and lies (e.g. people trying to earn your trust just to steer you towards their mate's dodgy AF 'restaurant') , I was quite confident in calling it out immediately and just walked off. I got lucky, could have been worse, but the batteries were a 'win' for them so yeah.. Jan 29 at 2:58
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    Other fun times were had yelling and knocking VERY loudly at the immigration office at an East African airport, the officer was asleep in a sleeping bag, in full view. Couldn't be roused. We opened a door which we thought would lead to the office but instead it led directly to the country in question. Could have just walked out. We beckoned towards an officer outside, and then of course "international incident" levels of scrutiny bellowed in our direction that neither of us could understand until Mr Sleepy Pants woke up and processed our entry. Everyone shut up once he got involved. Jan 29 at 3:03
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It is strictly enforced every time I fly from Europe to the U.S. with my partner and our teenage son, about once a year. When we traveled over Christmas, the official actually took out a 50ml bottle with a clear liquid and asked me what was in it. (I said "purified water" which was not exactly wrong but incomplete because it omitted the 12% hydrogen peroxide. I could keep it. The little defiances.)

Scrutiny and enforcement may be dependent on the general and particular (for the location) alert level which is currently probably not the lowest. It may, of course, also depend on your appearance and company but, of course, one cannot rely on that.

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