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Does something soaked in water count as a "liquid or gel" for going through security? Say I went swimming in the morning, and I have my wet bathing suit in a plastic bag. Is that a problem? Should I stuff it into checked luggage to avoid being detained or having my bathing suit confiscated?

What about damp things - towels, say, or some laundry that didn't dry overnight after all and we have to leave now? How important is it to keep these things out of carry on?

If I am wearing a cooling scarf that is filled with beads of hydrogel, and it has been soaked in water so it is swollen up and doing its job of cooling me? (Example with pictures, this is not where I bought mine but the pictures explain things.) Am I now carrying a gel through security? How would anyone establish its volume? Is this an item that they will just confiscate?

I realize the solution is to put these things in checked luggage. I'm trying to establish how worried and reminded I need to be about that. The trip I'm headed on has 26 legs, meaning 26 times through airport security, and that's a lot of packing and unpacking and making sure things are in the right bags. If things need to move bags when they're wet, I'll do it, but if they don't it will be a relief.

For added complications, only one transit will happen in the US, and that is for the final leg that takes me home, where confiscation is less of a worry to me. TSA rules will not apply elsewhere and I don't really know where to find a consistent set of rules that apply worldwide, thought I expect the TSA rules are a reasonable model to go by. I'll be boarding in many different countries but the ones where I might have wet things will be small island nations like Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa and so on.

  • Kate, I'm not sure that this is an answerable question (also may be too broad). While there are hard and fast rules, as you yourself know, there are many documented cases of travelers requiring agents (TSA and other) to make on-the-spot decisions, and those are subject to wild variations of application. Even if I made it through security with a cooling scarf on Monday, doesn't mean you would also on Tuesday, even with the same agent. – CGCampbell Jun 27 '15 at 12:49
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I doubt you'll find any definitive rulings for this, so all we can do is apply common sense -- although, as is well known, airport security often does not!

So: the 3-1-1 liquids rule applies to containers. Since any liquid within a wet swimsuit or damp towels/laundry is not "contained", it's unlikely to be subject to the rules. (Assuming you don't have a quart of water sloshing about your swimwear bag, that is.)

The hydrogel cooling scarf thing is more borderline, since wet or not, hydrogel itself is a gel, which is arguably is contained within the scarf. So soaked or not, this could potentially be confiscated... although I suspect the form factor is sufficiently unusual that, unless it shows up on the X-ray, I doubt they would notice. (Shh! Don't tell the terrorists!)

In any case, the last piece of TSA advice applies: "If in doubt, put your liquids, gels, aerosols, creams and pastes in checked baggage."

  • Great answer, but Kate doesn't actually specify the US (and TSA)... – CGCampbell Jun 27 '15 at 12:50
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    Sure, but liquids rules are effectively universal. (Of course, their enforcement isn't, but that's not consistent even within the US.) – jpatokal Jun 27 '15 at 12:53
  • edited to clarify that the US is essentially not relevant other than as a model set of rules that other countries' rules are likely to resemble. – Kate Gregory Jun 27 '15 at 13:24
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    I emailed TSA (using the form on their website) about wet bathing suits and damp towels and they have said that these items are generally allowed. – Kate Gregory Jun 28 '15 at 16:35
  • @KateGregory You should probably add that as an answer. – jpatokal Jun 29 '15 at 0:02
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So here is what happened. Many of the really small airports and legs didn't have security at all. Domestic flights within Fiji or Vanuatu, for example, you could bring an arbitrarily large bottle of water, there was no xraying, etc.

In the places where there was the traditional security setup, (including the final MIA-YYZ leg involving TSA in the US) nobody ever reacted to my damp cooling scarf in an outer pocket of my carryon. Damp laundry and bathing suits were generally in checked luggage. There was also one domestic (security-free) flight which I boarded while wearing a wet bathing suit. No incident whatsoever. The answer to "how worried to be about this" seems to be "not at all."

However in SCL I had an airside-purchased bottle of water confiscated on the jetway during boarding. So much for logic.

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