If you're looking to keep items cold when you travel – whether that be food, drinks or medicine – it's import to know whether or not the ice packs or other ways of keeping your food cold will make it through airport security or not.
I wanted to know for myself whether or not I can take frozen ice packs through security or if they'll be taken from me. I don't want to end up in some interrogation room just because I wanted to keep my sandwich cold and I also don't want to have my ice packs confiscated and my food get warm.
TSA's 3-1-1 Rule
Before we individually answer whether you can take ice packs, ice gels, frozen water bottles and ice through airport security I want to highlight TSA's important 3-1-1 rule about liquids as this will apply to most items we'll talk about if they aren't completely frozen:
This rule states:
You are allowed to bring a quart-sized bag of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams and pastes through the checkpoint. These are limited to 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less per item. This is also known as the 3-1-1 liquids rule.
3-1-1 stands for:
- Must be in a container of 3.4 ounces or less
- Must all fit into a sealable 1 ounce bag
- 1 bag per passenger
The TSA explains:
Exceptions To The Rule
There are exceptions to the 3-1-1 rule for medications or child nourishment (like breastmilk, formula etc) but they will likely need to go through extra screening.
Best Liquids Container Set
The below liquid container set is cheap (under about $15) and has multiple different colored containers as well as mini containers and small cream containers.
It is TSA approved and all fits inside a 1-quart see through zipper bag perfect for airport security.
Can You Take Ice Packs, Gel Packs and Frozen Bottles In Your Checked Luggage?
Ice packs, gel packs, instant cold packs and frozen bottles ARE allowed in your checked luggage.
The FAA states:
Tip: Normal ice packs (those that must be first put in a freezer) are not hazardous materials and have no quantity limits in checked baggage.FAA Website
Non-hazardous liquids and gels over 100 mL are allowed in your checked luggage (the luggage that goes under the plane).
This means they are not subject to the 3-1-1 rule that you need in order to get through airport security.
So if you have something you want to keep cold, but you don't need ready access to it during the flight then putting it in your checked luggage is a great idea as you can use larger ice packs or gels that stay cold longer.
Also if you're taking gel packs to cool or heat up at your destination then put them in your checked luggage instead of trying to take them through airport security.
Can You Take Frozen Ice Packs Through Airport Security and onto a Plane?
Frozen ice packs are a great way to keep food and medicines cold but are they allowed through airport security and other the plane or will you have to leave them behind.
The answer is MAYBE, you can take frozen ice packs through security however they must be completely frozen at the time of inspection. If they aren't frozen they must be under 3.4 ounces, which most ice packs aren't, so they won't be allowed through security.
The TSA doesn't have a specific category on ice packs, they instead talk about gel packs (which we will discuss below) but on their section about frozen food they state:
If the food is packed with ice or ice packs in a cooler or other container, the ice or ice packs must be completely frozen when brought through screening. If the ice or ice packs are partially melted and have any liquid at the bottom of the container, they will not be permitted.
The only way to keep the ice packs completely frozen is to have an amazing cooler – check out our best coolers for air travel – or have a really short time period between getting them out of the freezer and getting through security.
A BETTER IDEA is to use frozen water bottles instead. They work similar to ice packs but you can empty any liquid in them before going through security so it is 100% solid at the time of being checked. They are also cheaper so it doesn't matter as much if they do get confiscated.
Can You Take Instant Cold/Ice Packs Through Airport Security and onto a Plane?
Instant cold/ice packs are able to be kept at room temperature and by snapping them their temperature lowers dramatically and can keep items cold or be applied to injuries to reduce inflammation. But are these instant ice packs/cold packs allowed through airport security or not?
The answer is YES, instant ice packs/cold packs as well as instant hot packs ARE allowed through airport security in your carry on luggage WHEN carried for medical purposes such as the treatment of injuries according to the TSA website and the FAA.
The FAA site states:
These items are allowed in carry-on or checked baggage—when carried for medical purposes such as the treatment of sporting injuries.
These products contain ammonium nitrate (a hazardous material) and are activated by force such as squeezing them or striking them. They are often used for first aid during sporting events.
Quantity limits: Included in, not in addition to, the quantity limits for medicinal and toiletry articles: The total aggregate quantity per person cannot exceed 2 kg (70 ounces) or 2 L (68 fluid ounces). The capacity of each container must not exceed 0.5 kg (18 ounces) or 500 ml (17 fluid ounces).*
See the regulation: 49 CFR 175.10(a)(1)
*When in carry-on baggage any liquid/gel ice products are further limited to 100-ml (3.4 oz) containers at the TSA security checkpoint if not already frozen solid.
However, it's important to note that instant cold packs contain liquid (water) inside them and so they may actually end up being subject to the 3-1-1 liquid rule mentioned above.
This means the liquid inside the cold pack needs to be 34 ounces (100 mL) or less in order to pass through airport security and get onto the plane. You may also need to place them inside your 1-Quart see through and resealable bag when going through secuity.
Luckily most instant cold packs are under this 3.4 ounce maximum so you should be fine.
Cold packs also contain chemicals, generally ammonium nitrate, ammonium chloride or urea.
The below instant cold packs are affordable and one of the highest-rated brands on Amazon:
Can You Take Frozen Gel Packs Through Airport Security and onto a Plane?
Frozen gel packs are great for keeping food cold or for applying to injuries but given their slushy nature and the fact you don't actually know the ingredients are they allowed through airport security and onto an airplane for domestic or international travel?
The answer is YES, you can take frozen gel packs through airport security and onto a plane. However, that is only IF the gel pack is 100% frozen when presented at security. If it is not frozen solid and is slushy then it must be under 3.4 liquid ounces or 100 mL in order to get through security. There are exceptions to this size limitation if they are medically necessary.
The TSA states on their website:
Frozen liquid items are allowed through the checkpoint as long as they are frozen solid when presented for screening. If frozen liquid items are partially melted, slushy, or have any liquid at the bottom of the container, they must meet 3-1-1 liquids requirements.
Note that medically necessary gel ice packs in reasonable quantities are allowed regardless of their physical state of matter (e.g., melted or slushy). Please notify the TSA officer at the checkpoint for inspection.
Chances are your gel pack is NOT going to remain 100% solid before you reach security. Getting from home to the airport means it's likely to melt a bit in that time.
Gel packs are designed to be as cold as ice but not be in a completely frozen state like ice. This means they are highly likely to be slushy and if they are too big they won't get through security.
HOT TIP: Get gel packs like these small gel packs from Amazon that are under 3.4 ounces, that way even if they melt they are still under the maximum liquid amount and will be allowed through security.
Below I've linked some affordable gel packs that are small enough that they are under 3.4 ounces and should pass through airport security even if they aren't completely frozen.
Can You Take Frozen Ice or Frozen Water Bottles on an Airplane?
Given the TSA's restrictions on liquids you may be wondering whether or not you can take ice or frozen water bottles through airport security and onto an airplane? Ice after all is a solid, and solid foods are allowed through airport security (with some exceptions).
The answer is YES, you can take frozen ice and frozen water bottles onto an airplane. However, it must be completely frozen to pass as a “solid”. If it is partially melted, slushy or have liquid at the bottom it then it must be under 100 mL in quantity.
You're also better off having your frozen ice in a container. It's unclear through any sources that loose frozen ice (like that you put in a cooler) would be allowed through airport security and onto the airplane.
The TSA states on their website:
“Frozen liquid items are allowed through the checkpoint as long as they are frozen solid when presented for screening. If frozen liquid items are partially melted, slushy, or have any liquid at the bottom of the container, they must meet 3-1-1 liquids requirements.”
The 3-1-1 rule means you're allowed to take a 1-quart sized bag of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams and pastes through the checkpoint but each is limited to 3.4 ounces (100 mL) or less per item.
HOT TIP: You may want to check your water bottles before reaching security and tip out any water that has melted in your bottle so when you go through security it is just 100% ice with no liquid water.
Can You Take Dry Ice Through Airport Security and onto the Flight?
Dry ice is great for keeping items frozen when travelling and it sublimates into gas (not melts into liquid) which means there is no wet mess. But are you allowed to take dry ice on an airplane?
The answer is YES. You are allowed to take dry ice in both your checked baggage and carry on baggage but it must 2.5 kgs (5.5 lbs) or less and be in a NON-airtight package that clearly states dry ice and marked with the net quantity of dry ice. You also require airline approval before bringing dry ice onto the plane.
The FAA states:
Quantity limit: 2.5 kg (5.5 lbs) per package and per passenger.
Airline approval is required.
Packages must NOT be air tight and must allow the release of carbon dioxide gas.
When in checked baggage, the package must be marked “Dry ice” or “Carbon dioxide, solid” and marked with the net quantity of dry ice, or an indication that it is 2.5 kg (5.5 lbs) or less.
- Solid foods are generally ok
- Liquids and gels need to be 3.4 ounces (100 mL) or less, kept in containers and all fit into a see through resealable 1-quart bag
Prohibited Items on Airplanes
- Wine, liquor and beer
- Creamy dips and spreads
- Salad dressings
- Oils and vinegars