Can You Take Alcohol on a Plane?

Anish Patel @ 2022-05-11 23:31:47 -0700

Tinto Amorio - Spritz - Tinto de Verano


When you’re going on a trip, it can often feel like the vacation starts the moment you step into the airport. And what better way to kick it off than with a drink? If you’re thinking about packing a little booze, there are some strict ground rules you need to know about traveling with alcohol. Make sure you understand the rules clearly before your big trip. 

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulates all U.S. airlines and airports, even if those planes are out of the country. And they take the matter of alcohol on planes very seriously. However, you can still travel with alcohol—you can even bring some of it in your carry-on bag. As long as you follow the rules and understand the risks, you can do it.

In this guide, we’re going to break down everything the FAA and TSA state about their regulations surrounding flying with alcohol. Then we’re going to give you our 7 biggest tips for how to successfully board a plane with alcohol.

Can you take alcohol on a plane?

You can bring alcohol in your carry-on bag, but there’s a limit to how much you can take. All liquids, gels, and aerosols must be in 3.4-ounce bottles. That means only mini-bottles will fly. The TSA website also states that the mini-bottles have to be packaged comfortably in a quart-sized ziplock bag.

Even then, the TSA website states very clearly that the final decision around whether your mini-bottles will be allowed through security is up to the TSA officers on duty. So even if you’ve done all the right things, there’s still a chance that your mini-bottles will be confiscated. And you’ll just have to deal with it.

So if you do want to bring alcohol through TSA, understand that you’re running a small chance that you’ll have to go on without them.

Can you check alcohol in a bag?

Yup, you can check the alcohol in your bag. If the alcohol in question is between 24% and 70% ABV (that’s no more than 140-proof), you’re limited to 5 liters per passenger. Plus, the alcohol must be in unopened retail packaging. That means water bottles, flasks, nalgenes, and your homebrewed beer isn’t allowed in your bag. The alcohol must be sealed and packaged by a retailer.

Fortunately, alcohol under 24% (most beer and wine) doesn’t have limitations on how much you can check. As long as it’s packaged and sealed, you can check a bag with as much beer and wine as you want to take.

What if it’s over 140-proof?

Alcohol over 140-proof isn’t permitted, even in your checked bag. There’s no way to work around this, so just leave the strong stuff at home.

The rules are a little different if you buy at the airport.

There is one way to get around the 3.4-ounce rule, and that’s by purchasing your liquor at a duty-free store. Duty-free stores are airport retailers whose goods are exempt from duties or taxes. Basically, the goods are sold with an understanding that they’ll be taken out of the country. You might arrive at the airport early with time to shop, or you may buy liquor at an airport you’re connecting to.

In this case, it’s perfectly acceptable to put these larger bottles in your carry-on bag. But the same rules apply to this scenario as they do with checked bags: if the alcohol you buy is between 24% and 70% ABV, then you’re limited to 5 liters per passenger. And the bottle must be bagged by the retailer in a transparent, tamper-free package. If there’s evidence that the bag was opened, your goods will be considered illegal and won’t be allowed to fly with you.

Can you drink your mini-bottles on the plane?

No, the FAA doesn’t permit passengers to drink alcohol that they’ve brought on the plane. Drunkenness among passengers is a safety issue that is up to the flight attendants to control. So it’s essential that the amount of alcohol that is distributed on the flight is monitored and regulated by the flight attendants.  

Plus, flight attendants aren’t permitted to serve any passenger who appears drunk, even if you order through them. So if you’re going to drink at the airport, pace yourself, eat a good lunch, and don’t board a plane drunk.

7 Tips For Successfully Bringing Alcohol on a Plane

Follow these tips to ensure that you make it to your destination with your alcohol still with you.

Tip #1: Don’t overstuff your carry-on.

If you’re planning on packing mini-bottles in your carry-on bag, make sure you follow the regulations. Carry on a moderate amount of bottles and bag them in a clean, quart-sized zip-lock bag. Don’t overstuff the bag.

The wording on the TSA website emphasizes that 3.4 ounces must fit “comfortably” in a quart-sized, clear zip-lock. And what “comfortably” means is up to the judgment of the TSA officers on duty. If you stuff the bag to the brim, a TSA officer might find that they’re not fitting comfortably.

Tip #2: Don’t give the TSA a hard time if they take your booze.

If TSA finds they have to confiscate your mini-bottles, even if you packaged them comfortably in zip-lock bags, don’t make a scene about it. You won’t win that fight and you’ll just hold up the line. Worst case scenario, you may be taken out of the line completely.

It’s the staff’s job to keep everyone safe, and that means making decisions about liquids, gels, and aerosols that may or may not sit well with you. If it’s going to be a problem if it’s taken from you, don’t bring it in the first place.

Tip #3: Don’t mess with the stuff you buy in the airport.

If you buy liquor at a duty-free store in the airport, the retailer will package it in a way that is compliant with federal regulations. Don’t mess with their work. The liquor must be in a see-through bag, and it must be clearly sealed.

Tip #4: Keep your receipt.

Hold onto your receipt if you buy from a duty-free store. You may need to prove when and where you bought it.

Tip #5: Don’t drink your alcohol on the plane.

This just isn’t worth it. The FAA takes alcohol regulations very seriously and if you’re caught drinking your own booze during the flight, you could get arrested or fined. One passenger on Southwest illegally brought and drank their own alcohol on board and they ended up with a $40,823 fine.

That’s one expensive drink.

Tip #6: Have a drink at the airport bar.

A $40,823 may make that over-priced cocktail at the airport bar a little more appealing. If you like to have a cocktail before your flight, do it at a bar, and be sure to pace yourself. If you arrive at the gate visibly drunk, flight attendants have a right not to let you on the plane. And the FAA has a zero-tolerance policy for unruly passengers, meaning you can be arrested, fined, or banned from the airline if you’re belligerent.

Tip #7: If you’re not sure, ask.

The rules of the airport are complex. If you’re not sure if you’re following them correctly, just ask. Bartenders, TSA officers, and flight attendants all know the ins and outs of what’s allowed and what’s not in the airport, and they’ll gladly let you know how to navigate your specific situation.

If you still have questions about whether you can bring alcohol on your flight, give the airline a call and speak to someone about it. This will help you avoid having your souvenir confiscated once you arrive at the airport.

Above all things, be safe.

Now you know the ground rules for flying with alcohol. Remember that the rules are there to ensure that you and everyone have a safe flight, and while it may feel a little inconvenient, they’re ultimately there to keep you safe.

The most important thing to remember is that while it’s okay to have a drink or two at the airport, it’s not a place to get completely hammered, and being too drunk could cost you your seat on the plane. Pace yourself and be respectful of the staff as they guide you to your destination.

Here’s a low ABV, travel-friendly drink that you can check in your bag: Tinto de Verano and Rebujito, lightly sparkling wine cocktails in a can. There’s no limit to how much of this delicious drink you can check in your bag!


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