We’ve all been there. You have a long flight coming up, and you dread the thought of paying $10 for a sip of Jack Daniels. So you do what’s logical – go out to the liquor store and buy a bunch of mini bottles to get you through that flight.
But are you allowed to have them on the plane? And what’s even more important – are you allowed to drink them? How should you pack them?
Yes, there are a lot of rules about having mini liquor bottles in your carry on luggage, but they’re not necessarily what you think. And you can learn them all here – I did all the research for you, and I will tell you everything you need to know about nips and airline regulations surrounding them!
The 3-1-1 rule is a security measures that restricts the amount of liquids a person is able to pack in their hand luggage. The measure was a result of intelligence uncovered by CIA officials during Operation Overt, in 2006.
If you want the full story, I recommend you check out Netflix’s documentary Terrorism Close Calls. But basically, this measure was implemented because it was discovered that people with affiliations to terrorist groups were planning on brings bomb parts onto a plane, and then assembling it in the plane bathroom. If they had succeeded at this, the result would have been devastating – it is assumed that seven airplanes that were flying out of London into North America would have been hit.
So, even though it is an annoying rule, it exists for a very good reason.
The 3-1-1 rule limits passengers to having a maximum of 3.4 ounces of any fluid in their cabin baggage. And they have to be in a 3.4 oz container, otherwise they’ll get confiscated at the checkpoints.
All the containers need to comfortably fit in a quart-sized plastic zip lock bag, and each passenger is allowed to have only one bag. Comfortably means that you can close the bag without it bursting at the seams.
The crazy thing is that this rule applies to pretty much anything liquid – from water to creamy spreads and toothpaste. While it might be a bit ludicrous that the same rule applies to both Guacamole and perfumes, it’s best to just follow it – no matter how creative you think you can get with the packaging or excuses, TSA agents will confiscate anything that even remotely resembles a liquid if it’s not in a 3.4oz (or smaller) container.
Which includes nips, so let me tell you all about that.
We all remember the Australian hero who checked a single can of beer as his only luggage, and we’ve all heard stories about people chugging a bottle of liquor at 7AM because the TSA wouldn’t let them bring it inside the plane.
And do you know what both those stories have in common? The amount of alcohol in question. Just like with any other liquids, you’re allowed to pack a bottle up to three ounces in your carry on.
So, if those people had smaller bottles, they would have been able to take them inside the airplane without any issues. The alcohol is not the problem, but rather the size of the container.
Mini liquor bottles usually hold 1.7 oz of liquid, and sometimes they hold 3.4 oz – both of those sizes are perfectly fine carry on luggage. However, you will need to pack them properly, meaning that you need to place those mini bottles into a clear plastic bag that doesn’t exceed one quart in capacity.
And since you’re only allowed one bag per person, that means you will need to ration your other liquids – toothpaste, perfume, shampoo, shower gel etc. All of it has to fit in a single quart sized plastic bag, which will be inspected by TSA when you arrive at the checkpoint.
As many as you are able to comfortably fit in a quart sized plastic bag. If we’re talking about 50ml bottles, you should be able to fit 7-10 of them, depending on the exact shape and size of the bottles.
There’s not an exact number that’s the limit, if you were worried about that. The only guideline is that they have to fit in a quart sized bag – if you properly follow that rule, you should not have any issues whatsoever when going through TSA checkpoints.
Actually, no. Duty-free nips are a whole different issue, which I will tell you about in a minute. The thing you need to know beforehand is that you can’t pack any liquor that has over 70% alcohol content. Which is reasonable – most liquors have around 40% alcohol content, including vodka, gin and whiskey. And up to 70% alcohol content lets you pack pretty much anything, other than Absinth and some insane Russian and Polish drinks.
And that’s not just for nips in cabin luggage – this applies to all sorts of alcoholic drinks you might want to pack in a suitcase. Obviously, the exact rules differ from country to country and airline to airline, but the standard is about a liter per person for liquors. You can have more than a liter in your checked baggage, as long as the alcohol content is lower than 24%.
What this technically means is that you can check a 32” suitcase that is full of beer, but you can’t have even a drop of absinth in your carry on. Interesting, right?
Duty free shops are located past the security checkpoints, so the same rules don’t really apply to nips you buy there. If you decide to buy liquor at the duty free shop, you’re free to get as many nips as you want, or even much larger bottles, but you have to keep the receipt. And they need to be kept in a sealed bag.
Another thing to keep in mind is that you have to declare any alcohol you have upon landing. It doesn’t matter if it’s for personal use or a gift – if you don’t declare it, the TSA reserves the right to confiscate it.
In addition to that, the limit for personal use for people over the age of 21 (in the US) is one liter per person. Anything over that, and you might be considered a commercial importer, which will trigger taxation and further inspection.
There is a fairly recent rules that lets you have liquor bottles larger than 3.4 oz in your carry on, when you’re travelling to Europe, US or Canada with a connecting flight. But, those bottles have to be purchased in duty free shops and stored in STEBs – secure, tamper-evident bags. These are provided to you at the duty free shop, and you have to keep them sealed at all times. If you open up the bag and then close, it will most likely get confiscated.
There is a scenario in which you have to pay taxes for the nips you bought at a duty free shop. Hear me out.
Say you buy a couple nips at the duty free shop. You land, but then you have to catch your connecting flight. If you’re still in the US, all hell could break loose.
The same rules that applied to your original flight apply here as well. On top of that, you will need to pay taxes for the nips you bought at a duty-free shop.
One way to avoid this is to pack the bottles in your checked bag before you get on the connecting flight.
And if you bought larger bottles of alcohol, you could be in worse trouble. The thing is, if security catches you with an insane amount of alcohol, you’ll be treated like a smuggler. You might get detained, spend several hours trying to explain to them that they’re all gifts or you just really love gin – they will not care.
Actually, no – and that’s the weird part. There’s no law prohibiting you from packing as many nips as can fit in a quart sized bag, but there is a federal (US) law that prohibits you from drinking any alcohol that wasn’t served by the airline. Emphasis on the word served.
In theory, you could face a serious punishment for taking a sip of a beer you purchased at the duty-free store. The reality, however, is very different.
Honestly, most cabin crew members don’t actually care that you’re drinking your own alcohol. Sure, sometimes you will stumble upon people that are all about following the rules and ruining your day, but if you’re cool about it, the risk for trouble is minimal.
And, unless you get really drunk and start acting like a blithering idiot, it’s likely that no one will even notice you’re drinking liquor that you carried onto a plane. Just be smooth about it, and you won’t have any trouble getting rid of that flying anxiety with a couple sips of vodka.
Keep in mind that this is a federal rule in the USA – it applies to everyone flying in USA aircrafts, regardless of the airspace they’re in. Meaning that if you’re flying over Argentina with an American airline, the rule still applies.
However, the airlines are not that strict about it. In fact, JetBlue Airlines has even found a way to get around the rules – you are allowed to drink your own alcohol, as long as you present it to the crew and let them serve it to you. That way you’re not breaking any rules, since you’re actually drinking something that was served to you by the airline. Pretty cool, right?
And, bear in mind that this is a rule for good reason. It is supposed to help the cabin crew keep track of how intoxicated the passengers are. Just like in pubs and restaurants, they have the right to refuse to serve if you are too drunk. Which makes sense – if a person were to get really drunk on a plane, and then get behind the wheel of a car once they land and cause a car crash, the airline is liable. They were the ones who allowed the passenger to get that intoxicated, so part of the blame is on them.
Just don’t overdo it, and you’ll be okay.
Nope. And you can 100% guess the rule – in order to have mini liquor bottles in your luggage, you have to be of age. This rule applies to any kind of alcohol in both carry on and checked bags; if you’re underage, you can’t have it even as a gift.
If you’re travelling to the US, it means you need to be 21. So, even though you might be of age in your own country, if you’re not 21 yet they’re going to confiscate that bottle once you land. That is, if they figure out how old you actually are.
A lot of times, TSA agents won’t cross reference your age if they find liquor in your luggage. Especially if you don’t look incredibly young, and if there are no other issues with your bags. It is possible to get away with this, and even if you don’t, the consequences are not horrible or anything. TSA agents are not the police – worst case scenario, they will confiscate the booze and that’s it.
That being said, I have to emphasize that I’m advising against trying your luck here. If you’re not 21 yet and you’re travelling to the States, it’s best to just leave the liquor at home and avoid getting into any sort of trouble.
Even though it’s kind of inconvenient, it makes perfect sense. Just imagine the chaos that would ensue if everyone was allowed to have liquor in their luggage. The one thing I can’t get out of my head is just how many people would stuff their children’s luggage with booze just to be able to have it on the plane. And don’t think people wouldn’t do that – if someone’s prepared to chug a bottle of vodka at 7AM, or try and bring a replica grenade launcher onto a plane (ahh Florida man), there’s no doubt in my mind that people would just stuff their kids’ backpacks with nips. Which would be so incredibly wrong.
Too lazy to read all of that above? That’s okay – here’s a short version of all the dos and don’ts of packing mini liquor bottles in your carry on luggage:
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.