14 Unexpected Things You Can't Bring Through TSA

Trying to sort through what's allowed in your carry-on and checked bags can be one of the most stressful parts of traveling by air. While it would seem like a deep dive into TSA's guide to packing for air travel should clear things up, it's a pretty long list with a whole lot of fine print to sift through. Since nobody likes losing their possessions to the TSA black hole where confiscated items end up, it's probably time well spent.

A look at the TSA website might leave you feeling surprised to find out what is allowed through airport security: live lobsters, falcons, and biological specimens in formaldehyde, for example. And while there are plenty of banned items that seem like a no-brainer — like lighter fluid or sharp objects — a few things you can't bring onboard can be just as surprising. From foam toy swords to canned dog food, here are 14 surprising things you should leave behind next time you're hitting the concourse.

There's a ban on Galaxy Note 7 devices

Since late 2016, there has been a complete air travel ban with Galaxy Note 7 phones. The ban came after some pretty serious ongoing problems with the phone hit the headlines shortly after its release. In the months after the phone's release, Samsung received dozens of reports of their equipment overheating and catching fire, causing property damage and, in some cases, burns. Initially, the company pinned the blame on a battery supplier, recalling only phones with that battery. When they realized the problem was not just a supplier issue, Samsung issued a full recall — but it wasn't enough to keep a Note 7 from catching fire aboard a Southwest Airlines plane the following month. The problem came down to a design flaw stemming from Samsung management's pressure to produce a thinner battery separator. When the high energy density of the battery inevitably overheated, the battery would fail, and the phone would ignite.

If you're one of the few folks still hanging onto your Note 7 and it somehow hasn't blown up, the penalty for sneaking one on is pretty steep — up to $179,933 or even imprisonment. There's never been a better set of reasons to upgrade your phone.

Leave those British Christmas crackers at the party

If your holiday travel plans include the traditional fun of pulling Christmas crackers and wearing those little paper hats that come rolled up inside them (or laughing uproariously at the hilarious jokes), you can't bring them on the plane or in your checked bag. If you're unfamiliar with these whimsical party favors, they are fairly innocent cardboard paper tubes with a cute holiday package. When two people pull on either end, a cap-gun-like strip of paper inside makes a loud popping sound as the prize inside is revealed.

Outside of the United States, whether they're banned on airplanes depends on the individual country's laws — but they're definitely not allowed in the U.S. In an official statement to Airport Parking & Hotels, an official spokesman for the TSA explained, "They are flammable and should not be brought on airplanes. They fall in the same category as sparklers and fireworks." And it isn't much of a leap to assume that loud popping sound party crackers make is probably not something you'd want in an airplane cabin.

Forget about that souvenir snow globe

Before you pick out a souvenir snow globe to remind you of your winter travels, remember that you'll have to pack it in your checked luggage. And if the idea of putting something fragile that's full of an unknown liquid in your suitcase doesn't sit well with you, you'll either need to ship it home or go with another souvenir.

Unfortunately for snow globe collectors, these dazzling, snow-filled wonders are completely banned from carry-on bags since they technically contain a liquid that exceeds the TSA's liquid limit, and the internet is full of sad stories about folks who didn't put this together until it was too late. Then there are those folks who were sure that their snow globes don't contain enough liquid to be a problem, only to lose them at the security check. In a Reddit post discussing snow globe measurements, a security agent wrote, "I have taken away lots of snow globes. They don't really have measurements on them so it is at the discretion of the search officer whether or not they deem the amount of liquid to be too much to pass through."

Magic 8 ball? Our sources say no

Magic 8 balls are similar to snow globes in that they're only allowed in checked luggage. Try to bring one in your carry-on bag, and you're almost certain to have it confiscated. In a rare example of TSA humor, the official website reads, "For Carry-on bags: We asked the Magic 8 Ball and it told us ... Outlook not so good! For Checked bags: We asked the Magic 8 Ball and it told us ... It is certain!"

Much like snow globes, there's no way for a TSA agent to know how much liquid is inside the 8 Ball without looking it up or smashing the thing apart. But even if they did, they would find it has just over the allowable liquid limit. According to the official Magic 8 Ball website, the liquid inside is approximately 3.5 ounces of alcohol and dye. "We definitely wouldn't recommend drinking it, let alone handling the liquid without safety gloves on," the manufacturer advised.

Gel candles can't be carried onto the plane

Some of the trickiest TSA rules have to do with things that fall somewhere between a solid and a liquid. Much to the frustration of many an airline passenger, this means that gel candles are on the no-fly list — at least in a carry-on bag. And this seems to be one of the more common confiscations if the post "Confiscated objects at airport" on the Travel subreddit is any indication. It's a lesson one user in the thread learned the hard way. They wrote, "When I was younger, I was on a exchange program and purchased a small gift for my host family. Part of this gift was a candle, which, was subsequently flagged as an item which could go 'boom' (also referred to as a bomb). Needless to say, that was my least pleasant experience going through airport security and coincidently my first time flying!"

Recalling their experience giving up a prayer candle, another commenter snarked, "TSA has bad juju." And one more Redditor wrote, "I was told because, and I quote, 'No gellies. It's made of gel.' I was like, 'ITS A CANDLE!' " If only they'd known to pack them in their checked luggage, they could have kept their items.

Pool cues are not acceptable carry-on items

Serious billiards players who have their own equipment will need to check them with the rest of their luggage since they won't make it through the security check. To most folks, it probably seems pretty common sense that TSA won't allow a potential bludgeoning object in a flight cabin, but professional pool cues can get pretty spendy. Answering the question "Can you carry a pool cue in a cue case on an airplane?" on Reddit, one user wrote, "When I flew you had to check it and case with cues counted as your 1 piece of luggage. I put mine case and all in a large piece of luggage. Imagine waiting for your 3 grand worth of cues to come on the luggage carousel."

But even checking your cue risks the chance it could get busted. To avoid the whole mess, Another user in the same thread recommended shipping it instead, advising, "If TSA examines it, there is always the possibility that they WILL break it to make sure there is no contraband hidden away inside. If it's a nice cue, it is never worth that risk."

You'll have to check your kid's toy foam sword

It might be yo-ho, yo-ho, a pirate's life for thee, but the swashbucklers in your crew will have stow their toy cutlasses — and other various foam and plastic mischief-makers — in the airplane's cargo hold. In other words, TSA doesn't allow toy swords in carry-on bags. It's a policy that's frustrated many a cosplayer, performer, and overstimulated mom.

In 2017, Northwest Florida News reported on one such incident with a plastic sword that "left a Crestview woman embarrassed and angry and her 9-year-old daughter in tears." The sword, they explained, was required for a taekwondo tournament they were traveling to attend. And apparently, if your toy weapons are realistic enough, you can end up in some pretty hot water. A stage performer wrote on Reddit about having their foam nunchucks seized and having their information recorded for TSA violation records and being told an investigator would be calling them. Talk about shiver me timbers!

Vacuum-sealing is allowed but strongly discouraged

One of the hottest luggage packing tips on YouTube and TikTok is vacuum packing — a favorite tip of travel guru Samantha Brown. By placing items in plastic bags and then sucking the air out with a vacuum of some kind, travelers are able to fit far more clothing and linens in their suitcase, which means more vacation wardrobe changes. But while it sounds like a great idea and it's technically not against the rules, TSA really doesn't want you to do it. Take it from the official TSA website, which warns, "Vacuum-sealed clothes bags are allowed but not encouraged. If they alarm, the TSA officer may need to open them for inspection."

While TSA doesn't always make an issue of it, when they do it can go quite badly. In one Reddit post, a now-deleted account shared their own experience with this worst-case scenario, writing, "TIFU by vacuum sealing my clothes for a trip and not being able to get them back into my carry on after the TSA agent made me cut them all open."

Walking sticks are not allowed

Whether the purpose is for hiking or a little help with mobility when navigating tricky terrain while traveling, walking and hiking sticks — even disassembled ones — are not allowed as carry-ons, while canes are permitted. Since this often comes down to the TSA agent's personal judgment and gets into issues of mobility, the internet is full of stories from folks who manage to successfully get them through.

In a community board thread on Rick Steves' Europe, one user wrote about traveling through "multiple international trips and domestic trips with one Hunger Hiker pole" that they use as a cane when traveling. According to the user, they had only run into scrutiny once but still managed to make it through. Nonetheless, they added, "I am completely prepared to have it confiscated." But if you're not much of a gambler, it's probably best to follow the advice of the users who recommended investing in a collapsible walking stick and checking it in your luggage.

Coffee grinders are a commonly confiscated item

If the idea of traveling with a coffee grinder in tow seems a bit strange, you might be surprised to learn how many people do. But the halls of Reddit are full of coffee lovers who would never think of leaving home without something to help them sample the local bean selection. While the TSA doesn't specifically direct coffee grinders on its website, stories online seem to represent a mixed bag of success and confiscation.

Although some folks were able to get theirs through security with a little extra scrutiny, grinder confiscation stories are also common. In the "Confiscated objects at airport" Reddit post mentioned earlier, one user recalled watching the person in front of them getting their grinder taken. They recalled, "Going through her carryon they came up with a coffee grinder...They told her it was a prohibited item. They had no further explanation when she asked why." When the indignant woman asked why, the agent rather callously dumped it in a trash can. As the Redditor put it, "he basically did a microphone drop of the grinder into the trash bin."

Food items like peanut butter, honey, and soup are considered liquids to TSA

In a similar vein to gel candles, foods like soup, peanut butter, and honey that wouldn't necessarily be considered a liquid are still classified as such by the TSA, which means they're subject to the same restrictions as any other liquid. Anything with a "gooey" or runny property — things like pastes, gels, and creams — falls under this category, according to the TSA. Unfortunately, many folks fail to realize this before packing their carry-on luggage and lose a super cool gourmet food item they picked up to bring home as a gift or memento. Venting in a Reddit post, one user complained, "TSA took my honey. I'm so mad. It's not even fully liquid! It's a solid/liquid. Sigh."

In another Reddit thread, one traveler recalled TSA telling them they would have to throw away their heirloom lavender peanut butter and jelly. The quick-thinking passenger wrote, "I was 3 hours early for my flight and had plenty of time to make my sandwiches," adding, "The other TSA officers chuckled and nudged each other as I made my way through security a second time with a bread bag of PB&Js."

Canned dog food is also a liquid

Much like human food, canned dog food is considered a liquid by the authorities. The TSA website states, "Wet food must follow the 3-1-1 liquids rule for carry-on bags." The 3-1-1 rule simply means that passengers are limited to bringing on 3.4 ounces of liquid, and this can be a problem if you've got a long day of flights planned and a traveling pet or service or support animal who relies on the stuff for sustenance. This is explicitly outlined on the website, which states, "There is no medical exemption for prescription pet food, even for service animals."

Since there's no guarantee you won't get stuck having to survive a long layover, this can be worrying for some pet owners. As TSA considers "moist" dog food to be the same as dry dog food, it might be a good backup solution to bring along in case of such an emergency.

Pack your cast-iron cookware in a checked bag

For reasons similar to walking sticks and pool cues, cast-iron cookware is not allowed through the TSA checkpoint and must be packed in your checked luggage. This rule was bad news for one fan of singer-songwriter Jason Isbell. Writing on a Reddit forum, one user recounted, "I bought my son one of Jason's cast iron skillets as a Christmas present but, when he was trying to fly back home after Christmas, the TSA confiscated it."

Fortunately, this user was able to retrieve their lost skillet from the TSA property room at a later date — and they realized they weren't the only person to make this error. The grateful passenger observed, "Surprisingly, the TSA's property room had 6-7 other cast iron skillets, including another one of Jason's. Strange but true. All's well that end's well." One commenter on a Reddit page dedicated to cast iron cookware also had to find out the hard way after traveling all the way to Tennessee to pick up a special cast iron skillet. The disappointed passenger wrote, "Heads up: don't travel with cast iron in your hand luggage."

Power banks can get through security, but they can't be checked in bags

It's pretty common for an item to be allowed only in checked luggage but not in a passenger's carry-on. One notable exception to this rule where the opposite actually applies is when it comes to power banks for phones and other devices — a must-have if you're going to be airport-hopping all day. According to the TSA, "Portable chargers or power banks containing a lithium ion battery must be packed in carry-on bags."

If you do accidentally pack your power bank in your checked bags, it seems to be a fairly common mistake. Posting on a Reddit page about flying, one user recounted how both they and their traveling companion accidentally packed power banks. According to the Redditor, they had "no issues at all, they didn't even check the bag." But, they added, their friend was not so fortunate: "Craziest part is my friend did the same thing on a different flight the same day and they went through her luggage to remove it."