Airport Security FAQs: Answered

Traveling with medicines, but not sure if you can pack them in your carryon?

Pregnant and wondering if that full-body scanner at the airport is safe for you and your baby?

Bewildered about whether toothpaste counts as a liquid?

Can’t leave home without your nail clippers and tweezers, but confused about where to pack them?

Don’t worry. We’re here to decode those baffling airport security rules!

In this article, we’ve covered a few frequently asked airport security questions specific to U.S. and U.K airports. Read on to know more…

Note: The information contained in this article is current as of August, 2021. Always check with your airline before flying to confirm the legality of bringing any item on a commercial aircraft.

How early should I arrive at the airport?

  • International Flights: At least three hours before departure.
  • Domestic Flights: At least two hours before.
  • Long-haul flights: At least four hours before departure.
  • European flights: At least three hours before.
  • UK and Ireland flights: At least two hours before.

Can I bring liquids and gels in my carry-on?


The 3-1-1 liquid rule applies to both the U.S. and the U.K.

  • Pack all liquids in 3.4 oz. (100 ml) containers
  • Place all containers in a transparent, resealable, quart-sized bag
  • You are allowed only one bag

This will be screened separately at security.

Lugging more than 3.4 ounces of shampoo? Stash it in your checked bags.

Note: If you can pump it, spill it, spread it, spray it, squeeze it, or smear it, it’s a liquid!

Can I carry my medicines in my hand baggage?


You can take as much medication as required for your flight in your carryon, plus a realistic amount in case of any delays. These can be liquid, aerosol, or gel medicines.

There is no restriction in carrying tablets and pills (As long as they are screened, of course.)

  • It is not necessary to place your liquid medicines in a transparent quart bag. You can carry them separately
  • Before the screening, please inform security that you are carrying medicines
  • A doctor’s note or prescription is not required for domestic flights; however, we recommend carrying it on international flights
  • Medicine quantity less than 100 ml? Place them along with other liquids in a single quart-sized bag, or put all medicines together in one bag
  • Carry either a prescription, or a letter from your doctor
  • Pack all extra medication in your checked baggage

Do I need to carry my prescription medication in the original containers?

  • Not required, if you’re traveling within the U.S.
  • You can transfer them to more convenient travel-size containers or pill reminders
  • For international flights, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recommends packing your medicines in their original containers, as it can streamline the customs process. Research your destination before you travel, as the rules vary from one country to another

Yes. Medicines should be in their original packaging.

What can airport body scanners see? Can they see me naked?

No. Body scanners cannot see your privates. What shows up on the monitor is only a general outline of your body that looks like a paper doll.

Irrespective of your gender, height, or body type, the image remains the same. These scanners can’t see through your body cavities or diagnose disease.

Do I need to take off my shoes at security?


Yes. Unless you have TSA Precheck (a Trusted Traveler program), you have to remove your shoes.


No. On rare occasions, security agents might ask you to remove them so that they can be x-rayed.

I am pregnant. Is it safe for me to walk through body scanners and metal detectors?

Yes. It is absolutely safe.

Advanced Image Technology (AIT) scanners (full-body scanners) use millimeter-wave imaging technology. These harmless radio waves do not pose any dangers to you or your baby.

Metal detectors use a low-frequency electromagnetic field which is safe for everyone. (Even your TV or computer screens emit similar electromagnetic fields. You aren’t going to stop watching TV just because you’re pregnant, right?)

But, if you still feel uncomfortable going through these procedures, you can request security for a pat-down screening (U.S.) or a hand search (U.K.)

I have a pacemaker/ICD. Is it safe for me to walk through body scanners and metal detectors?

  • Full-body scanners are perfectly safe for patients with pacemakers / ICDs
  • Walk-through metal detectors do not affect your pacemaker, but can set off the alarm, in some cases. So, we recommend avoiding this and opting for the pat-down screening (U.S.) or a hand search (U.K.) instead
  • Hand-held scanners contain a magnet that can interfere with your pacemaker. So, stay away from these scanners
  • Keep your Medical Device ID Card with you, as the security agent may ask you to produce it at the screening checkpoint.

Note: It’s always a good idea to consult with your physician before you fly.

Can I carry cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and lighters with me on the flight?

 CigarettesE-cigarettes Lighters
Carry-on bagsYesYesOne standard (disposable or Zippo) lighter is allowed
Checked bagsYesNoDisposable and Zippo lighters without fuel are allowed. Maximum of 2 fueled lighters allowed if properly enclosed in a Department of Transportation-approved case.
On person (during your flight)YesYesOne standard (disposable or Zippo) lighter is allowed
Hand baggageYesYesNo
Hold baggageNoNoNo
On person (during your flight)YesYes. (Please confirm with your airline.)One Zippo lighter is allowed.

Can I bring liquid hand sanitizer with me?


Yes. You are allowed to bring one container carrying a maximum of 12 oz. of liquid hand sanitizer in your carryon bag (until further notice). Place the container in a bin for X-ray screening.

Anything more than 12 oz. should go into your checked baggage.


Yes. You can carry 100 ml of liquid hand sanitizer in your carryon. The 3-1-1 liquid rule applies here.

Can I carry deodorant and toothpaste in my carry-on?


  • Stick deodorants can be of any size
  • The standard 3-1-1 liquid rule applies to spray, roll-on, gel, paste, cream, or liquid deodorants, and toothpaste

Can I take manicure items like a nail file, nail clippers, tweezers, and scissors in my hand baggage?


We recommend wrapping these items securely or placing them in a manicure kit. (This way nobody nicks their fingers.)

AirportNail clippersNail fileTweezersScissors
U.S.YesYesYesScissors blades should not exceed 4 inches (measured from the pivot point)  
U.K.YesYesYesScissors blades should not exceed 6 cm (measured from the pivot point)  

Can I carry electronic devices like laptops, hair straighteners, and tablet devices with me? Do I have to take them out at airport security?


Devices like cell phones, PDAs, tablets, laptop computers, cameras, and hair straighteners (flat irons), are all allowed both in carryon and checked baggage, both in the U.S. and in the U.K.

  • Ensure that your electronic devices are fully charged before you travel
  • Security agents are allowed to confiscate your devices if they don’t switch on
AirportItems that can stay in your carryonItems that should be placed in a separate bin for screening
U.S.CellphonesAll devices bigger than cellphones
U.K.Cellphones, digital camerasDevices like MP3 and CD players, portable DVD players, tablets, laptops, etc.
Note for U.K. airports:

Are your electronic devices larger than 16 cm long, 9.3 cm wide, or 1.5cm deep? Stow them away in your hold luggage.

Pack right, breeze through airport security, and fly safe!

Also, don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you travel. In case your trip is canceled or delayed, your travel insurance can provide coverage for your prepaid, nonrefundable trip expenses.

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