Last Updated on December 3, 2021
Sometimes travelers need to keep food or medicine cooled when flying.
But can you take ice packs on a plane? Or do the TSA 3-1-1 rules prevent you bringing an ice pack in your carry-on?
Let’s find out.
TSA Ice Packs Rules
The Transportation Security Administration runs the airport security checkpoint. Their security officers screen both your carry-on luggage and checked luggage when you travel on a plane.
Here’s what they say about ice packs.
Bringing Ice Packs In Carry-In Luggage
The TSA 3-1-1 rule only restricts liquids. Fully frozen liquid items become solid so they are treated as solids when going through the security checkpoint.
This means that you can bring an ice pack on a plane IF if it is frozen solid when you are at the checkpoint. If your ice pack is partially melted then it will not be allowed on the plane unless you are covered by any of the exemptions (see below).
If the ice pack is slushy or partially melted then it starts to be treated as a liquid again. That means it could only be 3.4 oz or less and would need to be packed in your quart-size bag to get through the checkpoint.
It’s hard for most travelers to get to airport security with their ice pack still completely frozen solid, but if you live next door to the airport it might be possible.
Alternatively, you could fill your quart-size bag with 7 or 8 small ice packs under 3.4 oz, it wouldn’t matter if they had started to melt. The ice packs would only need to be in your liquids back when going through the checkpoint. As soon as you have cleared security you could transfer them back to your cooler to keep your food fresh. The problem with this approach is that you’d have no space left to pack toiletries but you can buy toothpaste everywhere so you could just buy some toiletries once you reach your destination.
TSA Approved Ice Packs For Exempted Liquids
There are a few exemptions to the TSA liquids limits for certain items.
Breast milk, baby formula, or juice for liquids are allowed on the plane in quantities larger than 3.4 oz. They just need to be placed in a screening bin at the checkpoint. The TSA might want to carry out additional screening on these items by opening and inspecting them to make sure they are what you say they are.
If you are bringing a gel pack or an ice pack to cool breast milk, baby formula, or juice, then they don’t need to be frozen solid at the checkpoint.
The other main exemption to the TSA liquids limit is for medically necessary liquids.
If you are bringing medicine that needs to be kept cool you can bring an ice pack or gel pack and it doesn’t need to be completely frozen when you go through security.
If you are bringing a gel ice pack itself for a medical reason like tendinitis, a broken ankle, or back pain, then it is also exempt from the 3-1-1 rule.
Bringing Ice Packs In Checked Luggage
You can pack ice packs in checked luggage without restriction. It doesn’t matter if they are frozen or partially melted.
This means if you are using ice packs to transport food checked baggage is often your best bet. You can put your food in a cooler or other container and add ice to keep it fresh.
It’s difficult for most people to get to the airport without their ice packs melting. Dry ice is another option to consider for keeping things cool.
Still Unsure? Ask The TSA
You can reach out the the TSA on Twitter with any questions you might have about bringing ice packs on a plane.
This passenger wanted to bring home the bacon and asked if they could bring a solid ice pack through airport security:
The TSA replied, “Bacon is allowed in carry-on bags. Any accompanying ice packs must be frozen solid when presented for screening. Ice packs that aren’t frozen solid must comply with out liquids rule or be packed in checked bags”.
Valerie wanted to bring an ice pack to keep insulin cool:
The TSA replied, “Ice packs are allowed in carry-on bags when accompanying medications”.
Unless you are covered by one of the exemptions to the 311 rule you can only bring an ice pack in carry-on luggage if it is frozen solid when you pass through the security checkpoint.
Liquids that are frozen solid don’t fall under the TSA liquids rule.
If you are bringing an ice pack to cool breast milk, baby formula, or juice for an infant then it doesn’t need to be frozen solid but might be subject to additional screening.
If you are bringing an ice pack to cool medicine it also doesn’t need to be frozen solid.
If you are bringing an ice pack as a medical aid to help with inflammation then it doesn’t need to be frozen solid.
It’s as simple as that!