Last Updated on February 20, 2022
So you are flying and need to bring prescription medications through airport security and onto the plane.
The good news is that you can bring medicine on a plane.
But should medicine be packed in carry-on luggage or checked luggage? And are there any special instructions you need to know about flying with medication?
This post explains all.
TSA Medication Rules
The Transportation Security Administration is in the business of aviation security and safety.
Their main task is to stop the bad guys, not impede travelers with medical conditions.
The TSA has zero interest in preventing any passenger from bringing required medicine through airport security and onto the plane. That’s true for prescription medicine and over-the-counter medicine and the same goes for medically necessary devices or equipment.
The TSA is also not searching to discover drugs that are considered controlled substances. It’s not their remit, they are not law enforcement officers. Their job is just to keep planes safe from the threat of weapons or flammables.
The regular TSA rules don’t apply to medicine. In the interests of public safety, the TSA will stop you from bringing a large tube of toothpaste because it might not really be toothpaste.
But the TSA understands that medicine is important and they can’t prevent passengers from flying with the medicine that they need!
If a medicine breaks any existing rule the TSA won’t stop you from bringing it with you. Instead, a TSA officer will carry out additional screening to make sure that any medicine that you are taking on the plane is what you say it is. They just don’t have time to do it for millions of toiletries that are not crucial for health.
So the TSA does sometimes need to carry out checks to make sure nothing dangerous is concealed within medical bottles or medical equipment.
Where they can, the TSA bends its own rules to make flying with prescription medication possible.
The most obvious example is liquid medication. The 3.4 oz carry-on limit for liquids does not apply to liquid medication or any medically necessary liquid.
You don’t need to pack liquid medications over 3.4 oz in your quart-size toiletries bag, but you do need to take them out and place them in a bin for screening by TSA agents.
How To Pack Medicine For Air Travel
You are allowed to pack medicine in checked luggage but it’s rarely a good idea.
You should always pack medication in carry-on luggage rather than checked luggage. Checked luggage occasionally gets lost or delayed. If you keep your medicine by your side in your hand luggage you won’t lose it.
If your carry-on luggage is forced to be checked at the boarding gate because of a lack of space in the overhead bins remember to remove your medicine and put it in your personal item bag.
Also, remember that any medicine that you pack in checked baggage won’t be available to you during the flight should you require it.
You can pack solid pills in your carry-on luggage and you don’t need to take them out of your bag at the checkpoint.
Softgel capsules are treated the same as solid pills. Even though they have a little liquid inside the capsule the TSA doesn’t treat them as liquids.
You are permitted to bring ice packs on a plane to keep medicine cool, even if the ice packs are beginning to melt. Usually ice packs need to be be frozen solid where there is no medical condition involved.
Do Pills Need To Be In Prescription Bottles When Flying?
Pills don’t need to be in prescription bottles when flying on domestic flights in the United States as far as the TSA is concerned.
However, certain state laws might require you to keep pills in its original prescription bottle, especially if your pills are a controlled substance that has the potential for abuse or addiction.
If you walk around with a controlled substance separated out into little baggies with no labels it can look like you are dealing drugs!
More about international flights later.
What To Do With Medication At Airport Security
Pills can be packed in your carry-on bag and you don’t need to bring them out of your bag. You can pack pills in their bottles or a pill box.
You can also bring liquid mediation on a plane.
If the liquid medication is in a bottle under 3.4 oz you have a decision to make.
You can simply pack the liquid medicine in your quart-size bag with all your other liquids, assuming you have space in the quart bag.
Or if you are struggling for space in your toiletries bag (who isn’t) then you can use the TSA exemption for medically required liquids.
This will involve you removing the liquid medication from your carry-on bag, placing it in a bin to go through the x-ray machine, and explaining to a TSA agent that it’s a required medication. The 3.4 oz liquid limit does not apply in this scenario.
The TSA agent will then decide if they want to carry out additional screening or tests to make sure it’s not something dangerous in disguise.
Packing your liquid medicines in your quart-size bag ensures you won’t have any delays, but it uses up space that you might want for toothpaste or shower gel.
Using the liquids exemption for medicine allows you to bring liquid medications in containers larger than 3.4 but means that there is a risk you’ll be delayed at the security checkpoint while the TSA officers investigate.
Flying With Prescription Drugs Internationally
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has some rules about bringing prescription medications into the US.
Prescription medications should be in their original containers with the doctor’s prescription printed on the container. It is advised that you travel with no more than personal use quantities, a rule of thumb is no more than a 90 day supply. If your medications or devices are not in their original containers, you must have a copy of your prescription with you or a letter from your doctor. A valid prescription or doctors note is required on all medication entering the United States.U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Take note, these are rules about bringing prescription medications back into the United States if you have been traveling internationally.
Likewise, you should try to make sure that any medication you are bringing into a foreign country is legal there.
In terms of quantities, you should only be bringing enough medication for the duration of your stay. Bring prescriptions and keep pills in their original containers if you are traveling across borders.
Otherwise, it might look like you are carrying them for resale rather than personal use.
Still Unsure? Ask The TSA
If you have any more questions about flying with medication you can reach out to the TSA on Twitter. They usually respond very quickly.
For questions about flying with medication they usually direct travelers to this video:
The TSA will also respond to specific queries.
When Susan asked if she could bring Nitroglycerin pills in her carry-on luggage she received the following reply:
In case you didn’t know, Nitroglycerin is the main ingredient in dynamite!
Under normal circumstances, they’re no way you’d be permitted to bring nitroglycerin on a flight.
However, since Nitro pills are used to treat coronary artery disease they are permitted to be brought on to planes if they are medically necessary.
The Bottom Line
As the TSA says, “medication is okay to place in your carry-on or checked baggage in any form”.
This certainly applied to domestic flights within the United States. If you are crossing international borders it’s a good idea to have a prescription for any controlled medication.
The 3.4 oz limit for liquids does not apply to medically necessary liquids.
Medical devices are also permitted on flights.
You don’t need a letter from a doctor or a prescription to prove that medicine is needed. You just need to let the TSA know that it’s medicine and you need it.
Although I’m sure there are limits and whisky wouldn’t count!