Which Thanksgiving foods you can and cannot take on your flight

November 16, 2019 0 By JohnValbyNation

Maybe your in-laws aren’t such great cooks. Or you’ve run out of ways to disguise the fact that the Brussels sprouts casserole that’s a staple at family gatherings is worse than vile. One solution: Fly your holiday dinner with you.

Can you do that in a carry-on? Yes, but with some restrictions.

Remember, you can’t carry a steamer trunk on an airplane. Carry-ons must adhere to your airline’s size limitations, so check there first. And, of course, consider whether you want your luggage to smell like Thanksgiving for the rest of the year.

Then consider whether the contents of your dinner are allowed.

What is cleared for takeoff in your carry-on: turkey, dry stuffing, casseroles and desserts such as pies.

What’s not: more than 3.4 ounces of any liquid, which must be packed in a like-sized container. If it’s more than that, it must go in your checked luggage.

The general rule, the Transportation Security Administration said, is if you can “spill it, spread it, spray it, pump it or pour it,” and it’s more than 3.4 ounces, it should be packed in a checked bag. You must carry items of 3.4 ounces or less in a 1-quart plastic bag if you’re taking it in a carry-on bag.


Finding a good deal on a bird or one that meets your stringent requirements is perhaps one of the biggest challenges of the holiday season. If you’ve found the one, of course you want to take it with you. Cooking it ahead of time is the easier option, although you can take it uncooked if you follow TSA’s instructions, which urge packing it in ice or solidly frozen ice packs. (Slushy ice will be a nonstarter.) You may use dry ice but not more than 5 pounds, and the container must be properly vented, TSA said.

Vegetables and fruit dishes

If you can’t imagine a holiday meal without homemade green bean casserole and mashed potatoes, there is good news: TSA allows fresh and cooked vegetables and fruits on flights from most locations. But if you are traveling from Hawaii, Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands, you may run into some regulatory issues. Laws generally prohibit the transport of most fresh fruits and vegetables — except those that have United States Department of Agriculture’s stamp of approval — from these locations because of the risk of “spreading invasive plant pests.” Travelers from Hawaii, Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands can check out USDA’s traveler information webpage to learn what they can or cannot bring.


Travelers interested in showing off their version of this rich sauce at the dinner table or carrying leftovers on their flight home can carry gravy in a 3.4-ounce (or smaller) container. If you would like to carry more than this dollop, carefully secure it in an airtight plastic container, wrap it in plastic and pack it in your checked baggage.


The turkey may be the star of the show, but stuffing isn’t far behind. You can take the dressing in your carry-on luggage, inside or outside the bird, as long as it’s dry. If it’s super moist, you are better off packing it in your checked bag.

Cranberry sauce

Beloved cranberry sauce can be transported in your carry-on luggage in a 3.4-ounce bottle. That’s a pretty small serving for a crowd, so if you want to snag more of your mother’s leftover cranberry sauce, secure it carefully in a plastic tub and pack it in your checked bag.

Pumpkin pie

TSA gives pumpkin pie the green light. You can pack it as a carry-on or in checked luggage. In case your flight is delayed, keep a fork handy.

Travelers who still have questions about food items can check out TSA’s “What can I bring?” webpage that lists what items are allowed or not in your carry-on.

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