Sometimes a little bit of alcohol goes a long way when it comes to relaxing on a plane.
Yes, most airlines sell alcohol to passengers but what about the much cheaper and convenient route of bringing your own hooch through TSA?
Is it actually legal to take your own alcohol on board or are you asking for trouble with the FAA.
I was curious about this myself and so I took a deep dive into the FAA/TSA rules and even spoke with some TSA agents to see exactly what was allowed and what wasn’t.
In this article, I will talk about the rules for bringing alcohol and mini-liquor bottles through the airport and drinking them on the plane.
Can you bring alcohol on a plane?
Yes, you can bring alcohol on a plane but there are very specific restrictions that differ based on whether you are bringing your alcohol on in your carry-on or in your checked baggage.
If bringing alcohol in your carry-on, you need to abide by the TSA liquids rule and the FAA regulations on alcoholic content and consuming alcohol on the plane.
And if you’re bringing alcohol in your checked baggage, you need to be mindful about the FAA regulations on alcoholic content and limits to the total quantity allowed, especially when coming back from an international trip.
Below, I’ll break down these buzz-kill restrictions into clear terms so that you don’t miss out.
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Bringing alcohol on a plane as a carry-on
If you want to take your booze with you in your carry-on, you’ll have to contend with the TSA liquids rule and a couple of very important FAA regulations.
Alcohol and the TSA Liquids 3-1-1 Rule
Alcohol fall in the liquids category and so when you are bringing it on as a carry-on you always have to abide by this rule.
The TSA Liquids 3-1-1 Rule states that you can only bring liquids in containers no larger than 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) and that all of your liquid containers must fit “comfortably” into one clear, quart-size bag.
(When going through the checkpoint, you’ll have to remove your quart-size bag from your luggage unless you have TSA Pre-Check.)
So if you plan on bringing alcohol in your carry-on bag, this rule means you’ll be limited to only small amounts.
Alcohol and FAA regulations
If you like guzzling down some seriously strong alcohol I’ve got some bad news for you.
The FAA forbids you to bring beverages with an alcoholic content of more than 70% (more than 140 proof) in your carry-on or checked baggage.
Why is that? It’s just a little bit too flammable for comfort.
The next regulation you need to be aware of pertains to partaking in your adult beverages on the plane.
FAA regulation §135.121 on alcoholic beverages states that:
No person may drink any alcoholic beverage aboard an aircraft unless a certificate holder operating the aircraft has served that beverage.
Notice that the regulation only states that you may not drink alcohol unless a “certificate holder operating the aircraft” (aka a flight attendant) has served it to you.
This means that in theory you could request a flight attendant to serve you your own alcohol and be compliant with the FAA regulation.
But don’t get too excited.
First, to pull this off you need some serious master of persuasion skills. This is especially true in the post-pandemic world.
More crucial, if you look at the policy stated by virtually every major US airline you will see that they don’t seem very open to this idea (or they are just outright against it).
|Alaska Airlines||Policy||“may not be consumed… unless it has been provided by a flight attendant”|
|American Airlines||Policy||“Opened containers aren’t allowed”|
|Delta Air Lines||Policy||“must be in its original unopened retail packaging”|
|Fronter||Policy||“Personal Alcoholic Beverages may not be consumed onboard the aircraft”|
|Hawaiian||Policy||“may not be consumed… unless served by a Hawaiian Airlines flight attendant.”|
|JetBlue||Policy||“You are not allowed to consume your own alcohol while on board”|
|United Airlines||Policy||“You can’t drink the alcohol you bring on our aircraft”|
So generally speaking, drinking your own alcohol on a plane is going to be difficult to do (the legal way).
But what would you be risking if you chose to violate the law?
The FAA could slap a fine on you. In fact, they have been busy dropping huge fines on unruly passengers for alcohol related incidents.
In reality, if you were asked to put away your alcohol and you immediately complied I doubt you would suffer any consequences.
It’s only when things escalate that the fines seem to come into play.
Mini liquor bottles
Although the odds might be stacked against you when it comes to consuming your alcohol on the plane, you should at least know that bringing mini liquor bottles on the plane is permitted.
Subject to a couple of restrictions, of course.
First, going back to the liquids rule.
Mini liquor bottles are about 1.7 ounces, so this means that they are small enough to be brought on the plane as a liquid.
If you would like to bring more alcohol, you can consider pouring your liquor bottles into larger carry-on size containers that are 3.4 ounces.
The tricky thing to remember is that the percent of alcohol can dictate what you can bring in your 3.4 ounce containers.
TSA has no rules against transporting alcohol in bottles that you did not purchase the alcohol in but if they contain more than 24% alcohol but not more than 70% alcohol they need to be in unopened retail packaging.
So that means that many types of vodka, gin, rum, whiskey, tequilas, and other alcohols cannot be legally transferred from an open bottle of liquor into one of your personal liquid bottles and then carried onto a plane because the alcohol would not be in unopened retail packaging.
For your reference, here are some ranges for the alcoholic content of some common beverages:
Alcohol Percentage Content
- Vodka | ABV: 40-95%
- Gin | ABV: 36-50%
- Rum | ABV: 36-50%
- Whiskey | ABV: 36-50%
- Tequila | ABV: 50-51%
- Liqueurs | ABV: 15%
- Fortified Wine | ABV: 16-24%
- Unfortified Wine | ABV: 14-16%
- Beer | ABV: 4-8%
- Malt Beverage | ABV: 15%
Related: TSA Marijuana Rules Explained
How many mini-liquor bottles can you fit in a quart sized Ziploc bag?
The amount of bottles that you can fit inside of a quart size bag will depend on the shape and size of the mini-liquor bottles.
However you can generally expect to fit between five and seven mini-liquor bottles inside a quart size bag.
Just remember that the bottles must fit “comfortably” within the bag.
Comfortably means that the bag will seal without busting at the seams.
If you cannot completely seal up that bag then the TSA agent will likely state that you have not met the “comfortable” requirement and you will have to throw away some of your alcohol.
Making cocktails on planes
You might be surprised that there are some food items great for cocktails that you can bring on planes. For example, you can bring fresh fruits (lime, lemon, etc.) with you through airport security.
Most airlines will serve many drinks that are perfect for mixing up cocktails such as, orange juice, Coke, Sprite, ginger ale, tomato juice, and other fruit juices. These are usually served either on a complementary basis or for a small fee.
If you want some inspiration for cocktail ideas you find those here.
You can also buy cocktail kits online.
The key here is to be mindful about those FAA regulations.
What about duty-free liquor bottles?
If you have purchased liquor bottles from a duty-free store then you should be able to bring those on the plane even if they are larger than the standard 3.4 ounces allowed.
If you are coming in from an international flight and you are connecting to another flight within the US, you should still be able to bring your duty-free liquor bottles with you through TSA and onto your connecting flight.
However, there are special requirements for doing so.
You may carry duty free liquids in secure, tamper–evident bags, more than 3.4 oz or 100 ml in your carry-on bag if:
- The duty free liquids were purchased internationally and you are traveling to the United States with a connecting flight.
- The liquids are packed in a transparent, secure, tamper-evident bag by the retailer and do not show signs of tampering when presented to TSA for screening.
- The original receipt for the liquids is present and the purchase was made within 48 hours.
Read more about this rule here.
Alcohol and checked bags: know your limits
If you want to bring your booze in your checked baggage, there are additional (but similar) restrictions that apply in that case.
Let’s start with the lightest type of alcohol.
Alcoholic beverages with 24% alcohol or less are not subject to limitations in checked bags.
This would be mostly things like beer, champagne, wine, and some limited liquors.
Alcoholic beverages with more than 24% but not more than 70% alcohol are limited in checked bags to 5 liters (1.3 gallons) per passenger and must be in unopened retail packaging.
And, as stated above, beverages with more than 70% alcohol are not allowed on the plane at all.
The rules above don’t mean you should bring in unlimited amounts of alcohol, though (especially if flying into the US).
The CBP states that:
There is no federal limit on the amount of alcohol a traveler may import into the U.S. for personal use, however, large quantities might raise the suspicion that the importation is for commercial purposes, and a CBP officer could require the importer to obtain an Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) import license (which is required for all commercial importations) before releasing it.
So if you go pushing things to the limit you could find yourself subjected to license requirements. And I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that those licenses aren’t free.
So what would be a safe limit when bringing alcohol back into the country?
CBP does provide us with some guidance and they state:
A general rule of thumb is that 1 case of alcohol is a personal use quantity – although travelers are still subject to state restrictions which may allow less.
So if you are bringing in alcohol in your checked baggage, my advice would be to stick to one case of alcohol. If you try to push the limits, you could be subject to additional fees or worse, so it is just not worth it in my opinion.
Alcohol on planes FAQ
Contrary to what you might believe, it is not illegal to bring your own personal alcohol on a plane.
The FAA requires all alcohol consumed on a plane to be served by a flight attendant. Most airlines have policies that don’t allow you to drink your own alcohol on the plane so the odds of you getting a flight attendant to serve you your own alcohol are probably very low.
Many cocktail recipes call for special syrups. If you are wondering about bringing syrups on the plane, you should know that TSA will consider them to be liquids and they will be subject to the 3-1-1 rule. You can read more about different foods and liquids permitted to bring on a plane here.
Yes, you can take mini-liquor bottles through airports and onto planes. However, you need to be aware of the special regulations that govern liquids through security and those for serving alcohol on planes so that you are not violating any laws.
You must be age 21 to consume alcoholic beverages on a US plane.
You can bring a handful of your mini-liquor bottles through airport security and even drink them on the plane.
However, you need to be aware of the FAA regulations and decide the best way for you to go about complying with those. Some airline crews may be more relaxed than others or be more strict so you will have to get a sense of how the flight crew is going to be.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.