For those who need them, it’s hard to think of a more essential travel accessory than contact lenses.
Unfortunately, getting contact lenses through TSA security is not always as clear as you would like it to be.
Below, I’ll give you some guidance on how to get your contact lenses and solution through airport security as a carry-on and also provide some tips for traveling with them in general.
Can you bring contact lens solution on a plane and through TSA?
Yes, you can bring contact lens solution on a plane and through TSA in your carry-on or checked bag.
When bringing contact lens solution in your carry-on, you will need to be mindful of the TSA liquids rule and its medical exception (which we talk about below).
But you also need to be careful about certain types of solution, such as those containing hydrogen peroxide because those can be more problematic.
Keep reading below to find out how to potentially avoid problems.
Bringing contacts and solution in your carry-on
When bringing your contacts and solution in your carry-on, you are going to have to get them through TSA airport security.
And that means dealing with the TSA liquids rule.
The TSA Liquids 3-1-1 Rule states that you can only bring liquids in containers no larger than 3.4 liquid ounces (100 milliliters) and that all of your liquid containers must fit “comfortably” into one clear, quart-size bag.
Plenty of suppliers sell contact solution bottles at or under 3.4 liquid ounces so it’s definitely possible to find a container under these size limits.
Solution bottles larger than 3.4 ounces
Sometimes you might not be able to find a solution container under 3.4 ounces. For example, maybe you use a special type of contact solution recommended by your eye doctor that is harder to find in travel sizes.
Well, there is still good news for you.
TSA allows you to bring liquids larger than 3.4 ounces if they are medically necessary.
They specifically state: “TSA allows larger amounts of medically necessary liquids, gels, and aerosols in reasonable quantities for your trip, but you must declare them to security officers at the checkpoint for inspection.”
In theory, all contact solution — prescription or not — should be medically necessary but that determination could be up to the TSA agent at the screening station.
So this means that you can bring contact solution in containers larger than 3.4 fluid ounces but some discretion will be involved.
The catch when bringing an oversized liquid container for medical purposes is that it needs to be a reasonable quantity for your trip and you need to declare it to the TSA agents.
A “reasonable quantity” is going to depend on the circumstances but generally one oversized bottle should be reasonable for your average trip of a few days or even a couple of weeks.
You would probably only run into some quantity issues if you have multiple oversized bottles or if you had one inexplicably large container.
TSA also mentions that you need to declare your medically necessary liquids.
An easy way to do this would be to place your oversized contact solution container into a clear plastic bag and as you are getting ready to go through security just tell the agent that you have a container of contact solution that is medically necessary.
In most cases, you’ll also need to pull out your plastic bag with your solution container and place it in its own tray just like you normally do with your liquids bag.
You may not have to do this if you have something like TSA Pre-Check but you should always be ready to quickly retrieve an oversized liquids container and explain why you are bringing it with you.
One important thing to note: it’s not hard to find reports of TSA agents sometimes giving people trouble when they bring in large bottles of contact solution.
.@TSA just took my wife’s prescription contact lens solution at LAX. Please explain this! @AskTSA— Rebecca Henry (@girlsside) April 15, 2018
For that reason, I would save the screenshot below which comes from the official TSA Twitter account where they make it clear that oversized bottles of contact solution are allowed.
Additional screening and hydrogen peroxide solution
One more thing that you need to be ready for when bringing contact solution through TSA is additional screening.
A lot of times whenever you bring a liquid container over 3.4 ounces TSA agents will want to take a close look at it to make sure that it does not trigger their tests for explosives.
Some types of solution bottles could be considered more hazardous than others. For example, contact lens solutions with hydrogen peroxide (usually the type with a red cap like Clear Care) could draw more attention.
There are many reports of TSA agents confiscating this type of contact solution when it doesn’t pass the explosives test during additional screening.
For that reason, I would only attempt to transport contact solution with hydrogen peroxide through TSA security if it is in a container under 3.4 fluid ounces.
That way, you can decrease the odds of getting your solution tested.
But even then be aware that some people report their containers being confiscated even when the container is under 3.4 ounces! (Reportedly, some TSA agents confiscate these bottles whenever they see a red cap on them.)
So, at the end of the day it will probably just come down to does your solution bottle: 1) contain a red cap or 2) test positive for certain chemicals not allowed through the checkpoint.
If the answer is yes to any of those, you may run into trouble bringing your container through TSA security.
Bringing contacts and solution in your checked bag
If you choose to bring your contacts in your checked baggage then you can avoid the liquids screening process for your contact solution altogether.
In that case, the liquids 3.4 ounce limitation will not apply.
For people with contact solution containing hydrogen peroxide, putting it in their checked bag is often the best option.
But you still may need to think about a few things.
First, your luggage could always be delayed or lost so you should never put anything in your checked baggage that you cannot live without.
For many people, they cannot live without corrective lenses and their contact solution so I would only put those items in your checked baggage if you also had some in your carry-on bag.
If your contact solution will not be allowed in your carry-on (because of something like 3% hydrogen peroxide), you are sort of out of luck in this scenario which is really a shame. You may be forced to risk going without that solution in the event your checked bag goes missing.
Travel tips for your contacts and solution
As you increase in altitude, the air will expand inside of your containers.
If you’ve ever flown with a bag of potato chips you’ve probably noticed how expanded the bag gets once you arrive at 30,000+ feet. It’s kind of crazy.
Well, the same type of thing can happen with the air inside of your contact solution bottle. This can cause leaks which is why it’s a good idea to put your contact solution containers inside of a plastic bag.
It can also help to squeeze the air out of your solution bottle before you begin ascending so that there is more room for the air to expand.
Switch to daily contacts
You can always temporarily switch to daily contacts whenever you are traveling.
This will allow you to completely avoid using contact solution and having to worry about keeping up with cleaning your contact cases.
Travel with back ups
When traveling, it’s a good idea to bring some back up contacts just in case your contacts get lost or damaged. I usually always keep a back-up pair in my toiletries bag and one pair in my backpack.
If you already use daily contacts, be sure to bring several extra on your trip because you never know when you might need more.
Bring your glasses
If you have eyeglasses, always make sure to bring those with you, even if you rarely wear them.
When you travel to new destinations, fly on a plane, etc. it’s not uncommon for your eyes to get irritated and putting contacts on irritated eyes is often a bad idea.
So I would always try to have a pair of eyeglasses with you, even if you don’t regularly wear them.
Avoid transferring your solution into another container
Some people might think about transferring their contact solution into a smaller container so that they can more easily get through TSA security.
For example, maybe you want to pour your solution into a smaller TSA-approved liquids container.
The problem with this is that you could contaminate your solution which could increase your chances of getting infected. Therefore, I would recommend against doing that.
You should not have any problems bringing a travel sized container of normal contact solution through airport security.
But even if your container is larger than 3.4 ounces, you can still bring it through thanks to the TSA medical exemption which allows you to transport larger containers in reasonable quantities.
However, if you have contact solution with a red tip that contains hydrogen peroxide there is a long track record of TSA agents confiscating these when they don’t pass the explosives test.
So I would probably only try to transport those if they were in a container under 3.4 ounces or if you placed them in your checked bag.
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.