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Creating your own special little cocktails on a plane is a great way to make a flight much more comfortable and pass the time. And one of the easiest ways to do this is to bring your own alcohol and mini-liquor bottles with you through airport security and onto the plane.
But is this even legal or socially acceptable to do?
I was curious about this myself and so I took a deep dive into the 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 mini-liquor bottles through the airport and drinking them on the plane. I will also give you one special tip for not violating any regulations and enjoying your alcoholic beverages.
Can you take mini-liquor bottles through airports?
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.
TSA Liquid 3-1-1 Rule
If you need a refresher for the 3-1-1 rule then here it is:
You are allowed to bring a quart-sized bag of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams and pastes in your carry-on bag and through the checkpoint. These are limited to travel-sized containers that are 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less per item and they must be placed “comfortably” in one, quart sized, clear plastic, zip-top bag.
Comfortable means that the bag will seal without busting at the seams.
You will have to remove this bag from your luggage unless you have TSA Pre-Check, which is a great program that allows you to get through airport security much quicker.
Mini liquor bottles are 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 store more alcohol, you can consider pouring your mini liquor bottles into larger carry-on size containers that are 3.4 ounces.
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.
Also, alcohol over 70% is not allowed.
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%
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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. 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.
I thought it was illegal to bring alcohol on the plane?
Contrary to what you might believe, it is not illegal to bring your own personal alcohol on a plane.
Things only get tricky when we start talking about drinking your own alcohol on a plane. Here is the official FAA regulation that deals with this question.
§135.121 Alcoholic beverages.
(a) No person may drink any alcoholic beverage aboard an aircraft unless the 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 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 this regulation.
Some flight attendants will happily serve you your own alcohol but others may push back since technically you are a less profitable customer when you do this. The best thing to do is to politely request a flight attendant to serve you your alcohol and if they refuse to do so just accecpt their answer and move on.
What about syrups?
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.
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. Many airlines will consider your duty free bags to be carry-ons so my advice is to make sure that they fit inside of a carry-on luggage bag.
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.
- 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.
What about checked bags?
There is also an additional restriction based on the alcohol content and quantity of the beverage for checked bags. 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. Alcoholic beverages with 24% alcohol or less are not subject to limitations in checked bags.
That doesn’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. 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 and potentially fines, so it is just not worth it in my opinion.
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.
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Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the digital smart wallet, 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. 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.