Can You Fly With Wrapped Gifts?

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many people to alter their Christmas plans, holiday travel still appears to be in full swing. In the past four days alone, the Transportation Security Administration has screened more than 2 million passengers daily at airport security checkpoints ― nearly double the number seen on those days a year ago.

Flying during the holidays can come with logistical challenges, especially when gifts are involved. For some people, it’s hard to find the space in their suitcases for all the presents they bought for loved ones. Others might be concerned about packing them securely to avoid damage or other mishaps.

And, of course, there are those who like to plan ahead by wrapping their gifts before packing them in their bags. But is it OK to fly with wrapped presents? We asked a couple of travel experts to share their advice.

What To Know About Taking Wrapped Gifts On Flights

“Be sure to follow TSA guidelines when packing,” said Cheryl Nelson, a travel preparedness expert and founder of Prepare with Cher. “While there aren’t specific gift wrapping restrictions, there is a chance your perfectly wrapped present with the curled bow could be unwrapped by a TSA agent if your luggage is flagged for safety inspection.”

Although there aren’t explicit rules that forbid it, TSA advises against wrapping your gifts before packing them in your suitcase since there’s a chance this could get undone in the security screening process. This guidance applies to both checked and carry-on luggage.

“Whether a wrapped gift is in a carry-on bag or checked luggage, if your luggage is flagged at TSA, your gift will be unwrapped,” Nelson said. “This could cause delays for you getting through TSA security and delay your checked luggage from making it on time for your scheduled flight departure.”

What To Do Instead

Understandably, you might not want to risk getting delayed or having your beautiful wrapping paper get torn up. But there are ways to be prepared without having everything fully gift-wrapped.

“You can keep your gifts in a gift bag or a box, but you’ll want to make sure that they can be easily opened by TSA agents if they need to be inspected,” said Lindsay Schwimer, a consumer travel expert with the trip-booking app Hopper.

Nelson offered some other suggestions for flying with presents as well.

“An easy alternative is to pack a gift bag and tissue paper and properly place your gift in the gift bag once you reach your destination,” she said. “If you really want to wrap your gift, pack some wrapping paper and tape, and save the gift-wrapping for your destination.”

If you feel strongly about fully wrapping your gift prior to air travel, you might also consider sending it separately to your destination via mail instead.

Other Things To Keep In Mind

As you prepare for your holiday flights, remember that everything you pack in your bag is subject to TSA regulations, including gifts. So if you got someone a set of nice hand lotions, make sure they’re carry-on size or put them in your checked bag.

“Travelers who are unsure if an item should be packed in a carry-on or checked bag should check the TSA homepage and reference the ‘What can I bring?’ section for the most up-to-date guidance,” Schwimer said.

Nelson noted that craft scissors are only permitted in checked luggage, so don’t try to toss them in your carry-on with other gift-wrapping supplies.

“Chances are that someone at your destination will likely have scissors you can borrow,” she added.

Nelson also offered a word of warning about a particular holiday favorite: the snow globe.

“If you plan to pack a festive snow globe in your carry-on luggage, remember that snow globes are considered liquids and anything liquid larger than 3.4 ounces ― roughly the size of a tennis ball ― will be flagged and confiscated by TSA agents,” she said. “If you plan to gift a snow globe, please carefully wrap it in bubble wrap for protection in your checked luggage.”

And remember: If you are flying this holiday season, be sure to take all the proper precautions to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Wear your mask at the airport and on board, wash and sanitize your hands frequently, keep a safe distance from others when possible, and don’t fly if you’re feeling sick.

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