10/01/2012 07:44 am ET Updated Dec 01, 2012

Flying Dry: Navigating The Rules Of Carry-on Liquids

Just because we're more conditioned to it, doesn't make tossing a delicious, piping hot, 16-ounce Starbucks coffee before boarding any easier.

In spite of all the stated rules for "liquids, gels, creams and similar substances" published by the TSA, the actual implementation of these rules will vary dramatically from airport to airport throughout the US and abroad. Why? The reasons can vary from lack of training, personal interpretation of the rules by individual TSA employees or just plain laziness in adhering to them. After all, TSA employees are looking for needles in a haystack as thousands of travelers pass their patrol. So getting through with your favorite beverage is really a toss of the dice.

As a traveler, you can either argue your case when faced with a screener who insists you dump that fresh bottle of water or you can simply take steps to avoid any unpleasantness that may ruin the start to that dream vacation or that important client meeting.

Here are a few tips to make the experience a little more pleasant:

Get a one quart plastic zipper bag. Not a sandwich bag or a one of those plastic bags from the produce section of your local grocery store. A quart! And make sure it has as few markings as possible.

Use brand name bottles to store your liquids and creams. A lot of people make the mistake of pouring a few ounces of shampoo from a large bottle at home into a smaller plastic or metal bottles without any markings. Bad idea! The one thing a TSA inspector doesn't like to see are things they can't immediately identify or relate to. Place your liquids in a brand name bottle, even if the contents of the bottle do not match the label.

A lot of people make the mistake of carrying the allotted amount of liquid in bottles capable of holding liquids far exceeding the limits. No good! The container must be capable of holding no more than three ounces regardless of how much is in it.

Will you be flying between two non-U.S. cities? If you are flying on a U.S. flag carrier, the rules imposed by those carriers are actually more stringent than they are in the U.S. For example, on a recent flight from Tokyo to Singapore on United Airlines, no liquids, creams, lotions or pastes of any kind regardless of size or where purchased were allowed to be hand carried onto the aircraft.

Seriously consider checking your bags. No one likes to do this if they don't have to, but no one should have to deal with the anxiety, inconsistencies and uncertainties of trying to carry any sort of non-solid item through security -- or the second layer of security which exist at most international airports servicing flights to the USA.

In the end the bottom line is really quite simple. Use common sense and don't try to cheat the system. You just may face a TSA inspector who wants to make an example out of you. And you'll lose.

Chris is the president and co-founder of, a service that helps travelers get out of the "Middle Seat" by providing in-depth flight info and alerts when Awards and Upgrades are available.