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What can I take in my carry on? Your packing questions answered

Times are tough for travellers. But with the world preparing to reopen in 2021, we're here to keep you dreaming and planning for your next adventure - whether that's a staycation or flying off to parts unknown. Until then, we've got the latest COVID-19 travel advice and updates to keep you up to date and ready to go.

Some of us have had the experience of getting pulled aside in the security line. The security agent then points to a mundane item, like a pair of manicure scissors or an expensive bottle of lotion, as the culprit. What you can and can’t pack for a plane ride isn’t always as straightforward as it seems. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about what you’re allowed to pack in your carry on luggage.

Pile of luggage including suitcases, carry on bag, backpack, and skis

Please note: This article was accurate at the time of publishing. Travel restrictions and regulations may change at any time and without notice. For the latest official travel advice, check Smartraveller.gov.au.

What are the powder, aerosol or gel restrictions for carry on luggage?

Domestic versus international travel

Domestic flights and international flights have different rules when it comes to what’s allowed onboard an aircraft. You might be excited to hear that on domestic flights, there’s no limit to the amount of powders, liquids, gels and aerosols you can tuck into your carry on baggage as long as it meets the weight and size limit of the airline’s carry on restrictions.

Illustrated map of carry on restrictions for flights

However, if you’re travelling on a domestic flight that is transiting through or departing from an international terminal, you’ll likely be subjected to international carry on restrictions.

On international flights, all passengers travelling in and out of Australia must adhere to strict liquid, gel, and aerosol measurement rules. As a general rule, we recommend adhering to the stricter international carry on restrictions if you’re ever in doubt.

Liquids, aerosols and gels

All liquids, aerosols and gels must be placed in containers 100ml/100g or less. These containers must fit into one transparent and re-sealable plastic bag, limited one per person. The bag’s perimeter cannot measure more than 80cm total. If a container is only half filled but capable of carrying more than 100ml/100g, it will not be allowed.

Travellers who are caring for another passenger may carry that passenger’s bag on their behalf. For example, a family of four must not have more than four bags within their group.

Suitcase packed with shoes, masks, and hand sanitiser

Powders

The aviation industry chooses to differentiate between inorganic and organic powders. Inorganic powders include things like sand, foot powder, and salt. Organic powders are derived from living matter and include coffee, baby formula and powdered milk. Most powder cosmetics fall into the organic category. Powders do not need to be kept in a clear bag.

  • Organic powders: No limit to the amount you can bring onboard
  • Inorganic powders: Must not exceed 350g or 350ml per person. Containers are included in the total weight.

As a tip, you’ll want to downsize your powder containers as much as possible to fall under the 350g threshold. If you have 50g of powder in a container that can potentially fit 400g, airport security could make you throw the entire container away.

Exempt items on powders, liquids, aerosols and gels

There are a few items that are exempt when it comes to carry on restrictions of powders, liquids, aerosols and gels.

Exempted items to carry on limits:

  • Baby formula
  • Prescription and non-prescription medications, including special dietary products
  • Medical items and instruments

You may need a doctor’s note if you are bringing medical items in your carry on. For prescription medications, the name on the medication must match the name of the traveller’s boarding pass.

Family travelling through airport with child illustration

A more complete list of exempt items can be found on the Australian Border Force website.

What items are prohibited in a carry on?

Items classed as “dangerous goods” are not allowed to come onboard an aircraft in a traveller’s carry on. These include any items or substances that could pose a threat to other passengers. While some items, like knives and guns, are obvious no-gos, there are many others you might not be aware of.

Prohibited items for carry on luggage:

  • Petrol, butane, gas
  • Flares, gunpowder, fireworks, party poppers, sparklers, lighters, matches
  • Vehicle batteries
  • Fuel or petrol based paint, spray paint
  • Insect repellent spray
  • Paint stripper, hydrogen peroxide, bleach, oven cleaner, chlorine
  • Mercury-containing instruments like thermometers, switches, and barometers
  • Hoverboards
  • Firearms, ammunition
  • Power tools
  • Items with sharp edges or points; axes, manicure scissors, darts, ice skates, metal cutlery, open razors, utility knives
  • Blunt items; bats, hockey or lacrosse stick, golf club, wood plank
  • Restraints like cable ties, handcuffs

A complete list can be found on the airline website you’ll be travelling with as well as the Department of Home Affairs website.

There are many specialty items that could be considered dangerous goods, and airport security staff often make decisions on a case-by-case basis when it comes to items outside the normally listed items. If in doubt, contact the airline directly to see if it will be allowed onboard or to apply for a special exemption.

What items must be packed in a carry on?

All batteries must be packed in your carry on luggage. This includes lithium ion batteries, non-spill batteries like dry cell batteries, and nickel, alkaline, or nickel cadmium batteries. E-cigarettes and personal vaping devices also must be tucked into your carry on baggage.

What size baggage is considered a carry on in Australia?

Every airline sets its own standard when it comes to what they allow carried onto the plane. Carry on allowances can even vary in one airline depending on the size of the aircraft, your cabin class, and your route. Carry on weight allowance for most major airlines servicing Australia ranges from 7kg to 14kg on average.

Bulky items, like musical instruments or sporting gear, is often allowed as a carry on as long as it doesn’t exceed the weight and total size limits for carry on luggage of the airline. If you’re bringing an extra large item, like a cello, you might be able to carry it on if you’ve purchased an extra seat.

Can I Pack That? Government App

Still confused? To help avoid situations where you have to discard items at the airport, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority has created an app and website called Can I Pack That? to give additional clarification before you travel.

Woman rolling a suitcase and checking her phone illustration

Frequently asked questions about carry on baggage

Is honey, Vegemite or peanut butter considered a gel when it comes to carry on luggage?

If the item has a jelly-like substance, it will most likely be considered a gel. According to the Australian Border Force, foods like honey, Vegemite, jam, peanut butter, and soft cheese are considered gels.

How much makeup can I bring in my carry on?

Makeup items like pressed powder, powder eye shadow, eyeliner and compacts can all be brought in your carry on without restrictions. For liquid or gel items like foundation and mascara, you will need to stick to the 100ml rule. 

Can I bring cutlery in my carry on?

Metal cutlery is not permitted in carry on luggage, as it could be used as a weapon. If you really want to bring your own cutlery to use on the plane, you can bring a plastic knife and a fork that has square or round ended prongs, with a handle that is also round ended and non-detachable. 

Can I bring two carry on bags?

Most airlines allow passengers to bring one carry on bag and one personal item. As a general rule, a carry on bag will be able to fit in the overhead bin above your seat while your personal item should fit underneath the seat in front of you. If you exceed these general guidelines, or pack items that are too heavy, you might be forced to check the larger bag. It’s best to check with the airline directly as to what you can bring on your specific flight.

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Find out the latest coronavirus travel restrictions to stay updated on the latest travel restrictions within Australia.

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