10 Surprising Things You Didn’t Know You Could Bring Through TSA Checkpoints

Your favorite lightsaber won’t get flagged—and neither will your pet goldfish.
You'd be amazed at what things you can get through a TSA checkpoint.
You'd be amazed at what things you can get through a TSA checkpoint. / Spencer Platt, Getty Images News, Getty Images

More than 130 million Americans are expected to travel during this upcoming holiday season—in fact, a recent survey by Deloitte revealed that nearly half of all Americans plan to do so between Thanksgiving and mid-January. While most of us tend to obsess about what we can’t bring on the plane, you’d be pleasantly—or perhaps shockingly—surprised by what the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) actually does allow on board.

While we may not be able to take more than 3.4 ounces of liquid in our carry-on bag, there are countless other things—from pet fish to collectible lightsaber toys and beyond—that are fine, even if those items raise a few eyebrows from the people around you in line.

If you do happen to take any of the items we’ll mention below, you may just end up on the TSA’s award-winning Instagram account. In 2018, it won three Webby Awards and has since surpassed 1 million followers. (Could be because of the incredible puns on display, all written by a social media expert who seems like they majored in punning in college.) And if you’re still reluctant to pack certain items, you can always reach out to TSA online for your specific packing-related questions.

1. Live Fish

Gold fish inside blue fishbowl
Your buddies can come along for the flight. / Gustavo Ramirez, Moment Collection, Getty Images

Although you probably don’t want to bring the farm, small pets can ride with you on a plane. Many people are probably aware of this already, especially considering the rise of emotional support animals since the start of the pandemic. However, TSA guidelines advise you to check with the airline before attempting to bring any animals on board.

What you may not have known, however, is that live fish count among those safe-for-travel companions. If you’re taking Nemo with you for a flight, the TSA recommends that you transport your aquatic pal in a clear plastic container.  People have also been known to take turtles and birds with them, too.

2. Plants

In case you don’t trust your roommate to water your plants while you’re away, you can take your plants, trees, and even flowers with you on the trip—but the TSA warns that the final decision about whether your leafy buddy can fly is up to the officer at your checkpoint. Plus, you’ll need to make sure it fits in the overhead bin or under your seat.

3. Artificial Skeleton Bones

Plastic skeleton hands for Halloween on an orange background.
No bones about it—fake skeleton hands can get through. / Jennifer A Smith, Moment Collection, Getty Images

If you want to take the skeletons in your closet with you on your flight, you can—artificial skeleton bones, that is. Whether you’ve got them as part of some Halloween décor or purely for educational reasons, fake bones are A-OK on the plane or inside checked luggage. Or as the TSA puts it on Instagram, “All things humerus aside, your life-sized plastic skeletons are good to fly.” (And yes, someone did indeed pack one along for a recent trip.)

4. Pizza

If you haven’t trekked through the airport with an armload of pizza, have you ever really lived? From fresh eggs to rolls of Goetta sausage to Chicago-style slices, a wide variety of food choices are fine to take along as a carry-on item. Keep in mind, though, that TSA officers may ask you to separate food from other items in your bag during screening. Unfortunately, other delectable—but overly liquid—options (such as liquid chocolate and ice cream) are not OK to bring on the flight unless you’re following the 3-1-1 liquids rule.

Also, don’t assume you can use food to hide weapons or other illegal paraphernalia, because they’ll find out.

5. Sports Balls

Bowling balls on ball shelves
Feel free to pack your favorite. / mbbirdy, E+ Collection, Getty Images

Traveling for a playoff game or just want something that will pass the time while you wait to board? You can take sports balls with you: basketballs, baseballs, footballs, and soccer balls are all clear to pass through TSA checkpoints. Bowling balls are even fine too, although sports equipment that could be used as a bludgeoning weapon—i.e., bowling pins—are prohibited and need to stay in your checked baggage.

6. Lightsabers

Good news for Star Wars fans: Lightsabers should be alright to take on a plane. While the TSA notes that the “technology doesn’t currently exist to create a real lightsaber,” toy models are unlikely to get flagged (provided the officer at the checkpoint doesn’t do so). Using the Force to make your flight arrive on time? Might have mixed results there.

7. Balloons

Pink deflated balloon on blue background
So long as they're deflated, it's fine. / the_burtons, Moment Collection, Getty Images

Hosting a party shortly after you land? Lucky for you, the TSA will let balloons slip right through, with one catch: They can’t be inflated. You can also expect them to closely examine your balloon stash—as they did in this case—if you bring luggage filled with the stuff.

8. Musical Instruments

Folks who play musical instruments shouldn’t hesitate to bring certain equipment onto the flight. Whether you specialize in strumming a guitar or a ukulele, or just want to travel with some drum sticks, you probably won’t have to stress too much about it going through the checkpoint. That said, according to the TSA’s official guidelines, musical instruments do require additional screening, including physical inspection. So to be on the safe side, make sure you leave plenty of time for that when you’re planning on when to arrive at the airport.

9. Antlers

Moose antler hanging on the logs of a wooden wall.
If you can fit them in your carry-on, they'll clear TSA. / brytta, E+ Collection, Getty Images

Antlers are one of the wildest things by far that you can get through a TSA checkpoint. Based on the agency’s guidelines, you can include a set in your carry-on luggage as long as the bag still fits in the overhead bin or underneath the seat.

10. Robot Vacuums

Look, people travel with all sorts of things—and if you’re someone who gets seriously creeped out by the dirt that might be lurking inside a hotel room or AirBnB and want to take your robot vacuum along for the trip, we won’t judge you. In fact, neither will the TSA: These zippy little cleaning gadgets are among the things cleared to take on a flight.