Australian And US Airports Are Implementing Restrictions On Powders In Hand Luggage

Filed Under: Security/TSA, Travel

For many years, most airports around the world have had strict requirements for liquids, gels and aerosols taken on board flights. While some airports’ policies may vary slightly, Heathrow, for example has the following rules (which are the same for most airports I have visited):

The following restrictions apply to all liquids, creams, gels, pastes and aerosols taken through security control:

  • Liquids may only be carried in containers holding 100ml or less.
  • They must be carried separately in a single bag which is:
    – Transparent and resealable
    – No larger than 20cm x 20cm (8in x 8in)
    – Able to close properly with all the items inside.
  • At security control, place the bag in the tray with your other items.
  • Liquids in containers over 100ml will not be permitted through security – please pack them in your hold baggage instead.

Passing through Melbourne Airport earlier this year, I was surprised to be instructed by a security officer that they did not have any transparent bags, and provided my liquids did not exceed 100ml, they did not need to be taken out of my hand luggage.

When I then passed through Hong Kong that evening, there were no instructions to remove liquids from my hand luggage so I did not bother to.

I suspect some airports simply follow the rules more closely than others.

A new restriction is being introduced at the end of this month.

New Australia powder restrictions

From June 30, 2018, all international flights departing Australia, will be subject to restrictions on the carrying of powders in hand luggage.

All powders must be presented to security for inspection.

There are no restrictions on domestic flights.

Powders are defined as:

Fine dry particles produced by the grinding, crushing, or disintegration of a solid substance (for example, flour, sugar, ground coffee, spices, powdered milk, baby formula or cosmetics). Powders may also be presented in clumpy, grain, or compressed material forms.

Powders can be organic or inorganic.

For organic powders, provided they are presented for inspection, there are no restrictions on taking these on board, such as restrictions on size or how they are packed.

Examples of organic powders include:

  • Powdered baby formula
  • Powdered food
  • Coffee
  • Protein powder
  • Flour, spices, sugar
  • Most cosmetics
  • Epsom salt

However, for those powders that the Australia Government describes as ‘inorganic,’ meaning:

A powder not consisting of, or derived from, living matter,

these cannot exceed 350 millilitres or 350 grams.

Examples of inorganic powders include:

  • Salt
  • Salt scrub
  • Sand
  • Some talcum powders
  • Some powdered deodorant
  • Certain foot powders
  • Powdered detergent and cleaning products

Just like liquids, aerosols and gels that exceed 100 ml, inorganic powders that exceed 350ml or grams, should be placed in checked luggage in order to travel.

New United States powder restrictions

The United States is also implementing new restrictions from June 30, 2018. All TSA check-points are now requiring passengers to separately present any powders in hand luggage for inspection, at security.

All powders will be limited to 350ml or 12 ounces.

There is no distinguishing between organic or inorganic powders — all face the same size restriction.

TSA will request foreign security checking passengers on any international flight to the United States to also check and implement this restriction, however I’m not sure how this will actually be achieved unless there are additional security checks at each gate.

These restrictions have apparently already been in place for domestic flights.

Why are they doing this?

Security concerns of course.

In July 2017, there was a foiled terrorist attack on an Etihad flight from Sydney to Abu Dhabi, where a barbie doll was filled with explosives powder in a passenger’s hand luggage, and set to detonate shortly after take off.

It was only at check-in where the hand luggage was considered too heavy to take on board, that the attack was stopped.

These new measures in Australia are partly in response to this. If all powders are removed for a visual inspection, any powders otherwise hidden in hand luggage should be easier for x-rays to spot.

I imagine the US is adopting powder restrictions based on the Australian concern.

Bottom line

While additional security restrictions are always frustrating as a passenger, ultimately this will not affect most travellers and the restrictions in both countries do actually seem fairly generous. I have never taken any of the above examples of inorganic powders in hand luggage (or checked luggage for that matter) so the Australian restrictions don’t really affect me.

I imagine some families traveling with small children may need to reconsider how they split their hand and checked luggage.

Do you take powders in hand luggage on flights?

(Tip of the hat to Australian Business Traveller)

  1. Well damn, this could complicate my travels. I have a stomach condition that requires me to mix an OTC powder called Miralax into a drink every night before I go to bed. It’s not so hard to find this at my destination when traveling domestically, but if flying to SE Asia or something, I’d worry I might not be able to find it. I wonder if a doctor’s note/prescription would help in case TSA gave me issues?

  2. @ Aaron — For something like that, you might want to see if they sell single-serve packets, rather than a large tub. Smaller, factory-sealed packets may end up being less of a hassle, even with a doctor’s note.

  3. No more explosives in hand luggage. Explosive powders will soon have to be in checked luggage. Only one more week to carry them on. I feel much safer now.

    Not to mention impressed that this happened last year, and TSA is already doing something about it a year later. Talk about really on their game. 🙁

  4. The reason you don’t have to take out liquids is because of 3D-scanners. Amsterdam airport installs them – you don’t have to take out any laptop/liquids anymore with those scanners.

  5. James, I believe you have the US version of the regulation incorrect. On the TSA page (link you posted), it states “Powder-like substances greater than 12 oz. / 350 mL must be placed in a separate bin for X-ray screening. They may require additional screening and containers may need to be opened. For your convenience, we encourage you to place non-essential powders greater than 12 oz. in checked bags.” So that tells me if you have a powder-like substance less than 12oz/350ml, it can be placed in carry-on luggage with no additional screening required. Let me know if I’m interpreting that incorrectly.

  6. Why the distinction between domestic and international flights? A bomb will cause the same effect wherever the plane is going.

  7. Spending billions to save some worthless lives that will be cut short soon anyway by alcohol, drug or firearm abuse.

    I think care, security and concern is just another way for sleaze ball politicians to make money.

  8. I see this mostly being a super pain for families with formula who are already at a disadvantage since they need distilled water AND powder to travel in most cases. Taking the premixed bottles that are commercially packaged may be easier but are also significantly more expensive.

  9. @NB Australia has fully separated international and domestic terminals with different security protocols for each – domestic flights don’t have any liquid restrictions for hand luggage and unticketed passengers can often enter the secure area at larger airports. ICAO and international treaties govern various areas of international air travel, including security, which is why international flights are subject to the restrictions. The Australian government has essentially sole authority over domestic flights, hence the lesser restrictions.

  10. I take sodium bicarbonate that I mix with cold water for occasional heartburn. I take it in a small plastic tub with a rubber band around it. I suppose this will be yet another issue I have to deal with when flying. BTW I normally try to keep politics out of blogs like this, but just a thought: maybe we should find a better way to get past this situation? Like finding out why these terrorists hate us, and trying to address the problem at the source?

  11. The war on Metimucil thus continues. Arguably for good reason, as Metimucil causes butt explosions.

  12. The threat to the Etihad flight ex SYD was from checked luggage rather than carryon. The explosive devices had been sent from ISIS members in Syria via air cargo to the alleged bombers in Sydney. From there they were packed into a doll and a meat mincer , put into a suitcase to be checked in. The check in failed because the bag was too heavy ( anything over 32 kg /66lbs cannot be carried).
    These latest moves are likely a consequence of the ever-evolving struggle between intelligence forces and would-be terrorists.
    Australians have been concerned about the apparently contradictory statements by officials in respect of the Etihad plot: on the one hand it has been described as a very sophisticated plot and a near-miss ; on the other, as something that represented no real threat as the devices would have been detected by the routine screening of bags.

  13. No, I don’t carry powders in my carry on. I avoid them because they can get really messy if you don’t sealed them correctly.

  14. James, I think powdered baby formula market for China got something to do with this new rule.

  15. I can’t wait to see a GED-holding TSA one-striper try to discern and lecture me on the differences between organic and inorganic powders.

  16. There is a market for an Android / Apple app which tells you the baggage restrictions based on departure and arrival airport and airline. It is seriously getting hard to remember since we also have a laptop ban still – but the airports involved depend on the airline you fly.

  17. James,

    I have TSA Pre-Check, so I don’t have to remove liquids from my carry ons.

    What are the “rules” regarding powders for those with Pre-Check status?

  18. Oh no! I do use powders – baking soda for deodorant and face wash and a toothpowder (instead of toothpaste). Ugh. I was so happy with my simple travel solutions that left me less concerned about my carry-on liquids limit. Game over!

  19. f*ckin terrorists with nothing better to do than screw up everyone else’s lives. ugh. i applaud the safety measure but travelling just becomes more of a pain…

  20. @GC – there’s always an exception to the rule. Domestic flights in Aust require that aerosols in hand luggage have a cap or locking device on them to prevent the nozzle being depressed accidentally and releasing its (presumably flammable) contents.

    I’ve found it easier to take any aerosols out of my hand luggage when flying from any Queensland or Tasmanian airport, as the security team invariably want to inspect it. I haven’t felt the need to do so in any other state. (I’m desperately trying not to make a joke about Qld and Tas being 20 years behind – but I’ve obviously failed 😉 .)

    Would love to have the concept of a domestic only terminal here in London. Maybe I should petition having Heathrow T1 designated as one once it is rebuilt.

  21. This doesn’t seem enforceable. How is a TSA agent that can’t pick out the majority of firearms and such supposed to id a compressed powder on the luggage scan?

  22. How do human remains (cremated ashes) fall into this mix (no pun intended)? I guess they should be considered organic matter and will always be more than the specified amount. I don’t know too many people that trust checked luggage with their loved one’s remains. I certainly won’t in 4 weeks when I have to carry my mother’s remains on board.

  23. My husband has been required by TSA to remove his protein powder for separate inspection every time we have flown in the past year. Pre-check made no difference.

  24. How about TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine)? Does it count as organic? Has anyone had experience with these before?

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