What not to pack in checked baggage

Images of nuclear materials, and warnings prohibiting stun guns, tasers and landmines — alongside the leaflet about not bringing a chainsaw — are probably some of the most redundant don’t bring these things on a plane signs around.

However, even in 2021 people still try and bring crazy things onto planes:

Cardiff Airport released a list of items that people had been stopped with. These included a palm tree in a sand bag, a briefcase full of bricks, two unpacked armchairs and a 10 lb frozen turkey.

BBC — the strange things people put in luggage

What not to put in checked luggage isn’t always this obvious. This guide will look at the ins and outs of what not to pack for a flight.

Some are things on this list are top tips and best practises, to make your travel smoother. Equally, some things you shouldn’t pack in your luggage really might surprise you — hopefully this guide helps you pack, and avoid any surprises!

9 things you cannot put in checked luggage

medicines should not be packed in checked luggage


This is nothing to do with baggage restrictions and everything to do with passenger safety.

As long as you have a copy of your prescription and a letter from your GP explaining the details of your medication and the name of your health condition, you shouldn’t have much trouble taking your medicine on a plane.

Post office — Taking medicine on a plane

Planes frequently get delayed. Technical problems, weather trouble, passenger issues — delays can come from anywhere. Even when you’re safely on the ground you may not be able to get off the plane quickly as passengers in Belfast found out when high winds prevented the aircraft doors from being opened for two hours!

As a result, you should always keep any medication you need on your person. Even if it’s just a short flight, or your medicine can be purchased at the airport when you arrive, you cannot guarantee how long it will be until you will have access to your hold bag.

matches — what not to pack in checked luggage


The rules surrounding matches are pretty weird on a first read, but they do make sense!

You cannot pack safety matches in checked baggage or hand baggage — but you can have them in your pocket.

While this might seem counterintuitive, the risk here is starting a small fire that develops into an uncontrollable fire before it is noticed.

Matches are still allowed — largely as a hangover from when you could smoke on airlines — but they must be in your pocket, so that you will immediately notice if they set alight, and you can put them out easily before anything else catches alight.

magazine rack displaying western magazines which may fall under immoral items not to be brought on a flight

Immoral items

Immorality can be difficult to define — in the West it can be overlooked — but certain countries have written guidelines! This is especially pertinent in places such as the Middle East, where fines can be hefty for seemingly innocuous items.

Aside from hoverboards and strong alcohol the UAE prohibits:

  • Printed publications, oil paintings, photographs, pictures, cards, books, magazines, stone sculptures and mannequins which contradict Islamic teachings, decencies, or deliberately implying immorality or turmoil.

It’s not just the Middle East. Adult items are prohibited in a wealth of countries, ranging from the Maldives to Malaysia.

So, even if you have a liberal worldview be careful what toys or magazines you pack when travelling to countries that may not share it!

absinthe being set on fire, a flammable strong alcohol not to be packed in checked luggage

Absinthe (Alcohol over 70%)

While taking advantage of Duty-Free shopping has long been a rite of passage for holidaymakers, what you may not know is that strong alcohol is actually something you cannot bring on a plane!

While you are safe with beer, wine and almost all spirits, anything over 70% alcohol (140 proof) is technically classed as a highly flammable liquid and is therefore banned in checked luggage.

This rules out packing some niche spirits like Absinthe, which will have to be packed in carry-on luggage only. Strong alcohol is not banned from being bought on the plane in general — there’s no proof limit for carry on alcohol — but it can’t be put in the hold.

cash, an example of what not to pack in checked luggage


Cash isn’t particularly dangerous — or banned from checked luggage — so why should you not pack it in your luggage?

Apart from the obvious risk of keeping your valuables safe, carrying cash across boarders raises flags and in some cases requires prior permission. While cash isn’t banned in checked luggage, amounts over €10,000 in Europe and $10,000 in the USA need to be declared on arrival.

However, even much smaller amounts of cash can land you in hot water if your luggage is searched. Money laundering regulations are taken very seriously, and in a world of hassle-free money transfers such as Revolut — not worth the extra delays.

As a result — even if you’re no Pablo Escobar — it’s best to avoid cash in your luggage.

thermometers with mercury should not be packed in checked luggage


*Any thermometers containing mercury must only be small personal-use thermometers and be packed in a protective case.

The liquid metal is banned due to a combination of its effects on humans and aircraft.

A small amount of mercury can do a large amount of damage. If a mercury thermometer were to leak aboard an aeroplane the aeroplane would need to be taken out of service and disassembled to assess the damage the mercury might cause.

The physics teacher — Mercury and aeroplanes

don’t pack keys in checked luggage


Something I’ve been guilty of on many flights until it was pointed out to me — keys can be both difficult to replace and a security risk.

However, there’s a huge number of travellers who get to the airport and think well I won’t be needing the car or house keys for a couple of weeks, ill pack them away — I know I used to!

It’s a slim chance that your bag will go missing, but if it does now the keys to your house — alongside the luggage tag with your address — are waiting while you are out of the country. Always keep your keys on your person or in your hand baggage.

israeli flags are a good example of what not to pack in checked luggage

Items from prohibited countries

It’s not just about things you cannot bring on a plane. If you are travelling away from tourist hotspots it’s worth expanding that to include what not to pack for a flight.

16 countries prohibit Israeli passport holders from entering. However, even if you don’t have an Israeli passport just carrying items that are made, there is enough to get you banned from entry in eight countries!

Eight of those nations (Iran, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, all of which are considered enemy states by Israel) also forbid travellers carrying evidence of having visited Israel from entering their borders.

Alex Bresler — Matadornetwork

This doesn’t have to be as obnoxious as a countries flag, this could be as innocent as a souvenir or even simply an item with a made in Israel stamp anywhere on it. It’s a niche example of what not to pack for a flight, but it’s worth remembering if you are travelling to any of the above 8 nations.

bluesmart one luggage

Bluesmart suitcases! (Lithium-ion batteries)

Unable to adapt to changing regulations, once the most promising smart luggage company — Bluesmart — fell foul of industry rules and are banned from being checked in.

It highlights the importance of choosing smart luggage that isn’t banned.

Baggage equipped with lithium batteries must be carried as carry-on baggage unless the batteries are removed from the baggage. Removed batteries must be carried in accordance with the provision for spare batteries.

FAA — Packsafe

OK — its not just smart luggage brands. This is really about highlighting the risk of lithium-ion batteries. For the same reason other devices that contain large lithium-ion batteries — such as hoverboards and some electric scooters — are things not to bring on a plane.

rare items such as manuscripts or old books should not be packed in checked luggage

Rare or Irreplaceable items

When talking about things not to pack in checked luggage rare items are often confused with expensive items. Yet rare or irreplaceable items are arguably even more important not to pack — regardless of their cost. Luggage delivery isn’t guaranteed, and while most lost luggage ends up eventually being reunited with its owner — even if your holiday is over — this isn’t always the case.

Equally, there have been plenty of headlines relating to baggage thefts — even in major international airports like Miami. While nobody expects their luggage to be rifled-through, it’s worth remembering that your luggage will be out of site for hours and several people will have access.

Research shows that 5% of mishandled bags are permanently lost or stolen.

Any that end up in airport lost luggage departments are generally kept for a few months before being destroyed or sent on to auctioneers.

BBC — Why do airlines mislay 25 million bags a year

Don’t pack anything in your checked luggage that is irreplaceable to you — regardless of its monetary value.