How to pack your lobster: A foodie’s guide to airplane travel

Good luck getting that on the plane.
Good luck getting that on the plane.
Image: Ap Photos
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We’ve all been there. The Swiss chocolate. The handmade Italian pasta. The tequila in the bottle that looks straight out of an ancient apothecary.

The 20-pound live American lobster.

Being a foodie who flies can get complicated, especially in the age of ever-evolving air travel restrictions. Which treats you can bring on board depends on where you’re flying from, where you’re headed, and how much of them you have, so it’s important to do your research.

In the US, for example, it’s perfectly okay to pack your lobster. Here are some other rules to keep in mind when flying with food from a US airport:

  • Cooked meat, seafood, vegetables, dried fruits, fresh fruitcrackers, pizza, and pies are all permitted in checked luggage and in your carry-on. That said, the TSA has been testing out security screening that would require passengers to remove dense items—such items, including books and chocolate bars, can appear to baggage scanners like explosives—so prepare for extra scrutiny regardless.
  • Cheese is permitted in checked luggage (🎉) and on board, but taking it to your seat depends on hard vs. soft. Is it cheddar? Proceed. Pecorino Romano? Go for it. The TSA caps the amount of soft cheese, like ricotta salata, Brie, or Camembert, at maximum of 3.4 ounces. Says a spokesman for the agency: Do the spread test. If the cheese is spreadable, then you have to keep it in your checked luggage. (And if you do manage to get a stinky cheese past security, you’re still a bad person if you eat it in the cabin.)
  • Live lobsters are allowed in checked bags. You can also bring your clawed buddy in a carry-on as long as he or she is transported in a clear, plastic spill-proof container. TSA recommends checking with airlines for more specific policies (JetBlue, for example, says the contents of the container must be clearly marked). No matter what, prepare for TSA to “visually inspect” your lobster at the checkpoint.
  • Packages of yogurt, peanut buttersalad dressing, salsas, and sauces are allowed: up to 3.4 ounces in your carry-on and in checked luggage (if you have enough hubris to pack sauce alongside your clothes).
  • Canned foods are also allowed on board and in your checked bag. Because they are dense and hard to read in the scanner, TSA may give them extra scrutiny if you’re carrying them on board and the agency recommends leaving them in checked luggage.
  • Butter knives are allowed, as are the plastic variety. Perhaps predictably, no other knives are cool for flying.
  • If you’re not sure whether your food can fly, you can always tweet a photo of it to the TSA at @AskTSA.

Now, things get tricky when you’re traveling internationally. Not only do you have to contend with local security measures (which in Genoa allow you to bring local pesto if you make a small donation), but also with local authorities, who are tasked with rooting out items that could threaten regional industries economically or biologically. Expect fines if you fail to comply.