No Liquids on Flights to the United States!

No liquids above 3 ounce portions can accompany passengers on all flights to the United States. This is a law that has been in place for over a year, apparently. It seems simple enough. So when we checked in at the Cathay Pacific counters in Manila there was a notice and it seemed to refer mostly to cosmetics, bottled water, etc. I didn’t notice if Duty Free Liquor is included in the ban. I wanted to bring two bottles of good vodka to the U.S. and I decided to ask at the Duty Free liquor shop if they knew what the rules were. The cashier gingerly answered that he thought it was prohibited “bawal” to the U.S., so I returned the liquor to the shelves but another employee very confidently spoke up that it was okay, as long as the bottles were still sealed and the two bottles would be further encased in a plastic bag that would be heat sealed with the receipt stuffed inside. I asked again if he was sure, and he seemed confident. I was skeptical, but I was a moron and forgot to get the guy’s name… I wonder if I could pick him out of a line-up of folks so that I can wring his neck until he begs to drink two bottles of good vodka in less than 2 minutes as his punishment for outright ignorance, or worse, a desire to sell the Vodka at any cost…

After a brief stopover in Hong Kong, we boarded our flight and I was stopped on the airbridge because I was obviously carrying a duty free bag with liquor in it. I explained it was sealed and with original packaging but they didn’t seem to speak English. Bizarre, for a previous English colony. I noted that other passengers who may have stuffed the bottles into their handcarried bags would have not been stopped and could easily have boarded with gallons of liquid, albeit illegally. There was no bag check per passenger and it is LEGAL to bring liquor to other destinations. After a fifteen minute wait and practically the last passenger to board, I was told that I could not bring the bottles on board. I didn’t argue, it wasn’t worth the $40 and the risk of missing my flight, but I was really quite outraged. And they never even allowed me to take the receipt out of the bag. They just took the liquor, probably to be resold or for a Friday night airport employee party of mammoth proportions. I actually wanted to open the bottles and lick them but that seemed a tad crass. So lesson learned. Do not bring any liquor or liquid if you are flying to the U.S. Do not, under any circumstances, believe the employees of the Duty Free Shop in Manila as they are obviously poorly informed about the rules and to that guy at the Duty Free Shop, you better hope my memory of your face fades faster than the interval to my next international trip as I will surely hunt you down and give you a piece of my Vodka free mind… Thank God it wasn’t two bottles of fine brandy in the bags… Gosh, worldwide duty free liquor sales must be plunging to new lows.


29 Responses

  1. My friend witnessed a similar event at a stopover in Japan. A balikbayan bought a USD $300 perfume as pasalubong from a duty free shop and was not allowed to bring it in the airplane. My friend was sad because the man looked like one of those hardworking OFWs who perhaps bought the perfume for his wife. Tsk, tsk…

  2. I dunno. On a return flight to the US from London, this was right after the liquid prohibitions, we bought some perfumes at Harrods’ Duty Free shop. They didn’t sealed the clear shopping bag, just stapled the receipt to it, and yet the US customs guy just took a quick look at the bag and let us pass.
    As far as liquor, all I know is you are allowed to bring a liter, anything above that is taxed.
    I think, the problem might have been, is that you had a connecting flight, and maybe had to go through Hongkong’s security. I’m pretty sure if it were bought after the security check in Hongkong, they would have let you bring the vodka. Or if it were a non-stop flight it would have been different too. We had a non-stop flight and bought the said perfumes after going through Heathrow’s security check.
    I have not brought liquor while flying back to the US, but have had no problems bringing some by land from Mexico.

  3. connie, no liquor allowed from the hong kong duty free shops either, I was told. In fact, folks boarding with half bottles of mineral water had to leave those at the door, too! Worse, the flight ran low on water and softdrinks at about the 13th hour of a 15.5 hour journey…so most passengers probably left the plane a bit like a dried mango, I should think…

  4. Your remark about the HK airport workers not speaking English reminds of the airport in Manila where not a single soul speaks Spanish!

  5. Mmmmm, dried mangos. I mean, Yikes!:O) Talk about left high and dry.
    I could understand leaving half, even full bottles of water at the checkpoint or at the door, but gosh, load up on water. Heathrow did the same, anybody that had a connecting flight to other cities in Europe were asked to leave the bottled water, even if they were from the airline. At least British Airways got us properly hydrated for our fourteen hour flight, even though they hand to fly us over Greenland’s ice covered mountains. I think I didn’t stop praying to all the Saints in heaven throughout the flight.

  6. its interesting when the hubby went to Manila recently, his bottle of icewine was also confiscated in Hong Kong…all these new airline rules can be confusing; and its not just on flights going to the US i think….

  7. Rob, hahaha, touche!, except the Spaniards left the Philippines a century ago whereas the English only left HK a decade ago… Easier to lose command of a language 5-6 generations after the colonizers who spoke it have departed… :)

  8. Chinachix, you are right, the rules vary by destination and sometimes by carrier. I bought something at the Kiehl’s counter in HK and had to wade through a little posted guide to what I could and could not buy or bring with me… I never thought you could do harm to an airplane with soap, toothpaste or moisturizer…

  9. Here are the rules regarding food and drink brought on flights coming in/out/within the US:

    If you are going to buy liquor next time, it’s best to check it in your luggage. Scroll up and you can see what they permit on personal items like makeup and such.

    It’s not as strict now as it was right after they enacted the ban on carrying liquids onto your flight but it can still be confusing. I guess the best way is to always put stuff in your checked luggage instead.

  10. nikita, thanks for that very informative link. HK was strictly applying the less than 3 oz of liquid in a clear container and altogether within a quart sized zip lock bag. I totally understand the need for heightened security, but can’t help but think the terrorists have indeed terrorized and “won” by causing all of the flying public to endure such bothersome measures… Oh, and the next time I go through the airport, I should bring a printout of that website for the employees of the Duty Free Shops!

  11. When we flew from Paris to Doha (just after the ban was imposed in Europe), they allowed duty-free items on the plane, I’m just not sure if liquor included although liquor is really banned in Doha because it is a Musluim Country. But make-ups, creams, perfumes, there’s no problem as long as it is purchased from the duty free shop.

  12. I was stopped at Inchon for the perfume in my bag but the employees at Korean Air gladly repacked it and was handed to me at JFK upon arrival.

  13. Meanwhile, cast your confiscated vodka off your mind as having been poured as libation to the hearth gods, the angels’ portion, a propicionary offering to the deities of pantries and larders.

    Over thirty years ago a friend flying from Taiwan lined up towards an Asian looking officer mistakenly expecting leniency for a parcel of beef jerky he had with him. It was confiscated anyway but I am sure this would not have lain smouldering in his heart all these years had the custom inspector not said “umm my mother loves this.”

  14. A similar restriction on liquids, aerosols and gels was recently introduced on international flights to and from Australia. I believe the UK, EU, Canada and South Korea are also going to introduce the same rules if they haven’t already.

    I work at the airport and I’ve heard plenty of stories of passengers who weren’t aware of the new rules and has to throw away their expensive alcohol, make up, toiletries, etc. I can only hope that as time goes on, people become more aware about these rules and save themselves the heartache of having to part with their LAGs.

    As for duty free employees who misinforms people in the pursuit of a sale, I agree that their necks should be wrung. Unfortunately they are just like any other salesperson, they will say whatever it takes to get you to spend your money.

  15. Oiy! That link that Nikita provided just had me confused.
    The rules on non-stop flights are clear enough. If you purchase the liquids after security check, you are clear to go.
    But the connecting flights rules are confusing. How in the world are you going to check in your duty-free purchased in another port when you don’t see those checked baggages until your final destination? And how are you going to place your liquids in your checked in baggage if the duty free shops are after the security checks and baggage check-ins?

  16. Marketman, there was a recent hand carry check-in rule about a month of less ago. I think I even saw it at the broadsheet later on. Apparently, the Manila airport got a little linient, however those who are in connecting flights(like in HK) still follows the old rule so the NAIA airport actually had to ban all liquids (unless it’s a direct flight)so the passengers wouldn’t experience the hassle. You’re not alone with experiences of inconvenience. At the Centennial airport they have a more reasonable rule that is because most flights are direct to US.
    I guess some local airport personnels are also confused. Will inform my brother about it.Oh and maybe whenever somebody buys his/her ticket to wherever destination, it should come with a paper stating rules and the likes upon entering the said destination point.
    As for the Duty Free Shop, was there last thursday only to be irked by some sales person at the chocolate area and so I just decided to leave than let my not so patient brothers cuss at him. I hope they try to re-orient those sales person.

  17. please note that if you’re a transit passenger,never ever buy any liquid staff no matter where you’re heading!BUT if you’re flying direct to your destination that wouldn’t be a problem.

  18. On a trip to Bangkok late last year, airport personnel informed us, as we were checking in, that liquids were not allowed in our carry-on luggage. And so to be on the safe side, we (parents, siblings, pamangkins) decided to unload our carry-ons of mineral water, perfume, hand sanitizers, lip glosses (and anything else that seemed liquid or gel) and transfer said items to our checked-in luggages. Suffice to say, we did not encounter any problems thereafter.

  19. Will it be best if airports/airlines come up with a consensus on what passengers can and cannot bring on their flights?

  20. not just to the US. within US as well. you can’t even bring sourdough starter (the live kind) with you as it’s also considered liquid (though it’s more like goo). just found this out when i wanted to send some starter home with a friend. i don’t mind the starter but what about staying hydrated while in flight? now we have to pay for everything! some people say it’s a small price to pay though, for the additional security. sigh….

  21. same thing happened to my sister. she had with her a bottle of jo malone perfume that she LOVES. the bottle was still full and she was so pissed to leave it because she knew some lady working at the airport would just take it home. She sprayed the entire contents unto a toilet paper until the bottle was empty.

  22. Can anyone tell me if bringing mineral water for baby formula is allowed? Or will I have to use the airline’s water? What if they run out of water?!!

  23. Jennifer, I don’t think you are allowed to bring mineral water. You are allowed to bring formula. When you get on board a long flight, ask for bottled water early to ensure you don’t run out. I suspect they would scour the entire plane for a baby… first class rarely runs out…

  24. My sister had a similar experience. She bought bottle of Limoncello from the Duty Free Shop in Ciampino Airport in Rome . After waiting 7 hours for a direct flight back to London lugging around the precious bottle, her flight gets diverted and flies to London via Venice instead. It was in Venice that she was informed she had to part ways with her yellow companion despite showing her Duty Free Receipt. Words of the wise – do not buy alcohol from your original point of departure if you are stopping over another airport and need to pass through customs once again.:)

  25. woah… there are two of us! (nikita’s) hahahaha… hello to the one that posted the link!

  26. You cannot by any means bring any liquids or gels pass security. However, you can buy food and all the water you need inside the terminal after you pass security which you can carry with you to the plane, but make sure if you have a connecting flight that you don’t get out of the secured area or they will not allow that same liquid you bought inside.

    At the honolulu airport though, even after you passed security, before you board, they would again ask you to pass your hand carry to the x-ray machine to check for raw fruits and veggies but would allow you to take the cooked food with you on board.

  27. Also i think this airport security and airlines have developed a marketing scam where you cannot take any liquids and food in and the airlines stopped serving them for free as well, what a coincidence.

  28. Not again!!! I frankly think that all these itty bitty liquid restrictions in most airports and are grossly misinterperted/abused by some ignorant customs people have come to the bordeline of ridicule! Why can’t they be trained and informed better? With all those airport taxes we pay, the passengers should be spared of some stupidities and frustrations and even expenses caused by ill informed airport civil servants.
    Geez, the terrorists must be having a whale of a time over all these!!!

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