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Flying with Gifts:  Can you and should you?

Welcome to the Holiday Season, the heaviest travel time of the year.  If you’re flying home for the holidays – or wherever your friends and family may be – you probably have some questions about flying with gifts.  After all, you’ve braved shopping malls (and the internet) packed with sometimes-less-than-friendly gift givers searching for just the right (or any) presents.  Now the question is:

Can you fly with gift wrapped presents?

The official answer is yes, but…

According to The TSA Blog and airline rules, gifts are eligible to fly so long as you keep a few basics in mind:

Photo: Santa and his big bag of gifts.

It’s a safe bet Santa’s big bag of presents will not fit in the overhead bin.
© Kantver |

  • The airline will consider a large gift as your carry-on. You don’t magically get additional allowances because it’s a holiday, so make sure gifts will fit in your luggage or carry-on bag.
  • Contrary to what you might think, this may not be a good time to invest in a large red sack as carry-on. Your gifts will still need to fit in the overhead bin or beneath the seat in front of you.  So, keep in mind that most airlines limit carry-on bags to about 22″ x 14″ x 9″ (56 x 36 x 23 cm).
  • You cannot transport certain items (say, that fancy Ginsu knife set for Aunt Elma) in your luggage, even if it is brightly wrapped and securely taped. That’s going to be a gift for the TSA confiscation bin.
  • Your wrapped items will be opened if they set off any sort of alarm, or look suspicious. Think of a toy pistol set wrapped up for Little Timmy, which the scanner will interpret as a gun, plain and simple.
  • Is that a big bottle of perfume or liquor? You know the rules on liquids: 3oz or less.

The better question might be:

See also  #Travel140 - Great Months to Travel

Should you be flying with gifts?

Personally, I say no. (Santa Claus excluded, of course.) 

Am I some kind of Grinch? Of course not, but I do not want to lug a bunch of presents AND my luggage through airports, taxi’s, hotels, wherever.  I take a certain amount of pride in my gift wrapping ability (it’s a special kind of gift all its own!) and I would rather not risk having my work unwrapped at security.  And finally, I cannot think of an easier target for holiday villains than a traveler struggling with gifts.  Nope, not worth it.

Photo: Gift card display

They may not be pretty, but gift cards are a traveler’s holiday shopping mall.

So what’s one to do?

Flying home with no gifts is not the end of the world. In fact, it opens you up for some great alternatives:

  • Ship gifts While it could get expensive to ship your gifts ahead, you have the peace of mind of knowing they won’t get confiscated, stolen, damaged or unwrapped en route.  If you’re skeptical, get insurance.
  • Gift cards These two words have revolutionized gift giving.  Easy to buy, carry, transport and redeem.  There is no shame in handing out gift cards when you’ve flown across the country to be with loved ones.  They may seem pretty generic, but I have yet to see someone turn one down.
  • Shop at your destination For some people, shopping is the fun part; even more so when shopping with friends and family.  If time allows, it’s worth considering.  And then you can indulge in an eggnog fueled Christmas Eve gift wrapping all-nighter.  Hey, it’s tradition!
  • Drop ship My personal favorite is shopping on-line (getting extra air miles for e-shopping at participating stores) and having them delivered to the recipients.  They even do the gift wrapping so I can just do the eggnog all-nighter part of Christmas Eve.

It is true that some people think shopping on-line is somehow less personal.  (Mom, I’m looking at you!) I disagree.  I still had to shop for hours (in my PJs with a cup of cocoa) to find just the right present in just the right color/size/flavors, and with lots of miles from e-shopping so I could fly out to be there when you open it.  It’s a chore, but Mom’s worth it!

Read: TravelLatte’s Holiday Un-Gift Guide – Gifts that travelers will enjoy without taking up space.
Gift wrapping optional.

Perhaps it’s better to leave flying with gifts to the acknowledged expert. In the end, what really matters most about traveling for the holidays is getting to spend time with friends, families, and loved ones.  That’s the most precious gift of all, and I hope you and yours get lots of it this and every holiday season. Safe travels and Happy Holidays to all!

5 comments on “Flying with Gifts:  Can you and should you?

    • Thanks! I like the pre-order idea also. Gift cards are simple, but ordering and shipping ahead is kind of the best of both worlds. Thanks for your comment and Merry Christmas!

    • Hi Tanja – The advantage of having your own flying sleigh, eh? Besides, who’s going to tell Santa he can’t bring those gifts…because one might be for you! Thanks for the comment and Merry Christmas!

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