Exactly How Many Bags Can You Take Through Security?

a red suitcase with wheelsLast week I was in Newark, New York, and Philadelphia. Because of the events that I did, I had to bring my suitcase, a backpack, and my purse. One the way up I did check my bags (which felt super weird, actually. I kept looking around wondering why I felt so light and free), but because I had freed up some space on the way home I was not checking. Flying out of Philadelphia, my plan was to get through security, get lunch, and then put my purse in my backpack for the flights home.

Except when I was going through security, the TSA agent yelled at me and said I could only take two bags through security. I politely told her that I was going to condense when I got through, but that it was easier  for me if I had my purse out for a little while longer. You know, access to my wallet with my ID in it, etc. But no. She was not very nice about it either. And there was NO ONE in line in front of me, but as soon as I moved aside to condense my stuff about ten people came through.

I am very sure that I read somewhere that TSA can’t tell you how many bags to bring through security, but I can’t find that now. Does anyone have a reference somewhere? It just seems insane to me that they care if I put my purse in my backpack now or later.  Doesn’t that make it more difficult to screen?


  1. The limit is two bags, and it should be posted (it’s the same as the carryon limit). (BTW, my wife is a former TSA agent, and you wouldn’t believe how critical she is of most of the ones we encounter.)

    Just as on the plane itself, you’re allowed a carryon plus a personal item (backpack, briefcase, purse, computer bag). My wife generally puts her purse in her backpack or other carryon before we get to security, keeping her ID and boarding pass out.

  2. That just seems silly because if you would have had a film camera with you or laptop that would need to come out of your bag.

  3. The same exact thing happened to me when I flew to SF. I was carrying a regular size carry-on bag, a computer bag and a purse. On my way in, I had no problem, but on my way back back from SFO, the TSA agent asked me to check-in my bags (I was carrying the exact same items). I told her that I could fit my laptop bag into my carry-on but she didn’t believe me, so I did a demo for her. She then thought my carry-on was too big. She measured it and it was fine… And just like you, there was no line when I got there, but then after wasting 5 minutes about 20 people passed in front of me.

  4. Like Marie, the same thing happened to me at SF. I had my purse out for my ID, etc and planned to put it into my bigger travel bag, but the TSA staff gave me a really hard time!

  5. Hi, I dread this happening – I also travel w/ a suitcase, laptop bag and a purse. After security, I usually put my purse in my laptop bag to comply with boarding. All of this just to say – I hate the TSA. HATE. HATE HATE HATE. Hate them. I travel 2-4 days per weeks (city hopping each day) and I deal with more horrible TSA agents than I can count. Ok, /rant. Sorry.

  6. This is why I stopped traveling with a purse (eventually stopped carrying a purse altogether!).

  7. I’m torn on this. I don’t think it’s the TSA’s job to enforce this policy because you have to separate everything to clear anyway, but there are too many people who think because they got through security with 10 bags that they should be able to take them on the plane.

  8. This is the plight of all female business travellers. I too have a briefcase, purse, and rollerboard. I always take all three on the plane. My solution is to have a briefcase with long straps so that I carry it as a shoulder bag. In a pinch I just stuff my purse inside it and grab hold of the top of the straps. one can often see the purse sticking out, it’s inelegant but I can hold it by the straps in one hand and it’s never been questioned by TSA or gate security as more than “one item”.

    To get an idea, here is my briefcase. See how it has the longer shoulder straps.

    Now imagine my purse kind of sticking out of the top of the briefcase, sort of half in/half out and me holding the briefcase by the straps with one hand. The purse is a medium size satchel style it does not really fit in the briefcase but I can sort of stuff it there for a minute or two for TSA purposes. Once they say OK you just pull it out again and proceed as normal.

    My normal schlep through airport mode is purse slung cross body, briefcase either over one shoulder or resting on top of rollerboard and handle slung over rollerboard handle.

    Work papers and laptop go in briefcase. All the other stuff (glasses, wallet, phone, ID, etc) in purse. Purse comes with me everywhere and laptop where it is needed.

    Also my rollerboard has a laptop compartment in the front so the computer often goes in there through the airport but I still need the briefcase for business meetings once on the ground.

  9. Flying American Airlines last week I went through security with my small-wheeled carry-on suitcase, my small knapsack and my laptop bag, the same 3 carry-on items with which I have successfully flown at least a dozen times in the last 9 years on Delta, United, Jet Blue and Virgin with no problems with security or boarding, no matter how crowded the flight. The two smaller bags are essentially the size on one acceptably-sized carry-on.

    This time, after passing through security at SFO with no problems, when attempting to board, I was told by the attendant that I was allowed only 2 carry-on items and that there is a $25,000.00 fine for carrying on more than 2 bags. !!! Really, a $25,000.00 fine! I wasn’t buying that crap for a moment. Anyone. The entire staff started closing in on me threateningly. I opted to check the larger bag, and as I pulled out the $25 cash to pay to check myt goddamn bag, the guy at the counter said “keep your money” and checked it in for free. Which I, obviously , greatly appreciated and profusely thanked him for. But…excuse me? WTF?

  10. This happened to me yesterday at ORD! I had two bags of items I purchased in the Abu Dhabi (AUH) airport and my travel tote. She pulled me out of the line and told me I had to condense my items or else check them. Well, the tote can’t be closed, plus it had my laptop, iPad, small purse and other essentials inside. The bags were loaded with glass and other fragile trinkets. I ended up consolidating two bags into one bit PITA bag to carry for the remainder of my journey home. 😐

  11. TSA can get mean due to folks like diji and rramirez4444 who think they are special and can carry on more than two items. Two means two, period.

  12. everyone is chewing out the TSA, and saying how mean they are, but did everyone forget about 911???? Do we want that to happen again???? The easier we make things for TSA, the safer the flight is for us!!!! Really, are your items that you can replace more important than your life???? Think about it!!!!

  13. im not carrying my laptop bag but my purse is big enough to store it plus my carry on…putting my laptop in my purse should be no problem, right?

  14. This is why I pack my empty purse in my suitcase and carry the contents of my purse (wallet, checkbook etc) in my daypack and board with the daypack and laptop. I packed my daypack with my valuables (camera, jewelry, wallet) and put my Kindle in the side pocket of of my laptop case. When I get to my destination I can transfer things to my purse which is packed in my checked bag.

  15. Well at London Luton Airport in the UK it’s only one regardless of the airlines policy

    “To ensure the quickest security search and aircraft boarding process passengers are reminded that only ONE item of hand luggage is permitted at London Luton Airport”

  16. If you’re on the customer service side of things, you’d understand how annoying it can be to tell people for the billionth time, “No you cannot do [insert thing here].” It’s already posted on your airline’s website. If you have further questions — contact them! Also use the “less is more” rule. TSA is assertive — not rude — for a reason. If someone IS trying to cause people harm, they will pretend to be a snooty passenger to keep their cover. It’s a sad truth that we almost can’t trust anyone these days. Thank them for what they do, but don’t disrespect them. They have a stressful job, and being pushy about what you think it’s true isn’t going to make their day or your day any easier. They probably appear as rude because they deal with plenty of idiots you haven’t met yet.

    But the bag limit should be obvious. Today (October 2016) we can only have one carry on and one luggage. The rest you’d have to check. If you’re flying cross-country you just have to deal. Try taking a train instead of flying if your destination is shorter. It may be a bit longer, but what you’re allowed to take with you is different.

    Be mindful of what you really do need, and what can easily be purchased at your destination. For the ladies, just bye E.L.F. makeup products. Great quality for about half the price and now they have a beauty line, not just cosmetics. A bit powdery, but with a primer for everything I’ve heard from professional makeup artists that they love it so that they don’t need to touch their high dollar brands for the clients who *insist* on expensive brand names.

  17. TSA is there to provide airport/aircraft security, not to count bags. It’s not TSA who tells travelers to consolidate bags before entering the line. It’s folks hired by the airlines to intimidate travelers. These people have no power to prevent anyone from going through TSA lines. One of them harassed me years ago as I entered the line and even insisted, in addition to consolidating my bags, I must be able to completely zip them shut. I balked, and the woman called a supervisor. I was new to flying at the time and did everything I could to comply. I later learned these non-TSA folks have absolutely no authority. Once I found that out, the rebel in me emerged, and I no longer listen to them. I’ve even had to push one man out of my way as he physically tried to block me from moving through the line. TSA just stood on the other side and basically ignored us. I abide by the rule of two bags onboard the aircraft, so I consolidate before boarding. I’ve noticed, though, that if someone has shopped in an airport store, they can take 102 bags onboard, and no one so much as blinks. Go figure.

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