For some people, cooking Thanksgiving dinner is a team sport.
Everyone must bring a dish to pass. But these potluck-style festivities can cause trouble for people who must hop a plane to their annual holiday feast.
With more than 2 million people expected to travel through Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway airports this week, the Transportation Security Administration has some reminders about what Thanksgiving staples can clear airport security and what must be checked in your luggage.
Turkeys can fly, as long as they’re frozen
You can carry your frozen turkey through airport security, but it will need to be put in a separate bin for screening.
Mark Howell, regional spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration, said traveling turkeys are more common than people realize. The typical weight limit for checked baggage is 50 pounds, and people don’t want to take up half of that with a 25-pound turkey.
When asked how many frozen turkeys fly on airplanes to their Thanksgiving tables, Howell said they don’t do any “turkey tracking” because it’s not a prohibited item.
He cautions travelers to keep their birds frozen until they leave for the airport because if it starts to melt and there’s liquid in the packaging, it will cause problems and will likely need to be checked or tossed.
As always, no carry-on liquids
“If you can pump it, pour it, spread it, or spray it, then it’s going to need to go in a checked bag,” Howell said.
This includes cranberry sauce, creamed corn, green bean casserole, and gravy. Those items must be under 3.4 ounces or need to be packed in checked baggage.
Also: No wine, beer, or other drinks may be carried through airport security, so just plan a trip to the liquor store once you’re back on the ground.
The grey area: stuffing and casserole
Stuffing and other casseroles are allowed for the most part. But there’s a test for this quasi-solid category of foods: It has to hold its shape outside of its container.
“Then it’s going to fall into the solid category,” Howell said. “If you have your casseroles where you tip the bowl over and it tips into another cup, that’s where you’re going to run into problems.”
Howell said if you’re still not sure, the TSA website has a list of what’s allowed and what’s not. You can also tweet @AskTSA or message Ask TSA on Facebook with a photo to find out if Grandma’s signature hot dish will pass security.
Knives must go in checked baggage
While this may seem like a no-brainer, Howell said they’ve seen people bring heirloom carving knives and electric knives for their holiday feasts.
“All of those need to go into your checked bag. It’s a weapon. It’s a weapon to cut turkey, but it is still a weapon,” Howell said.
Pies of all varieties allowed
Homemade pies and cakes are allowed, but will need to go through additional screening.
Peter Bodino, a TSA agent at Midway, said they also often see a very Chicago kind of pie: deep dish pizza.
“They’re allowed,” Bodino said. “We just have to make sure they’re screened properly.”
Bodino and Howell said all the same rules apply to leftovers.
Because nearly all Thanksgiving dishes will require extra screening, Howell said travelers should leave enough time to get through the security line. The TSA recommendation is two hours for domestic flights and three for international ones.
Becky Vevea covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her @beckyvevea.