Can you take heating pads through TSA?

Are you planning to travel with heading pads and need to know if you are allowed to fly with them?  In this article, I’ll answer this question for you.

As a general rule, heating pads are allowed in both carry-ons and checked luggage, yet this rule does not apply to all types of heating pads.

I say this because the TSA treats heating pads differently based on the materials they contain.

Electric heating pads

Electric heating pads use electric current as a power source. The electric current is sent to a couple of internal coils, and heat is created as the electric current flows through them.

The TSA treats infrared heating pads like electric ones since both use electric current.

The difference is that infrared pads convert electric power to infrared light, which radiates heat.

According to the TSA, you can bring electric heating pads in both carry-ons and checked luggage. There are no restrictions to taking them on board. 

Electric cordless heating pads are allowed only in carry-ons since they contain a rechargeable lithium battery.

Rechargeable batteries that contain lithium are not permitted in checked luggage since they pose a risk to flight safety.

Chemical heating pads.

These types of heating pads rely on chemical reactions to create heat.

Most heating pads available nowadays use a sodium-acetate formula to generate an exothermic reaction since sodium acetate is non-toxic.

Moreover, sodium acetate is used as a food additive, and it’s commonly used in peanut butter.

However, I don’t suggest eating the inside of your chemical heating pads since they contain other elements too :).

As a rule, chemical heating pads can be brought onto an airplane in either a carry-on or checked luggage as long as they do not contain gel or liquids. 

Gel or liquid heating pads

These pads usually need to be heated in a microwave in order to release heat.

Most of these products are reusable, making them a cheap and preferred option.

The gel or liquid doesn’t flow freely within the pad; instead, it is individually contained in small balls that slowly release the heat.

According to the TSA, you can bring gel or liquid heating pads inside checked luggage, but you are not allowed to bring them inside a carry-on as they contain liquid and all fluids must follow the 3-1-1 rule.

However, the TSA specifies, “Medically necessary items are allowed through the checkpoint,” meaning that if you have a doctor’s note stating that the heating pads are part of treatment, you are allowed to bring them in your carry-on.

The TSA asks people to separate them from other belongings and inform airport security about them and the medical reason they are brought into the cabin.

Although you can bring them on board, using them might be challenging. Most airlines don’t allow cabin crew members to heat items of unknown composition.

You should do your due diligence and ask the airline if heating them on board the aircraft is allowed.

How many heating pads can you bring on a plane?

There is no limit mentioned anywhere on the TSA website, meaning that you can bring as many as you can carry.

Nevertheless, if you plan to take a large number of them with you, contact the airline first, especially if they are chemical heating pads.

Can you use a heating pad on a plane?

Keep in mind that the rules for using them onboard the airplane are not as straightforward.

Most airlines, but not all, allow using electric and infrared heating pads on board their planes.

For example, in 2021, American Airlines made headlines when they banned the use of electric blankets and heating pads on board their airplanes.

American Airlines stated that you can still bring electric heating pads on board, but you will not be allowed to use them. –source

You should know that A.A. is not the only airline with this rule. Delta Airlines implements a similar rule, but not in an obvious way.

They didn’t release any statement about this, yet they instruct their flight attendants that “passenger are not allowed to use any electronic devices that emit or produces heat at any point during the flight.”

Delta Airlines basically forces you to play cat and mouse with the cabin crew.

As long as they don’t see you using the heating pad, you are good to go.

Truth be told, most times, flight attendants do not enforce this rule and choose to ignore it.

If you are a person who tends to suffer from cold, you should do your due diligence and ask the airline ahead of time if you can use heating pads on board. 

Nowadays, electric cordless heating pads that can be worn beneath the clothes exist.

I don’t see how a flight attendant might spot them, and even if they do, they will likely choose to ignore it.

Can you take Thermacare heat wraps on the plane?

Thermacare heat wraps are allowed in both carry-on and checked baggage. You can also use them inside the airplane since they don’t risk the plane’s safety.

Although air-activated Thermacare heat wraps contain small quantities of gel materials and water, airport security chose not to treat them as liquids, meaning that the 3-1-1 rule doesn’t apply.

As long as your Thermacare heat wraps are in their original package, TSA agents will allow them onto the airplane.

Plenty of people travel with them inside their carry-on or on their bodies without any issues.

Can you bring an MRE with the self-heater element on a plane?

This question is tricky because both yes and no are acceptable answers, and I will explain why.

The TSA allows MREs with the self-heater element on board airplanes in carry-ons or checked luggage as long as they contain solid foods.

However, the TSA warns that every airline has its own policy on them because of the self-heating element, so if you plan to travel with MREs, you must contact the airline first. 

From what I can tell, U.S. Army MREs are allowed in checked luggage, and with some airlines, you can even bring them inside a carry-on.

However, if you plan to bring only the self-heater element, you should know that you will not be allowed to do so.

Think of something other than heating an MRE with the chemical heater on board the plane.

If you get hungry during the flight, eat it cold. It sucks, but it’s better than being labeled a mad scientist or terrorist.

Remember that most airlines don’t allow MREs with self-heater elements on board their airplanes if you fly internationally. For example, Canada banned them altogether.

Conclusion

Although heating pads are generally allowed items, at least when you fly domestically, more and more airlines have banned their use in flight. 

I expect that in a couple of years, all airlines will restrict the use of them on board their airplanes.

However, I don’t expect air-activated heat wraps to be banned since they present no risk to the aircraft.