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Flying With MREs – Banned or Not?

flying with MREs

MRE 2003 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When it comes to flying, you can’t be too careful these days when it comes to packing. Since my upcoming trip is going to involve backpacking in Iceland, I decided to take some military Meals, Ready To Eat packages.

Then I paused. The MREs all come with this little self-heating thing. I decided to check with the authorities to check on whether flying with MREs is allowed. I wrote to Delta Airlines, which we’re flying from Phoenix to JFK, and Icelandair, which will take us the rest of the way. I explained my plan, and specific that I’d have the MREs in checked baggage. Here are their answers.

Icelandair (Response time: about 30 minutes)
Hello,
These will be ok in your checked bags.
Regards
Icelandair

The Verdict: This is my kind of communication: prompt, succinct, totally unambiguous. Lacking any flowery stuff, but I know where I stand on flying with MREs on Icelandair.

Delta Airlines (Response Time – About 24 hours)

Thank you for contacting Delta Air Lines.

Your SkyMiles number has been added to your reservation. The mileage
will be automatically credited to your account after travel has taken
place.

The Transportation Security Administration has revised the list of
acceptable items that will be checked at security checkpoints.

For the latest information on what is and is not acceptable for both
carry-on and checked baggage please go to the Transportation Security
Administration website at:
www.tsa.gov

Again, thank you for writing. We appreciate your selection of Delta and
will always welcome the opportunity to be of service.

Sincerely,

Remy Ferns
Online Customer Support Desk

The verdict: Courteous, but not really all that informative. And it’s definitely a long way to say “I don’t know about flying with MREs.”

I heeded Remy’s advice and hit the TSA’s website. And to no surprise, it didn’t specifically mention MRE ration packs. So, I e-mailed the TSA via its online contact forum. How’d it do?

TSA (Response time: about 10 hours – not bad at all)

This item is not on the prohibited items list. However, this list is not intended to be all-inclusive. A screener may determine that an item not on this list is prohibited.

Additionally, keep in mind that security screening at foreign airports is beyond TSA jurisdiction.  Travelers must go through different clearance procedures when crossing international borders.  Passengers and their baggage are also screened for security according to standards established by the Government of that country. As a sovereign entity, that country may establish its own security requirements for airports and air carriers that are not necessarily the same as those required in the United States.

Please visit our website at www.tsa.gov for additional information about TSA. We continue to add new information and encourage you to check the website frequently for updated information.

The Verdict: Woah. I’m printing this out and keeping a copy with me. It’s not specifically forbidden, but a screener having a bad day can really bollocks up my eating options while I’m backpacking. This will be in checked baggage, so I’m reasonably sure it won’t be a problem. Wish me luck! Though the message is still a bit ambiguous, the response was swift and not written in horrible bureaucratic prose. I’m fairly impressed. I’ll be even moreso if my MRE packs come through, and the TSA decides to make a firm call on whether they’re prohibited.

Many thanks to The Cranky Flier, Brett Snyder. He took a stab at answering whether flying with MREs is banned, but it wasn’t something he’d run across before: “That’s a good question.  Heating elements are usually not permitted, but I’m not sure exactly what is in the pouch itself.”

He also provided a link to Icelandair’s policies.There wasn’t anything covering it, but he gave it the ol’ college try. If you haven’t already, you should read his blog – especially if you still think flying is fun like I do.

UPDATE: American Airlines has a half-definitive answer for its own policies about flying with MREs: Self-heating meals are not approved for onboard use.

Fine, and I understand. But why not extend the question a few feet downward into the cargo area? Not very bright.

And here’s my last, somewhat definitive answer on the matter.

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