How to fly with a pie?
Traveling back from Michigan, I found myself wondering what the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA)'s stance is on whole pies. This wasn't just any pie, either; I was packing a Michigan Montmorency cherry crumb pie from Grand Traverse Pie Company, the only "souvenir" my friends in New York City requested.
Flying out of a Michigan airport, with a beloved Michigan pie, I took my chances. The expected jokes about "confiscating" the pie was all the extra security I encountered, and soon, I was happily at 38,000 feet, logging into the in-flight Wi-Fi for the express purpose of sending pie selfies. As one must.
But was this just a case of Midwestern decency, or an isolated incident?
Luckily, the answer exists in black and white on the TSA's website under its strict guidelines for traveling with packed foods. Both pies and cakes, even with a filling that may qualify as gel-like, get a green light for carry-on and checked luggage. We can think of more than a few pies we'd be willing to haul home, like Leoda's famous banana cream pie on Maui and the maple custard at The Pie Hole in Los Angeles.
Although Pennsylvania's beloved "Shoofly" pie is fit to fly, the TSA site, however, does include a disclaimer: "The final decision rests with the TSA officer on whether an item is allowed through the checkpoint."
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Michael McCarthy, spokesman for the TSA, clued in Condé Nast Traveler on how best to handle Thanksgiving foods for flight: "Remember that they must adhere to the 3.4-ounce liquid restriction for carry-on luggage." If you're still not sure? Someone at the TSA can make the call for you before you leave for the airport, if you go online, says McCarthy: "The best advice is to go to TSA.gov and us the “What can I bring?” search function or tweet us a photo at @AskTSA.
Even after getting a virtual thumbs-up from the TSA, there's still the matter of packing such a delicate (delicious) item. Toting it as a carry-on is the preferred method, unless you have sufficient checked luggage space to stash a pie wrapped in plastic, then put in a sturdy cardboard box, then cushioned with a blanket or bubble wrap.
Bakeries known for their pies often offer to ship for an extra fee, but where's the fun in that? The pie does count as a personal item, so pack light or check the rest of your bags if flying with a pie is part of the plan. And, if the finishing flourish is fragile or gooey, such as meringue or whipped cream, your best bet is to add it when you arrive.
While TSA officers are used to seeing an oddball assortment come through security, other items will draw a bit more attention—and will be unceremoniously tossed unless they're in checked bags or under 3.4 ounces: cranberry sauce, gravy, maple syrup, and apple butter are just a few.
When in doubt—over any food item, not just pies—look to the TSA "prohibited items" website for clarification.