Using Dry Ice To Keep Food Frozen On A Plane

When I travel across country to visit home, I often bring home a few pounds of home-made frozen cappelletti made by my aunt Dorothy. The trip takes about 12 hours door to door. I tried to wrap them up in my luggage with newspaper and blue ice but when I get them home they are all a bit mushy. Yes, they refreeze but they loose some of their delicate texture.

I use dry ice, but you need to know a few things about travelling with dry ice, else will be trouble at the airport. Basically, it is best to not actually carry dry ice onto the plane.  Here’s how I do it:

  1. The night before travel, buy 4 pounds of dry ice
  2. If the ice is in big blocks, break it into chunks with a hammer
  3. Put my my 6 pounds of frozen food in the center of my luggage
  4. Sprinkle the dry ice all over the food and the whole inside of the bag
  5. Let it all sit, closed up, overnight
  6. Before checking my luggage at the airport, open the bag and remove any remaining dry ice
  7. Repack the bag, letting my frozen shirts and pants keep the ravioli cold for the long trip home
  8. Discard the remaining dry ice outside

I have traveled like this successfully several times and my frozen ravioli make it home in perfect condition.

The last time I flew, I broke the dry ice up with a hammer  and sprinkled it around the inside of my bag for about 2 hours before the flight. At the airport I removed the pieces that were left and checked my bag with hard-frozen ravioli and no dry ice to declare. The food made it the 12 hour journey home with no problem.


Don’t let the rest of this article frustrate you. The info above will work and you can stop there.

Don’t discard your dry ice in the bathroom of the airport. Running water on it will make it sublimate and go away but it could take 20 minutes and it’ll  make a LOT of fog (hmm, sounds like the voice of experience!). And don’t throw it in a garbage can because this unseen hazard could be bad for a garbage collector. Maybe throw it in your backyard, or driveway, or outside under some plants.

What’s the fuss with dry ice? Despite all the paranoid mutterings you might have heard, it is worthless for making a dangerous bomb. One article I read claimed that 2 people have been killed by dry ice bombsEVER. And both were accidental. For comparison, lightning strikes kill about 50 people per year in America. The real danger, I believe is that a pet in the luggage compartment might suffocate on the carbon dioxide gas that the dry ice gives off. If you don’t label your dry ice luggage and they put your bag next to a pet in the luggage compartment, it could kill the pet!

United Airlines charges $100 to check a bag with dry ice. American Airlines doesn’t . At least that’s how it stands this month. Google “Dry ice [your airline]” to read more.

The FAA has rules about flying with dry ice. Your airline might be more strict (as United Airlines is about “hard sided luggage” and fees)
Allowed: Up to 2.5 kg (5.5 lbs.) of dry ice per person in carry-on or checked baggage in a package  that allows venting of carbon dioxide gas.
Not Allowed:  Dry ice in air-tight  packages.
The actual regulatory text: (10) Dry ice (carbon dioxide, solid), with the approval of the operator: (i) Quantities may not exceed 2.5 kg (5.5 pounds) per person when used to pack perishables not subject to the HMR. The package must permit the release of carbon dioxide gas; and
(ii) When carried in checked baggage, each package is marked “DRY ICE” or “CARBON DIOXIDE, SOLID,” and marked with the net weight of dry ice or an indication the net weight is 2.5 kg (5.5 pounds) or less.

I had trouble flying United Airlines out of West Palm Beach in April 2013. I followed the dry ice rules on their website to the letter (see the bottom of this page for their rules) but they wouldn’t let me fly because of their EXTRA dry ice rules in the “Perishable” section of their rules. See below. They wouldn’t let me travel with dry ice in my hard framed, soft sided carry-on. Pshaw.


The United Airlines Dry Ice rules as of 1-30-14

United Airlines will accept packages containing 5.5 pounds (2.5 kg) or less of dry ice as carry-on baggage or checked baggage. The container or package must be ventilated to permit the release of carbon dioxide gas. The container or package must be marked as containing dry ice and must show the net weight and the identity of the perishable item. Styrofoam coolers containing dry ice will not be accepted.

For tickets purchased on or after March 9, 2011, a $100 USD* service charge applies to the transportation of dry ice as checked baggage on flights within or between the U.S. and Canada, and a $200 USD* service charge applies to the transportation of dry ice as checked baggage on flights to all other destinations.

For tickets purchased before March 9, 2011, a $35 USD* handling service charge applies to the transportation of dry ice as checked baggage on all flights.

*For departures from Canada, the fees are $35 CAD for tickets purchased before March 9, 2011, and $100 CAD for tickets purchased on or after March 9, 2011, for travel within or between the U.S. or Canada, and $200 CAD for travel to all other international destinations.

All fees referenced here are for one direction of travel only, and apply only when checking in with United.

Dry ice in quantities greater than 5.5 pounds (2.5 kg) will not be accepted.

Dry ice packaging used must allow the release of carbon dioxide gas, must be clearly marked as containing dry ice, and must show the net weight and identify the perishable item being preserved by the dry ice. Each container cannot have more than the maximum allotment per customer. Multiple customers cannot pool their portions together, even within the same traveling party.

And here are the EXTRA United Airlines dry ice rules, found in the “High-value, fragile and perishable items” section

Perishable items must not violate agricultural rules for the destination country. Perishable items may be packed in hard-sided ventilated containers with a maximum of 5.5 pounds (2.5 kg) of dry ice. United will not accept perishable items packed in Styrofoam coolers or in containers that include wet ice.

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