Flying with Babies & Toddlers – Airport Security

This is part two of a series dedicated to advice on navigating airports with babies and toddlers; here is a link to Part 1 and Part 3. This post is all about going through airport security. It may only take a few minutes to actually get through, but the stress and headache it can cause is sometimes more stressful than the actual flight.

The best thing you can do is be prepared with the most current laws and to be as polite and accommodating to the TSA as you can. You can read most of the requirements and recommendations for going through airport security on the TSA website. The information contained in this post mostly pertains to domestic travel within the United States. If you’re flying internationally but leaving from the U.S., the information also applies. Experiences in airports in other countries will be different depending on the security procedures that country has in place.

Airport Security

  • If you have to travel with a stroller, practice folding it down at home before you get to the airport so you can get through security easier. Depending on the stroller, you may have to fold down the handle or remove wheels for it to fit through. It can be stressful to be learning how to take apart your stroller while you’re going through security.
  • If your stroller or car seat simply won’t fit through the x-ray machine, don’t stress. TSA can visually and physically inspect it. Just ask.
  • Many infant car seats fit best through the x-ray machine when they are upside down and the handle is clicked all the way back.
  • To get yourself through the security screening with ease, wear slip-on shoes and don’t wear heavy jewelry or a belt. Don’t leave any coins in your pockets. Also, don’t dress your baby in overalls that have a lot of metal buckles and buttons, as they will likely set off the metal detector (I learned that one the hard way).
  • If you or your baby does set off the metal detector and you need to go through an additional screening or a pat down, a TSA officer will ask if you’re traveling with another adult who can hold your baby. If you are flying alone, at NO time should a TSA officer ask to separate you from your baby. They can do a pat down while you hold your baby. I have done it before.
  • When walking through the metal detector, don’t let your little one touch the machine. TSA will ask you to go through again. Depending on the airport and the TSA officer, they may ask you to do an additional screening pat-down too.
  • If you are walking through airport security carrying or wearing a baby, you will not be asked to walk through an Advanced Imaging Technology machine (the fancier metal detector at most major airports). If you are not carrying a baby and you are asked to walk through one of these machines, you have every right to opt out if you desire. The alternative screening method will be a thorough pat-down. This is just my personal choice, but I am not comfortable with this technology and will not walk through this machine, especially if I am pregnant.

  • As of Fall 2011, children under the age of 12 no longer have to remove their shoes when going through airport security.
  • Also as of Fall 2011, parents may walk through the security checkpoint with their baby securely in a sling, wrap or soft-structured baby carrier. They don’t have to take the baby out first.
  • Baby carriers with a metal frame don’t count; you’ll have to take your baby out and put the carrier through the x-ray machine.
  • Moms and dads wearing their babies may need to submit to an additional screening, which involves a TSA officer running a paper swab over your hands to test for any explosive materials. It takes all of ten seconds and is very easy; totally worth it to keep my little one in my baby carrier. Lately, since I’ve been TSA Pre-Check, they haven’t even been doing the hand swab. Nice! 
  • Important: This deal with babywearing through security isn’t official, so there’s a chance you may be asked to remove your baby from a carrier. I have heard it’s more common in airports where babywearing is uncommon. According to TSA’s website, we are expected to “Remove infants and children from their carriers and carry them in arms through the walk-through metal detector.” Personally, I have flown over a hundred times in the past six years with a child in a carrier and not once have I been asked to remove them. If your baby is asleep or prone to a meltdown if removed from the carrier, you can politely ask the TSA officer to double-check with their supervisor. But if they stick with no or the supervisor also says no, then just take your baby out. Potentially missing your flight isn’t worth it to make a point, even if you were able to walk through at a previous visit.

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  • You are allowed to bring more than 3 oz. of formula, pumped breast milk, juice, water or milk with you on the aircraft if it is for your baby. You must declare it when you go through security by pulling it out of your bag and placing it visibly in the bin. Flying with pumped breast milk? Check out April’s post on how she did it for a work trip.
  • TSA officers will likely want to run a test on any liquids you are bringing through airport security that exceed 3oz. How this test is done will vary on the airport and the equipment they have. In some instances, they will ask you to open the bottle or cup. Then they will hover a little test strip over the bottle and run the strip through a machine that tests for explosive material. The other test I have seen can only be run on cups or bottles that are clear. The bottle just sits in a machine that runs the same test for explosive material. Both of these tests only take a few seconds.
  • In my experience, the fruit and veggie pouches available today don’t count as liquids or gels, so you shouldn’t need to declare them when going through security. Only one time was I asked to submit my fruit pouches for an additional security screening. I politely protested because we were going on a long flight, and I had four pouches with me. Once they were opened, they would need to be refrigerated. And they are baby food, not technically a liquid or gel. Just because they were in a pouch rather than a jar didn’t make sense to me that they needed additional screening. This particular TSA officer gave me a ton of attitude when I protested, so I politely asked to speak with her supervisor. The supervisor sided with me and sent me on my way, my pouches unopened.
  • Many of the big airports have separate lines for families. Don’t stress about holding up the line at the security checkpoint. If other passengers don’t want to wait, they can get in another line.

Here’s the third and final post of this series: Part 3.

6 Responses to Flying with Babies & Toddlers – Airport Security

  1. Pingback: Flying With Babies & Toddlers — Pre-Flight | Mama Say What!

  2. Pingback: Flying with Babies & Toddlers — In-Flight | Mama Say What!

  3. Such great information!

  4. Do you know if a ring sling will go through a metal detector without it making it go off? the rings are aluminum. thanks

    • Hi Sommer, I’ve never tried to go thru security wearing a ring sling, but I’m pretty certain the aluminum rings would set off the metal detector. The sensitivity of the metal detector will vary from airport to airport, but when I asked a bunch of babywearing mamas, a few chimed in saying they had to take their baby out of the ring sling when it set of the metal detector.

      If you have a soft-structured buckle carrier, I know for sure those are fine. Otherwise, be prepared to possibly have to take your snuggly baby out of a ring sling at airport security. Get to the airport early just to be on the safe side too! Thanks!

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