Updated: Mar 19
Gone are the days of showing up to the airport 30 minutes before takeoff.
Actually... even without a child, I would not recommend cutting it that close. I have done that only one time and it was not a nice feeling.
These days, my family and I show up to the airport at least 2 hours before a domestic flight and 3 hours ahead for international flights. Sometimes more if we are flying in and out of busy travel hubs.
Traveling through security with a baby or child is a particular kind of stress. There is the pressure to get through quickly but you also have bags and additional humans to keep track of on top of all of the weird little rules and extra steps you need to take in order to get through.
In order to help with your (and really my) anxiety of this process, I have outlined below a general sense of what to expect and what you need to know when traveling through the airport security.
While I had only one child, I very much preferred to have Baby in a stroller going through the airport. Some parents prefer to baby wear in order to have hands free. When we grew our family to two under two, I wore my youngest and kept our toddler in the stroller. As always, you know yourself and your family best so make the necessary adjustments that you feel work for you.
Every airline has their own policies when it comes to carry on and checked baggage. It is important to know what the policies are of the specific airline that you are traveling with.
However, in general when traveling with a child, you may be able to bring the following items on board in addition to your carry-on bag and personal item:
Breast pump, milk or formula (powder or liquid) and water to be used for formula.
Government-approved child seat (infant carrying seat or car seat)
Diaper Bags & Food
The diaper bag should be identified when going through security. They will often take the bag and do additional screening of any milk or formula that is inside.
Depending on the agent, some airports will want you to remove the formula and others keep it in the bag.
Liquid Formula will almost always be tested. Powdered formula is dependent upon the agent and the airport. Many times it may not be tested.
You should inform the TSA officer if you do not want the formula, breast milk and/or juice to be X-rayed or opened. Additional steps may be taken to clear the liquid and you or the traveling guardian will undergo additional screening procedures, to include a pat-down and screening of other carry-on property.
Formula, breast milk, juice in quantities greater than 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters are allowed in carry-on baggage and do not need to fit within a quart-sized bag. Remove these items from your carry-on bag to be screened separately from the rest of your belongings.
You do not need to travel with your child to bring breast milk. Breast milk and formula are considered medically necessary liquids. This also applies to breast milk pumping equipment (regardless of presence of breast milk).
Ice packs, freezer packs, frozen gel packs and other accessories required to cool formula, breast milk and juice – regardless of the presence of breast milk —are allowed in carry-on. If these accessories are partially frozen or slushy, they are subject to the same screening as described above.
You may also bring gel or liquid-filled teethers, canned, jarred and processed baby food in carry-on baggage. These items may be subject to additional screening.
Car Seats & Strollers
Most airlines will accept one car seat checked free of charge per child in addition to a stroller or folding wagon. This includes children under the age of two traveling on an adult's lap and infants traveling internationally. (Exceptions to this rule in the US are usually with American Airlines, they only allow strollers less than 20 lbs to be gate checked. Additionally some other airlines are more strict about gate checking folding wagons or double strollers depending on its size.)
You can use your car seat and stroller within the airport which means that they can be checked at the gate before you depart.
Large, non-collapsible strollers or non-folding wagons cannot be checked at the gate, so these will need to be checked in at the ticketing counter before security.
Getting through Security:
While going through security I try to remember the following - Be polite, slowing down does not mean you are slow, and no one is going to push you over because you have a baby in your arms and that would not be nice.
If you have the option to choose a line, try to choose a line with a Smith Detection Scanner. It is a large boxy scanner with blue and black coloring. These lines tend to go a bit faster because they don't make you take out liquids or electronics. (Although they may still ask that you take out liquid formula or baby's liquids).
If you have TSA precheck or Global Entry, you have the added benefit of not needing to remove liquids or take your shoes off but generally the procedure is still the same especially if you are traveling with liquids for baby in excess of 3.4oz.
Additionally, each airport is slightly different from the others so it is important to always communicate with the TSA agent in your line but they will almost always want you to take everything out of the stroller including baby.
Tickets, blankets, pacifiers, everything…
I highly suggest that you do not leave anything in the trays. Instead, pack everything inside of a bag whether that is the diaper bag or your personal item. If you leave anything baby related in a bin you will likely find your items covered in black dirt from going through the x-ray machine and this is not something you want to give back to the baby without washing first.
The exception to this would be the items that the TSA agent asks to be removed for screening like formula, breast milk, baby food, liquids, etc. If you do not want these liquids to be screened or x-rayed, you need to let them know as soon as possible.
Next, they will ask you to take the baby in your arms and walk separately through a general metal detector that is next to the large body scanner that most passengers will have to go through. TSA officers are meant to consult parents about the best way to relieve any concerns during the screening of your child. All children under 13 are allowed to go through the general metal detector.*
Children 12 and under can leave their shoes, light jackets and headwear on during screening and they will not be separated from their parent/guardian. Infants and children should be removed from strollers and car seats and carried, as mentioned above.
Infants may be carried in a sling/carrier (to include lap baby) through the walk-through metal detector or when being screened in a wheelchair, but may be subject to additional screening. Modified screening procedures are in place to reduce the likelihood of a pat-down.
Loose baby carriers (that are not being used), car and booster seats must be screened by X-ray so these will all need to be placed on the x-ray belt. The stroller will likely go through a side door next to the metal detector and TSA agents will conduct a visual/physical inspection.
Typically I take the babies while my husband puts the bags and car seat on the x-ray belt and handles the stroller details.
Once through, put Baby back into the stroller or carrier and put your shoes back on.
From there I would move any bins and carry-on luggage from the belt to what I call the “Recombobulation Area'' so that you are out of the way of other passengers and can really take your time putting your life back together.
Again, if you do not want your liquids including any breastmilk or liquid formula that should not be opened to be screened or x-rayed, you need to let them know as soon as possible. They will take other steps to clear the items which may involve pat downs, screenings of your personal belongings, etc.
Once TSA checks any liquids in Baby’s bag, you should be good to go! Hard part done.
*For more details on the screening process visit TSA’s website here.