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Navigating Airport Security With Kids
by Anya Clowers, RN

This article has been written with additional comments provided by the TSA contact - Joe, a veteran employee with many years of supervisor experience at a dozen airports across the country. Now in upper management, Joe has graciously offered to add his expertise to this article.

As a frequent traveler, I've been through my share of long security lines; I've even been pulled aside, questioned, and reprimanded by TSA officers while passing through security with my toddler. Knowing and following TSA rules and regulations has not always prevented these encounters.

The reality of air travel post 9/11 means stricter rules, inconvenienced and tense passengers, and at times, confusion and misunderstanding. Add kids to the mix, and airport security can become a dreaded nightmare. Water in a sippy cup, milk in a bottle, or in my case, liquid infant Acetaminophen, are just a few of the items parents need to carry on-board a flight when traveling with small children, but only some of these essentials are allowed through airport security.

TSA security measures are in place to protect travelers. They need to be 100% accurate in their screening and don't have room for making mistakes. Comment from Joe: The officers realize that a lot of folks are not educated about security but it can be frustrating for them to have someone say things like, "I didn't know that box cutters are not allowed," or "That's my water, it's not a liquid."

Airport security may be a hassle, but it is reality and in place for our safety. Respect this.

Getting through airport security with kids while maintaining your sanity can be a challenge; knowing the rules and being prepared can make a huge difference. So what is a parent to do? Before writing off all air travel with children, take a moment to consider these 7 steps for getting through airport security with your family.

Ground Rules: TSA has developed a simple rule for carry-on luggage: Remember 3-1-1 to pass through security with ease. 3: All liquids must be in 3 ounce bottles or less 1: Place these 3 ounce containers in 1 quart size bag 1: 1 bag of liquids per traveler allowed.

Once you've met the requirements of security, follow these 7 tips for navigating this process with kids:

  1. Become familiar with Print out documentation for special situations.
  2. Prepare children in advance for airport security. Utilize preparation tools such as airport books or videos to help toddlers visualize and understand the flight and security process. Practice at home, smile, and remain calm! *Do not dread the process. It is a necessary part of flying. Respect this. Children react to anxiety.
  3. Arrive early at airport. Go through airport security as soon as possible. EXPECT long lines. Tip from Joe: Many airports are now starting up "diamond" or "zip" lanes for travelers. This allows experienced travelers with minimal carry on items to go to one lane and families with lots of necessary items to go to a different lane where they are not being pressured to hurry by their fellow passengers.
  4. Strollers, carriers, and car seats must be x-rayed or hand screened. Empty them, organize belongings, have boarding pass and ID out before stepping into line. Tip from Joe: Parents are often in a hurry because the passengers behind them are in a hurry. Let folks know that they should take their time, invite folks behind them to go around, etc. Strollers should be collapsed to go through the x-ray machine if possible as this is far better than just inspecting them by hand. I like that you advise folks to empty the strollers/carriers as so many folks forget to do that and items sometimes fall out and get lost in the machine.
  5. If you need assistance, ask for it. Officers are not allowed to hold children, but can help with belongings.
  6. Remove shoes while waiting in line and place on bottom of the tray. Keep in mind trays are unsanitary; avoid placing bottles/sippy cups on bottom of tray. Comment from Joe: Very good point. If someone does place a bottle or such on the bottom of a tray it would be appreciated if they are sealed to prevent spills. (Spilled milk is not good for anyone.)
  7. Declare juice, milk, breast milk or formula to screener. Children under 3 or those with special needs are allowed to carry these beverages through airport security.

For parents traveling with young children, there is more to flying than purchasing a ticket and packing a diaper bag. Preparation for the flight begins with maintaining a sense of calm, planning each step of the way and involving children at developmentally appropriate levels. Talk about simple things such as removing shoes and placing a favorite blankie or toy on the black moving belt. Comment from Joe: This is often a hard thing for children as the favorite item is a comfort to them and now they are in a stressful environment and having to give away their source of comfort.

Additional Comments/Tips from Joe:
-Another hard point for children is walking through the Walk Through Metal Detector. If they can walk they need to do so all by themselves. Parents need to consider how they want to do this as letting the child go through first may result in the child wandering off. Making the child wait behind is almost as stressful to the child and hard on a parent as they must look where they're going rather than keeping an eye on the child. Either way, the walk through is a place where separation anxiety may show up. Parents should discuss this and possibly practice it as well. If two parents are traveling together it is always easier as one can go first, followed by the kids and second parent follows them all inside.

-Ensure your property goes through the x-ray machine before you go through the walk through. This is a good place to recruit help from an officer. Light items, such as a child's jacket, sometimes are too light to push past the heavy curtains at the entrance of the x-ray and become lost. Parents should be aware of this and account for their property before leaving if possible.

-Another good idea is to make sure those items are in a bin and send them through first followed by heavy stuff like a bag or car seat.

Airport security is an important part of air travel. A bad experience here can start the trip off on the wrong foot, cause you to miss your flight and/or lose any sense of control. Remain calm, allow extra time, respect the process.

Anya Clowers, RN is a nurse consultant, expert and comfort specialist in the travel industry. Her practical advice has been noted and quoted by MSNBC,, ABC,, NY Times, Travel Guru Rick Steves and many others in the travel, medical, parenting, and boomer communities. Anya writes with professional expertise and personal experience, having traveled to 17 countries with her son before he finished kindergarten.

© This article may not be republished without permission.