The Best Ways to Help Families Speed Through TSA Airport Security

TSA Airport Security Family

Full Disclosure: We may be financially compensated when you click on links to credit card products from our advertising partners, such as American Express, Chase, Citi & Capital One. Opinions and product recommendations on this site are ours alone, and have not been influenced, reviewed or approved by the issuer. See our Advertiser Disclosure for more details. Thanks!

Traveling can be stressful even for a seasoned veteran. Add in a kid or 2, and you could be looking at entirely new stress levels. Maybe a traffic jam made you late to the airport or a single TSA line created an extra long wait…or perhaps it’s just one of those days where everything goes wrong.

In any case, being extra prepared for TSA airport security can help save you and your family some sanity.

Here, you’ll find tips to navigate the TSA screening process, get your family through airport security, and get started on your vacation as quickly as possible — car seats, strollers, tablets, and stuffed animals included!

Have a Game Plan

Woman Holding Passport
Keep all boarding passes and passports together and in a safe spot. Image courtesy of Tawan Jz via Shutterstock.

If you have flown in the U.S. recently, you know the drill: get in a long line, take off your shoes, remove your laptop, go through the x-ray, turn around because you forgot to take off your belt, and try again.

Even when flying alone, getting through security can be frustrating. Multiply that by a couple of cranky kids, and you’ll be thankful for some sort of game plan!

Start Training Early

As soon as your child is old enough to somewhat understand what going through airport security means, start to prepare them on your way to the airport. Explain what is going to happen and what you need your child to do.

This helps your child expect and understand the TSA process, making them less likely to be frightened when TSA agents have to place their favorite stuffed animal in a dark tube. Don’t learn this lesson the hard way via a meltdown because their favorite toy has disappeared into the scanner!

Hot Tip: If the little ones are old enough, try giving them some responsibility, like being in charge of their bag when it comes through the end of the x-ray. Little things like this can help them stay focused so you can continue gathering everything else.

Master the ID Check

If you are traveling internationally, you may find yourself at the TSA checkpoint with multiple passports and boarding passes — all very important items you don’t want to misplace. When flying domestically, you can probably get away with just using your mobile boarding pass and your driver’s license; the kids won’t need an ID.

However, sometimes trying to navigate multiple boarding passes on 1 cellphone can be more trouble than it’s worth.

For example, when we travel as a family of 4, I prefer to use printed boarding passes and keep them lined up on the photo page of each passport. This helps speed things along with the TSA agent.

Prepare While in the Security Line

TSA Airport Security Line
Use your time waiting in line to get organized. Image courtesy of Bignai via Shutterstock.

As soon as you’re done with the ID and boarding pass checkpoint, you should immediately store all passports and boarding passes together in a safe spot.

(I also put my cell phone, wallet, and watch in my carry-on so I don’t need to worry about collecting them later — this helps me focus on the kids and their stuff.)

The same goes for any other loose items. If you’re traveling with a stroller, it can become a catch-all for a lot of stuff — so take this moment in line to start consolidating anything you can.

Hot Tip: If any toys, dolls, stuffed animals, or jackets can be stuffed into a carry-on bag, do so now. The goal is to send as few items through the x-ray as possible so you can just grab your stuff and move away from the fray on the other end.

Assign Responsibilities

If you are traveling with children who can follow instructions and handle responsibilities, you’re ahead of the game. If they can help with the younger kids, even better!

However, when traveling with infants or toddlers, the responsibility falls on you to make sure things go as smoothly as possible. Traveling with your partner or another adult who can help will make a huge difference.

Here’s another example of how my family of 4 manages security responsibilities. When my wife and I travel with our 2 young children, we send her through the x-ray first with the kids while I finish loading our stuff into the machine.

We do this for a few reasons:

  • I can provide a small buffer for her and the kids to get their shoes on before the people behind us start collecting their stuff.
  • Having 4 people (even if half of them are tiny) trying to help load items onto the belt can cause more headaches than it solves.
  • I choose what order our stuff is sent through, which can make a big difference on the other side of the x-ray.

Hot Tip:When traveling with a stroller, send it through x-ray first so you can start loading it up with the kids and bags as soon as possible on the other side!

What Will Be Scanned?

Everything you brought to the airport that you want to take on the airplane will be scanned. If it is on you (like clothing, jewelry, etc.), it will be scanned via a full body scan or a standard metal detector.

In my experience, our children have never been asked to complete a full body scan. As soon as our oldest was able to walk, she was asked to go through the metal detector by herself. Before that, TSA allowed us to carry her through.

All items not on your person will be placed in bins on a conveyor belt and sent through a closed x-ray machine so they can be inspected more thoroughly.

Car Seats

Family With A Stroller In The Airport
If you want to bring all of this on a plane, it has to be scanned! Image courtesy of Chris Hassan.

If you are traveling with a car seat or stroller, depending on its size, be prepared that it might not fit inside the x-ray machine. In this case, it will need to be hand-checked by airport security and will add a few minutes to your experience.

My family often travels with a stroller, infant car seat, and a convertible car seat. Though we could, we don’t like to check the car seats for 2 reasons:

  1. Airlines often claim they aren’t responsible for damaged baby items. So if your car seat is mishandled, you’re out of luck.
  2. If the airline loses or misplaces your car seat, you’ll be in a tough situation when you land. Airlines often have loaner seats available, but that just adds more hassle to your trip. Since we like to grab our rental car and start exploring new locations immediately, the thought of having to deal with a lost or damaged car seat is very unappealing.

So, although it is free to check strollers and car seats, we don’t think it is worth the risk. Plus, having a stroller in the airport is handy!

Hot Tip: After going through many airport security checks, I already know that our stroller and infant car seat will fit in the x-ray, but our convertible car seat won’t. As soon as it’s our turn, I bring the big car seat to the front and ask the TSA agent to request a hand check.

Baby Formula and Breast Milk

Juice, formula, and breast milk are allowed by TSA in “reasonable quantities.” To expedite the screening process, place them in a separate tray and alert the officer so they can test for explosives.

Ice or gel cold packs are allowed as well, though these are also subject to additional testing.

Hot Tip:Water is allowed for babies and toddlers, but it is subject to extra inspection. To save time, empty your water bottles and refill them after security.

Going Through the X-Ray

TSA Airport Security Cellphone Bin
Image courtesy of Monkey Business Images via Shutterstock.

The moment of truth: just a few more steps and you are on your way to a wonderful family vacation (paid for with points of course)!

For some kids, going through the metal detector will be a lot of fun. For others, being separated from their stuffed animal for 30 seconds can trigger a tantrum — parents beware!

Here are a few tips to keep in mind for you and your children:

  • Remove any excess jewelry that may cause the metal detector to go off. Wedding rings are OK to leave on.
  • Plan which items you will be sending through the x-ray first. We recommend sending the stroller first if you are traveling with one.
  • Prepare any tablets or laptops by placing them in their own bin, outside of any case or sleeve
  • Keep breast milk, formula, juice, medicines, etc. in a separate bin so they’re easy to find if extra testing is required.
  • Remember, small children should not need to go through the full body scan.
  • Unless you have TSA PreCheck, you will be required to remove your shoes. Make sure everyone is wearing shoes that are easy to take off and put on by themselves.
  • Wear socks. You don’t want your kids walking around barefoot on the dirty airport floor.
  • Double and triple check the bins when you are done — nobody wants to forget a teddy bear at security!

Hot Tip: Did you know that in 2017 more than $869,000 was left in security bins by forgetful travelers? Don’t be like them! Save your money for more family vacations.

Try to Stay Relaxed

This is obviously easier said than done. We all know that traveling can be frustrating, but it’s easy for this feeling to spread: first you’re flustered, then your spouse, then the kids. Managing a family and everyone’s stuff can be stressful, especially with a line of people behind you watching.

If you feel yourself getting stressed over something silly like a TSA agent trying to force the car seat into the x-ray machine, just take a deep breath, look at your kid(s), and try to laugh it off. Even a forced laugh will help — and it’s contagious!

Take a Step Back

Sometimes, common courtesy helps too. Even though we’re all trying to get through security as fast as possible, a family of 4 is obviously going to take a bit longer than a single businessman with a briefcase. Instead of rushing and stressing, try asking the person behind you if they’d like to go ahead.

When my family travels, we make this offer almost every time we’re in a situation like this — and have only been taken up on it once. On our last trip, we asked the 2 businessmen behind us, who both declined. After we’d all passed through security, they told us they were impressed by how smoothly we’d moved through with 2 crying kids and all our gear.

I’d love to say that practice makes perfect, but just being prepared can really go a long way. And it was also nice to get a compliment — it just goes to show that not everyone is going to be judging you negatively!

TSA PreCheck for Families

TSA PreCheck
TSA PreCheck can help you skip the longer lines — and you can leave your shoes on!

TSA PreCheck is a great tool for any traveler to have. This program is a more thorough security clearance that U.S. citizens (and a few others) can receive by paying an $85 fee, completing an in-person interview, and undergoing a background check.

Once you qualify, you’ll be set for 5 years. In this line, you will not need to remove your shoes, laptops, belts, light jackets, or small liquids.

TSA PreCheck is free if you have Global Entry, which is commonly reimbursed by many of our favorite credit cards.

Cards That Pay for Your Global Entry & TSA PreCheck Fee

The Platinum Card® from American Express - Be sure to make use of the $100 fee credit for Global Entry or $85 for TSA PreCheck. There's currently a welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $5,000 in your first 3 months.

This is our favorite card for getting into 1,200+ airport lounges worldwide (including Priority Pass) and we get about $2,700+ in value from the card every year. For rates and fees of the Platinum Card, click here.
The Business Platinum Card® from American Express - Right now, there's a HUGE welcome bonus of up to 100,000 points.

Like with the Amex Platinum (personal card), you'll also get a $100 fee credit for Global Entry or $85 for TSA PreCheck.

This is the best business card for lounge access as you'll get into 1,200+ airport lounges worldwide. For rates and fees of the Business Platinum, click here.
Chase Sapphire Reserve® - This is a premium travel rewards card with a higher annual fee, but it'll get you into a lot of airport lounges. Also included is a $100 fee credit for Global Entry (or $85 for TSA PreCheck) as well as a $300 travel credit per year. The current sign up bonus is 50,000 points, worth $750.

Here’s how to use TSA PreCheck as a family:

  • If everyone in your family has the TSA PreCheck logo on their boarding passes, you can all use the faster PreCheck line.
  • If anyone did not receive the TSA PreCheck logo on their boarding pass, they will have to use the regular line.
  • Children under 12 are allowed to accompany an adult with TSA PreCheck clearance, even if they do not have their own PreCheck clearance.
  • Children 13 and older are required to complete an interview and pay for a separate TSA PreCheck status.

Hot Tip: If you are arriving into the United States and your boarding pass does not have PreCheck clearance for your connecting flight, have it reprinted when you land. Sometimes it will get added automatically!

Final Thoughts

Little Girl Pulling Luggage In The Airport
Our daughter loves pulling and riding her JetKids BedBox through the airport. Image courtesy of Chris Hassan.

Getting a family through airport security can be hectic and stressful for even the most seasoned traveling family. But having a plan and understanding expectations for everyone in the group can go a long way toward a smooth and quick start to your next trip!


Feature image courtesy of Monkey Business Images via Shutterstock

FAQ

Can I bring breast milk and formula through security?

Yes, you are allowed to bring a “reasonable amount” of breast milk, formula, or juice in your carry-on. It will be subject to extra inspection.

Can you go through TSA PreCheck with a baby?

Yes, children up to 12 years old can accompany an adult who has TSA PreCheck.

Can a 13-year-old use TSA PreCheck?

Yes, but they would need to acquire their own Known Traveler Number.

Can I bring baby food pouches on a plane?

Yes, food for babies and children is allowed in reasonable quantities. It will be subject to additional inspection.

Should I gate check my stroller and car seat?

Gate checking a stroller and car seat is often a good idea. Strollers are useful for getting kids around the airport, and gate checking can help avoid having these essential items damaged or lost.

What do I need to get through security at the airport?

You will need a valid boarding pass and a valid form of identification.

Can I wear a watch through airport security?

Yes, you can, bt it may set off the metal detector. We recommend removing watches, belts, and wallets in order to save time.

Chris Hassan

About Chris Hassan

Chris is from Boston and is currently living in Rio de Janeiro with his wife, two kids, and their dog, Shelby. When Chris was in college, he spent a semester abroad studying hotel and business management in Switzerland. That is where he caught the travel bug and met his wife. Quite a successful trip!

Advertisement

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Bonus Valuation*: $1,150+

Why We Like It: This card is our #1 recommended rewards card (especially for those getting into points and miles) because it’s easy to earn points, they’re extremely valuable and the bonus is worth $1,150 in our valuations!

*Our bonus valuation is calculated internally by experts at Upgraded Points, not the card issuer. See our latest valuations here.

  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • No foreign transaction fees

Disclaimer: Any comments listed below are not from the bank advertiser, nor have they been reviewed or approved by them. No responsibility will be taken by the bank advertiser for these comments.

Any thoughts or questions? Comment below!

Email needed if you'd like comment updates. It will NOT be published.

Advertiser Disclosure

Many of the credit card offers that appear on this site are from credit card companies from which we receive financial compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). However, the credit card information that we publish has been written by experts who know these products inside out, and what we recommend is what we would (or already) use ourselves. This site does not include all credit card companies or all available credit card offers that are on the market. For more information on our advertisers, see here.