Edited by: Jessica Merritt
& Kellie Jez
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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!
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 a game plan!
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 will 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.
If you travel 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 cell phone 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.
Hot Tip: Yep, kiddos also need passports for international travel! For more information, check out our detailed step-by-step piece on how to get a U.S. passport for your baby.
As soon as you finish the ID and boarding pass checkpoint, you should immediately store all passports and boarding passes together in a safe spot.
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 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. Also, be sure you are up to date on what can and can’t be taken through security before you’re waiting in line!
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!
But when traveling with infants or toddlers, the responsibility falls on you to ensure 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:
Hot Tip:When traveling with a stroller, send it through the X-ray first so you can start loading it up with the kids and bags as soon as possible on the other side!
Everything you bring to the airport that you want to take on the airplane will be scanned. If it is on you (like clothing or jewelry), 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 could walk, she was asked to go through the metal detector 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 to be inspected more thoroughly.
If you are traveling with a car seat or stroller, 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:
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.
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: Check out our ultimate guide to flying with a car seat, with policies listed by airline.
Normally, passengers are subject to the 3-1-1 rule when traveling with liquids. That means you can bring a quart-sized bag of liquids, gels, creams, and aerosols if each is equal to or less than 3.4 ounces.
That means that if you are just coming back from a week-long work trip and you have a large supply of breast milk that you pumped, you will be allowed to bring it in your carry-on.
To expedite the screening process, place the breast milk or other liquids in a separate tray and alert the officer so they can test them for explosives.
If the breast milk is frozen, it will be easier to pass through security as it doesn’t need to be tested.
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 is subject to extra inspection. To save time, empty your water bottles and refill them after security.
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)!
Going through the metal detector will be a lot of fun for some kids. 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:
Hot Tip: Did you know that in 2020 more than $517,000 was left in security bins by forgetful travelers? Don’t be like them! Save your money for more family vacations.
This is 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 stressed over something silly, like a TSA agent trying to force a car seat into the X-ray machine, just take a deep breath, look at your kid(s), and laugh it off. Even a forced laugh will help — and it’s contagious!
Sometimes, common courtesy helps, too. Even though we’re all trying to get through security as fast as possible, a family of 4 will 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 go a long way. And it was also nice to get a compliment — it just shows that not everyone will judge you negatively!
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 a $78 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.
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Here’s how to use TSA PreCheck as a family:
Hot Tip: If you are arriving in the U.S. and your boarding pass does not have PreCheck clearance for your connecting flight, reprint it when you land. Sometimes it will get added automatically.
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!
The information regarding the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.
Yes, you are allowed to bring a “reasonable amount” beyond 3.4 ounces of breast milk, formula, or juice in your carry-on. It will be subject to extra inspection.
Yes, children up to 12 can accompany an adult with TSA PreCheck.
Yes, but they would need to apply for TSA PreCheck and acquire their own Known Traveler Number.
Yes, food for babies and children is allowed in reasonable quantities. It will be subject to additional inspection.
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.
You will need a valid boarding pass and a valid form of identification.
Yes, you can, but it may set off the metal detector. We recommend removing watches, belts, and wallets to save time.
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