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We’ve all been that person in line behind a passenger with a baby at TSA, and we may have let out a few huffs or puffs as they wrangled all of their baby items onto the queue belt for screening. I mean, c’mon, do they really need all that stuff? Before having a kid of my own, I was definitely that person (sorry, strangers). Not a lot of people fly with babies because, well, it can be a hassle. A lot of parents don’t want to roll the dice when it comes to riding in a metal tube in the sky surrounded by hundreds of strangers, praying that their infant doesn’t have an epic meltdown.
Trust me, I’ve been there many times and I know how silly I sound when I say, “Don’t worry! Flying alone with a baby is easy!” While the task itself isn’t necessarily always easy, I can definitely help make it easier and less stressful. Here’s my top tips for speeding through the TSA checkpoint.
1. Arrive early.
Most airlines recommend arriving within two hours of your flight’s departure time, and I am echoing that sentiment here. Being pressed for time is a sure-fire way to make you stressed when traveling, so plan to be earlier rather than later.
2. Wear comfortable shoes that are easy to slip on and off.
Wear shoes that are comfortable and easy to take on and off. I recommend tennis shoes that are loosely tied so they are easy to slip on without needing an extra hand.
Even if you have a known traveler number for the TSA preCheck program, know that you aren’t guaranteed the expedited screening that permits you to keep electronics in your bags and shoes on your feet. When packing and dressing for a flight, always assume you won’t get preCheck so you can eliminate any stressful surprises.
3. Baby Wear.
I highly recommend a Tula baby carrier or something similar to get through the checkpoint. This allows your hands to be free while you take out electronic devices, take off your shoes, remove liquids, and get your bags settled on the screening belt.
If you have TSA preCheck, I still recommend baby wearing through security so your hands are free.
4. Bring the compact stroller.
I use my Pockit stroller for many reasons, but namely because it folds up so small that it can fit in a backpack. The stroller doesn’t need to be manually screened by a TSA agent because it is small enough to fit in even the smallest of TSA bins and through the scanner. We like using the Pockit stroller because it is lightweight, easy to fold, and compact.
5. Exceptions to the 3-1-1 liquids rule.
Baby items like formula, breastmilk, juice, medicines, gel or liquid-filled teethers, and canned, jarred, and processed baby foods are exempt from the 3-1-1 rule, which means you are permitted to carry these items for your baby even if they exceed the standard 3.4 ounce rule. I pack all the “exception” items in a packing cube so they are easy to remove for screening and a snap to repack.
6. Pack with purpose.
Anything that needs to be removed from your luggage for TSA screening should always be packed last. Think liquids, those exception baby items I mentioned, and electronics larger than a cellphone. I use packing cubes to keep my items organized and easy to unpack/repack.
7. Frozen breastmilk and liquid breastmilk in small quantities screen the fastest.
If you are traveling with breastmilk, I am going to save you (and TSA and all of the strangers waiting behind you) gobs of time at the checkpoint by sharing this simple tip with you: frozen breastmilk does NOT need additional screening. Praise be! Frozen breastmilk can remain in your cooler through the screening process, just tell an agent that breastmilk and/or ice packs/freezer packs/frozen gel packs are also inside.
Partially-frozen, slushy, or liquid breastmilk has to be screened one bag or bottle at a time. Think about how much breastmilk you’ll need for your day. I recommend using one or two large containers if you’re bringing liquid breastmilk so the “additional screening” is faster. This additional screening will likely be a strip-dip test. Most checkpoints will pour a small sample from your bottles or milk bags into a separate container so the test strip doesn’t contaminate the entire lot of milk that your body worked so hard to make. I always recommend telling them to test a small portion using a separate container as a reminder. You can also ask that they use a new pair of gloves before beginning the process.
If you don’t want your breastmilk to be X-rayed or opened, inform a TSA Agent at your first opportunity. You and any travel companions will be subject to additional screening that may include a pat-down and screening of other carry-on items (I never had this happen to me).
7a. Screening electric breastpumps. If you are traveling with an electric breastpump, put it in a separate bin by itself unless a TSA Agent tells you otherwise. As a general rule of thumb, declare to the TSA Agent that the device is a breastpump (and if there is milk inside) so they don’t waste time studying the X-ray screen.
8. Re-pack your items adjacent to the checkpoint.
Once you are through security, find your items on the belt and stack your bins or combine your items into one. Carry them to nearby table or bench. Most airports have tables set up adjacent to the checkpoint so you have extra space to get readjusted and pack your items. This is when I open the stroller to be used as a bag caddy or, you know, as an actual stroller to carry my baby.
How do you expedite your trip through TSA? Do you have additional tips and tricks for readers? Leave a comment below!
Oftentimes the idea of flying with a baby is far scarier than the realities of flying with a baby. Take your time, breathe, and relax. Flying with a baby really is incredible. If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it. If someone offers help, don’t be afraid to accept it. We’re all in this together, and there is no greater bonding force than an airport.
I understand that what works and what is practical for me may not work or be practical for you, and that’s okay. You can use my tips and tricks as a guideline to make your experience more streamlined for you and your family. You know your baby best, so trust those parental instincts and have a great flight!