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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. Hey, we’ve all been passengers on those planes too. And again I admit, I wasn’t as patient as I could have been back in my baby-free days.
Surviving writing this blog while entertaining my cranky one year old has proven to be a feat all on its own, so how on earth are you supposed to get through TSA in a breeze while towing all of those necessary-but-wish-they-weren’t-necessary baby items? Trust me, I’ve been there many times. I work for a regional airline and frequently cash in the flight benefits with my family and have traveled solo with my son on almost 50 flights. I’ve been in your shoes and 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. I understand that what works for me and what is practical for me may not work or be practical for you, and that’s okay. You can use our 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!
1. Arrive early.
Most airlines and airports 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. If you run into ticket issues at check-in, or screening the liquid baby items takes longer, arriving early means you don’t have to worry about missing your flight.
2. Wear shoes that are easy to slip on and off.
This should go without saying, but I’m saying it anyways. 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. I like the look of flats, but hate the lack of comfort for a long day of travel. Even if you have known traveler number for the TSA Precheck program, know that you aren’t always 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 stressful surprises.
3. Don’t bother putting baby in the stroller until after security; wear your baby.
If your baby is unable to stand without assistance or walk on his/her own, this person is considered an “infant” by TSA standards. 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. This helps speed up the process because you aren’t wasting time removing the baby from your stroller, folding up the stroller, and putting it on the belt. You can also dodge potential meltdowns because the baby rides seamlessly from the car and through the checkpoint on your person. Babies love a cozy spot on mom or dad.
You won’t go through the traditional body scanner if you are wearing or holding your infant. A TSA agent will direct you to a different device, a metal detector, that you’ll walk through while holding or wearing your baby. The agent on the other side will swab both of your hands after passing through the metal detector, so don’t go running off too quickly.
I use my Pockit stroller for many reasons, but namely because it folds up so small that it can fit in a backpack. I use it as a bag caddy and “tabletop” to help expedite us through screening when there’s a long line. For example, while waiting in line for a plastic bin, I place the diaper bag on the stroller’s seat. Then I remove my shoes and place them in the stroller. I unzip the pockets containing my electronics and the baby’s liquid items so they are ready to be removed. These steps are so small, but they help save so much of your time (as well as the time of those people behind you). We like using the Pockit stroller because it is lightweight, easy to fold, and is compact enough to fit underneath the seat in front of me on the plane.
4. Know the exceptions to the 3-1-1 liquids rule.
If you’re flying without a baby, you know the standard rules for liquids, right? One quart-sized clear bag with liquids not to exceed 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) per item. Anyone with a baby will tell you that those restrictions stink, but rejoice, reader! Baby items like formula, breastmilk, juice, medicines, gel or liquid-filled tethers, and canned, jarred, and processed baby foods are exempt from the 3-1-1 rule. I should also state the obvious that you must be traveling with an infant to have baby items exempted. The TSA website states that those items are permitted in “reasonable quantities,” meaning don’t bring an entire gallon of apple juice for your eight month old. The liquid items for baby don’t have to be in a clear plastic bag either.
My son is breastfed, but I still bring a bottle of water to make formula just in case I get a creeper-vibe from my neighbor on a flight. (*Note: I am yet to have someone be outraged or creepy about breastfeeding in flight. I usually end up with a middle seat between two middle-aged men because Murphy’s Law. In my experiences so far, everyone is polite or averts their eyes).
You must still remove these excess liquids from your bag, so don’t bury them too deeply underneath the toys and storybooks. When packing the baby’s bag, I intentionally put the liquids in a convenient “grab and go” location. I always place the baby items in a separate bin all by themselves so I can re-pack those items easily on the other side of the checkpoint. Now, I have been through TSA and had my bag pulled for additional screening, all because of baby wipes. They were Pampers Pure baby wipes, so I assume they were just so pure that TSA wanted to make sure they were legit. Jury’s still out on that one, so I recommend keeping the wipes packed in your bag, just have them in a handy location in case they require additional screening. If you’re in a serious hurry, just put the wipes in the bin with your other liquid baby items to avoid any hassle.
5. Pack with purpose.
When traveling with my son, I use his diaper bag for my carry-on bag as well. The only items I really need are my iPad and Nikon, both of which have to be removed for screening. I always pack these items last so they are first to come out at the checkpoint. As for the liquids in my toiletry bag, I also pack that in last. Gavin’s food and beverage items are in a pocket all on their own and separated into gallon-size ziplock bags so I can quickly remove them and re-pack them.
6. The Golden Rules for Traveling with Breastmilk.
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. Partially-frozen, slushy, or liquid breastmilk has to be screened one bag or bottle at a time. I can tell you from personal experience that this is incredibly time consuming for everyone, but I understood that TSA has a job to do. They didn’t single me out because they don’t like breastfeeding moms, they’re ensuring the traveling public’s safety.
Partially-frozen, slushy, or liquid breastmilk that needs to be screened will likely have a strip-dip test. Most checkpoints will pour a small sample from your bottles or milk bags so the test strip doesn’t contaminate the entire lot of milk that your body worked so hard to make. If you notice that they aren’t preparing to put a small sample in a separate container to test, you can absolutely tell them to test a small portion using a separate container (politely, of course). 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.
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.
6a. Screening electric breastpumps. My husband and I went to Hawaii for a few days sans the little guy and it was glorious. The not-so-glorious part was having to pump throughout the day so my supply could be maintained. That being said, if you are traveling with an electric breastpump, put it in a separate bin by itself unless a TSA Agent tells you otherwise. Mine has a handy carrying case with a special pocket to store and cool the breastmilk. As a general rule of thumb, just declare to the TSA Agent that the device is a breastpump so they don’t waste time studying the X-ray screen.
7. Don’t re-pack your items by the belt. This one can be tough and I see plenty of people without babies being guilty of the same thing. After getting through the screening process, passengers retrieve their items off the conveyor belt and then continue to their assigned gate for departure. During peak travel times, however, this causes a huge bottleneck in security of people, bags, more people, and more bags. Stack your bins on top of each other and carry them to a nearby table (I promise, there are tables right next to security at every airport for the purpose of re-packing). You’ll find that you have more space to pack your items away with far less pressure than being surrounded by strangers grabbing quickly for their bags all around you straight off the conveyor belt.
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 thing called life together, and there is no greater bonding force than an airport.