Before I had a baby I used to groan when I was standing behind a family with small kids, a stroller, and all sorts of stuff, and sometimes I still do. I can’t believe how much stuff people try to manage with small kids! Now, when I am going through airport security with my own baby, I notice people glaring at me, or shifting to a different line.
Little do they know, though, that I’m a seasoned pro at getting in and out of airport security as quickly as possible, even with a baby. I do it quicker with a baby than many child-less travelers I see struggling with their belts and bags. For your own convenience and comfort, minimizing the loss of things, and keeping everyone sane, I suggest preparing well for airport security.
1) Make sure everyone is dressed smartly. Avoid belts, metal buckles or zippers, loose items in pockets, jewelry, and other items that are going to add to the time to get everything off and organized to send through the belt for screening. You and babies/ small children will want to be comfortably dress for a long flight, anyway, so I try to dress myself in comfortably yoga-style clothes that I layer, and baby in a onsie with feet and long-sleeves. This will also decrease your time for re-organizing and re-packing on the other side. Also, make sure that everyone wears easily removable slip-on shoes.
2) Make sure you choose smart carry-on bags. The bag should allow easy access to remove things like laptops and any liquids (such as baby’s liquid essentials or your own cosmetics). The bag should also have good organization so things aren’t falling out if you need to open it. Check out TSA requirements before packing your carry-on bags.
3) Organize all travel documents together and ready to present to security officer. There are several times you’ll need to pull out passports and boarding passes at check-in, security check-in, boarding the plane, and potentially another security check. It’s best to keep all of the family’s critical travel documents organized in one place and easily accessible, but secure.
4) Organize all liquid items under 3.4 oz in one clear, quart-size plastic bag ready to be pulled out. I like to use a reusable quart-size clear plastic bag for this purpose, and have one for baby’s items, and one for my own cosmetics. Make sure it is an easily accessible place in your carry-on to pull out in the security line.
5) Present liquids over 3.4 oz to a security officer for screening. You may have liquids over the allowed 3.4 oz that are medicines, breast milk, formula, or baby food. If you do have any of these liquids over the allowed size, make sure you also keep this in one contained bag/ cooler that is easily accessible so you can pull it out and hand it to an officer for screening. Do NOT send these items through the belt. Check out TSA requirements before packing your carry-on bags.
6) Skip the stroller if you can do without one, or choose a lightweight travel-friendly stroller. For babies under the age of two, I find it much easier to just use a baby wrap without any metal parts, which means I can keep baby secured to me through the security process without having to jostle her, and don’t have to struggle with a stroller. In most places that I have traveled, I have been allowed to keep baby secured to me in the baby wrap through the metal detector (except in Amman, where I have multiple times been asked to remove baby and the wrap).
When we do travel through the airport with a car seat/ stroller combo, that means struggling with taking baby in and out, but the Sit’N’Stroll is very easy to pop the wheels in and send through the belt. If you really must travel with a stroller, opt for a small, lightweight, umbrella stroller meant for travel, and don’t bring along the deluxe sidewalk mower you use at home. You’re going to have to take baby out, fold it up, and send it through the belt for screening. If you have loose things in the bottom storage basket, there’s a good chance stuff is going to fall out.
7) Keep baby entertained while waiting. If we’re traveling with two adults, we try to split up while one of us keeps baby entertained walking around, and the other waits in line. Otherwise, there are often other small children or babies waiting in line, and I have many times directed my baby’s attention to interact with another baby/ toddler waiting in line, which often has positive results for all children and parents involved. Also be equipped with any engaging toys or rattles, but make sure you don’t have any toy weapons that could cause problems when you get to security. It’s also a great time, if you’re choosing to use a baby wrap and are breastfeeding, to nurse baby so baby is calm and happy.
8) Be assertive about getting to the front of the line and ask for help. We have many times been directed to a fast-track line or invited to jump ahead by security officers, and other traveling passengers waiting in line. After passing immigration and heading to security when returning to the U.S. in Atlanta, a very kind security officer saw me struggling by myself with a baby and luggage to re-check. He told me he has two small children himself and took over my luggage cart, leading me to the front of the line and re-checking my luggage for me. You can always ask a security officer in whatever country you are in to help expedite the security process for you, and people are often accommodating when you are traveling with little ones. Especially when I have been traveling alone with a baby, I have been surprised many times by how helpful other passengers and security officers are with helping me put my carry-on bags and stroller (if I am traveling with one) through the metal detector. I have even had an officer delightfully offer to hold my baby for me in JFK boarding a flight to Amman! People are generally really helpful, and if you’re struggling with a lot of stuff, don’t be afraid to ask someone to help with bags and stuff.
9) Use the time standing in the long boring security line to start preparing for the security drill. Instead of waiting until the last minute when we’re already at the metal detector, we start getting ready. We make sure our travel documents are secured in our bag after the document check with the security officer. Although I try to avoid having metal or loose stuff in pockets anywhere, we do a check to make sure that if there is any loose stuff we forgot about (like cell phones) that we secure it in bags. With baby in a wrap in two free hands once we are close to the belt, we grab trays and start placing our laptops (in separate bins), and in another bin liquids in a quart-size bag, shoes, and any coats/ jackets.
By the time we get to placing our things on the belt it’s: trays down, breast milk over 3.4 handed to security officer, back-packs down, and through the metal detector with baby. If you’re traveling with a stroller, wait to take out baby/ child last after everything else is on the belt, then fold it up (hopefully you have one that’s a quick fold).
10) Take your time to re-group after passing through security. I have many times been anxious to get everything together and get out of the way, and once dropped my laptop (luckily it survived). I’ve learned to relax, ask for help, and travel with fewer things. There are usually spaces where you can bring your things to re-pack and get collected, as well. Calmly re-group kids and things, and be careful to take inventory to make sure nothing was left behind.