TSA Confiscates Baby Food and Formula

I normally post a link roundup on Friday, but this week's story about TSA confiscating baby food and formula is worthy of an extended post.

The New York Times ran an article called Bringing Along Baby Food? Not Too Much, Rules Say about parents who planned to carry on enough baby food and formula to accommodate any winter flight delays (remember neither baby food nor formula is available once you've cleared security). A portion of the food and formula was confiscated by a zealous TSA agent who deemed that they had "more than a reasonable amount."

It is difficult to understand who was served by TSA second guessing a parent's best judgment about how much food to pack for their child. As a traveling parent, I've learned to plan for contingencies like weather delays, a jar of baby food that seems off, opening a usual favorite only to have baby reject it, etc etc etc. Packing enough food and diapers is hardly an exact science, and one tends to err on the side of excess because the consequences of having too little are so terrible. Do we really want individual TSA agents deciding how much each child should eat?

I empathize with these poor parents, and hope that the TSA responds with more specific guidelines for parents and agents. I have my own uncomfortable memories of travelling 8 months pregnant (with D) from Paris to Seattle, alone, with 16 month old E and having an over-zealous British Airways agent question everything in my carryon down to the number of diapers. I'm generally of the opinion that you don't argue with flight attendants, security agents, or anyone in a position of power at the airport, but you can imagine that I would be willing to miss a flight if I couldn't bring along enough food or diapers to keep my kids well fed and clean.

Furthermore, I've never understood why diapers, baby food and formula aren’t for sale in the airport shops. It seems like parents would pay a pretty penny for any of those items at the critical moment.

All that said, the reality is it's best to avoid the discussion in the first place, and that means a little clever packing when it comes to baby food and formula.

Tips for Travelling Parents:

  • Bring Rice cereal or baby oatmeal (powdered). We use a airtight Lock & Lock container to keep it from invading the rest of our stuff (by the way, these containers are IDEAL for crackers and toddler snacks too). It can be mixed with water or stirred into babyfood to make it more substantial.
  • Pack a Banana, you can easily mash it with a fork
  • Buy yogurt after security. It can be difficult to find plain yogurt, but you can avoid most of the sugar by not mixing in all the fruit at the bottom.
  • We like powdered formula in individual serving sizes. I continue to carry it even now that both kids drink milk since milk isn't available onboard many flights.
  • Finger foods are a great choice as baby begins to be able to eat them. Puffed rice, bread slices, crackers, O's and freeze dried fruit all travel well and are healthy choices.
  • Some airlines do carry baby food (call ahead to find out), but there's no guarantee that there will be enough on your flight & the baby food I've seen has been low quality canned food.

References and Related Links:
TSA: Traveling with Children
NY Times: Bringing Along Baby Food? Not Too Much, Rules Say
Packing An Airplane Carryon for Babies, Toddlers and Kids

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  1. MetaMommy on February 27, 2008 at 1:54 p.m.

    When we fly to and fro from Ireland to Los Angeles, we bring a generous amount of food for our toddler. Much like you listed, we include a banana, oranges, cereal, Os, bread, etc. We also order a vegetarian meal for him, which often consists of tofu, rice, etc.

    One thing to consider is that if you bring produce (e.g., banana) across international waters, leave it on the plane when you arrive at your destination. Otherwise, you may have it confiscated by U.S. Customs like we did :-(

  2. Reuben on March 6, 2008 at 1:33 p.m.

    I just came across another crazy story about TSA's seemingly abuse of power when it comes to dealing with children and their needs. Apparently, a 14 year old with a surgical feeding tube inserted in his stomach passed through security but the TSA official needed to open the device up - the child begged so as not to contaminate the sterilized equipment but as usual they proceeded anyway...see: http://www.boingboing.net/2008/03/06/...

  3. Debbie on March 6, 2008 at 2:30 p.m.

    I read this story too. There arent many details yet, but it seems insane to "inspect" something clearly marked as sterile medical equipment.

  4. Chris on April 1, 2008 at 5:20 p.m.

    My sister-in-law has been flying with a "Magic Bullet" food processor. It's not that large and she just brings solid food. Most of the time she can find an outlet in the airport and a lot of airplanes are starting to provide standard 110 outlets. You could always make a lot once you're through security too.

    Editor Note: Food Processors have sharp blades and are not allowed through security

  5. A Kruse on August 25, 2009 at 9:11 p.m.

    My son has a metabolic condition that really limits the types of foods he can eat. Most of his diet is specially ordered medical food and a medical beverage (formula used for his entire life). So, many of the travel tips will not work for us. Hearing stories like these have made me vow to avoid flying as long as we can. I just am crossing my fingers that the rules will become clearer and manageable. Maybe with a fliers' bill of rights?

  6. Debbie on August 25, 2009 at 9:29 p.m.

    @A Kruse
    I am so sorry to hear about your son's condition. With a doctor's note you should be able to bring whatever you need through security (also you would be able to ship food and medical beverages ahead to your destination). I have yet to hear a story where TSA did not allow medically required food or beverage through security.

  7. Ann on May 4, 2011 at 4:23 a.m.

    These are great tips, but if your child is only starting out on solids (and hates rice cereal), you don't really have much of a choice but to bring a decent supply of formula.

    I'm currently preparing for a translantic flight alone with a 5-month old. My son takes at least a liter of formula a day plus a few breastfeeds and some small amount of very easily digestible solids. (Banana is beyond him just now.)

    On our way back to Ireland, we have only a 55 minute layover. If we miss our connecting flight to Ireland, we'll have to wait 24 hours for the next one. I think it's reasonable to bring enough formula to cover an entire day stranded in an airport. I just hope the TSA agrees!

  8. Debbie on May 7, 2011 at 8:19 a.m.

    Ann, your best bet is to bring at least some of that formula in powdered form. Also, be aware that flying out of Europe you may be required to taste liquids that are packaged in containers over 100ml