Breeze Through Airport Security With Kids

This article was updated in November 2011 to reflect changes in TSA Airport Security Checkpoint Policy

With four people, eight shoes, two laptops, a stroller, a sling, a slew of small electronics, and a bag of cosmetics we have to be super organized to get through airport security quickly and without a lot of drama. The process always feels like a bit of a workout, but we have streamlined the process over time. Here are our best tips for getting through airport security like a pro with your kids.

  1. Choose your carryon carefully
    A ziptop tote with a few pockets to help keep things organized works well, backpacks work great too. If you don't need to carry a laptop, the Baby Sherpa Diaper Backpack or the Okkatots Travel Baby Depot Backpack works well, and we love all the pockets and the insulated area perfect for carrying perishable food or milk.
  2. Make Your Carryon Easy to Re-Pack
    • Liquids need to be removed and inspected at the security checkpoint. You'll save time and drama if you pack liquids in an exterior pocket or at the top of your bag. When possible empty sippy cups and bottles before the security checkpoint.
    • Remember that snacks need to conform to the liquid rules too. Babyfood is allowed in "reasonable amounts," but remember that it is up to the TSA officer to determine how much baby food is reasonable.
    • Your laptop should be easy to remove and replace. Ideally your carryon bag has a separate laptop pocket or is "checkpoint friendly."
    • Be sure that your stroller folds easily, and that there is nothing in the basket or on the handles that makes it difficult to fold.
    • Inspect your child's carryon if they've packed themselves. They should not have any liquids or toy weapons.
    • Have as few loose items as possible. Each loose item is something extra to deal with & risks getting lost or left behind
    • Put one person in charge of air tickets and IDs (no, the kids don't need identification). Documentation and IDs should be in an easy-to-get-to pocket
  3. Dress yourself & kids for success
    • Adults should wear socks and slide on shoes
    • Remove your jackets before security
    • Nobody should wear a belt. Avoid hair accessories that have a lot of metal in them.
    • Empty your pockets and your kids pockets before security and keep everything in your carryon if possible
  4. Get in the Family Line
    Family Lanes often allow parents and young kids to bypass the longest part of the security line (before the ID check). After your bags have gone through the X-Ray there are sometimes extra staff members to help you gather your belongings. At an airport with multiple security checkpoints, it's worthwhile to ask which one has a family lane.
  5. No Family Lane? Ask Whether You Can Use the Express Lane
    Express lines are usually reserved for frequent travelers, but if the line is clear, ask whether you can go through with your kids. Often a kind agent will let you go through. If not, watch to see which line is moving most quickly.
  6. Wait in Line Without Meltdowns
    • One parent should wait in line while the other takes the kids to the front and shows them exactly what is happening. Explain that everything is going through the x-ray and that the kids will get everything back. With older kids, this is the time to make sure they know it's not ok to joke about bombs or guns. The parent waiting in line can scope out which security checkpoint is running fastest.
    • Once you're back together, remove jackets before reaching the security checkpoint
  7. Give Your Kids a Job
    Got older kids? Put them in charge of grabbing bins (and stowing them after you've gone through the checkpoint and gathered your belongings) Have them put their own carryon bags up on the conveyor belt first, and keep those bins moving along until they reach the x-ray. Grab Your Bins
    Grab a stack of bins and start loading everything up. Don't be afraid to grab extra, it's easier to pass back extra bins than it is to get more. Shoes, Jackets, and anything else you'll need first goes in the first bin. Keep valuables close until you are ready to pass through security.
  8. Set Your Child Free Last
    If you're using a stroller, keep your child in it as long as possible & collapse the stroller last.
  9. Remove Baby From The Sling
    Technically you are allowed to keep your baby in a sling as you pass through the metal detector, but if you do, you'll be required to undergo a pat-down. It's probably easier to remove baby from the sling. Note that TSA agents are not allowed to hold baby as you gather your sling and belongings, but there's no reason that you cannot ask another passenger for help.
  10. Ask for Help
    • Anything too big to fit easily through the x-ray (e.g. a car seat) can be hand inspected. There's no need to try to disassemble things.
    • Don't be afraid to ask for help gathering your items or lifting heavy items. There are often extra agents available to assist those who need it.
  11. Step Aside and Regroup
    At many airports, families can use the "additional screening" area or nearby benches to repack their belongings. When that's not available, get your kids in the stroller or sling first so that you can focus on re-packing.
  12. It is ok to bribe (your kids)
    This is something you'll do rarely, a sticker or treat on the other side of security can go a long way towards making this and future trips smoother. At some airports, TSA even provides the stickers.

Related Links:
TSA's Guide to Traveling With Children
DeliciousBaby: Packing an Airplane Carryon for Babies, Toddlers and Kids
DeliciousBaby: Tips for Bringing Baby Food and Formula Through Airport Security
DeliciousBaby: Flying with Babies, Toddlers & Kids

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  1. Stormy on April 1, 2008 at 9:32 a.m.

    I've found that TSA is very friendly to kids. Two additional points:

    1) Explain to your kid before hand that the TSA people might have to take their bag to examine it. Our (then) 6 year old was extremely upset when his bag was taken to be tested for explosives.

    2) Sometimes other people in line will hold your kid for you! A very nice lady helped me get my four week old back into his baby bjorn after security.

  2. Cory on April 8, 2008 at 2:29 p.m.

    I agree with Stormy. I travel alone with our kids, and have had no trouble with other parents who offer to help, or hold the baby. (TSA won't let you lay the baby down on their tables while you get organized, either.)

  3. Nikki T-S on May 31, 2009 at 6:09 p.m.

    After juggling the baby in the carrier, trying to put everything through security, etc, a kind lady at TSA told me that it's not necessary to take the baby from the baby carrier (Bjorn, Ergo, etc). Instead, you can go through with the baby still attached to you. They will then hand inspect you--which usually means a pat down of the carrier.

    In smaller airports where there aren't a lot of people in secondary screening, this might be an easier solution. If TSA doesn't offer, just ask if you can keep the baby in the carrier and be inspected. I have never been refused.

  4. Elizabeth Sanchez on August 28, 2009 at 7:58 a.m.

    This comment is really, very late, but in December, I basically studied this list before traveling to Mexico alone with my two boys. We made it through security, regrouped and re-packed faster than the family ahead of me, which consisted of two ladies and two kids. As always, thanks Debbie!

  5. Jennifer (aka Hint Mama) on August 4, 2014 at 11:10 p.m.

    Great tips:) I'm a huge fan of #4 and #5 (we've been ushered through both priority and pre-check lanes after asking nicely). More on that, and a link to your helpful post, here:)

  6. Cassie on September 27, 2014 at 12:51 a.m.

    Great tips really.

  7. Waylon Carpenter on July 2, 2015 at 1:26 p.m.

    Thanks for useful tips.