Airport Security With Kids, Babies and Toddlers (An Update for Dec 2011)

A lot of things have changed since I wrote this post on how to Breeze Through Airport Security With Kids. I've updated the original post, but I also want to highlight some of the things that may have changed since your last flight with kids.

You mean I didn't have to do this?
You mean I didn't have to do this?

Kids Under 12 Can Keep Their Shoes On
Here's one thing that has gotten easier! Kids under age 12 no longer need to remove their shoes to go through airport security. They'll still need to remove jackets, belts, and anything else that might have enough metal in it to set off the metal detector. Blankets, stuffed animals, toys and anything else your child is holding need to go through the x-ray machine too.

Health Concerns About Full Body X-Ray Scanners Remain
Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) The debate about whether the Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) machines now used by TSA to screen passengers are safe for the general public is still raging. This recent ProPublica article , points out flaws in safety testing of individual machines, holes in the oversight of this program, and lack of independent peer-reviewed research about the current technology, while the TSA maintains their position that the machines are safe because nobody has proven that they aren't.

Beyond the controversy about how safe the machines are for healthy adults, it's important to note that there is even less specific data about how safe the Backscatter full body x-ray is for children. Medically, children are not just small adults, though most modeling treats them that way. Furthermore, use of the machines violates the longstanding medical convention that humans shouldn’t be X-rayed unless there is a medical benefit.

For this reason, our family has decided not to use the full body x-ray (for parents or kids), opting instead for a full body pat down, and each family should carefully consider their options here. You'll want to take into account the fact that if you are asked to go though a full-body x-ray and opt out, you'll have to go through an invasive pat-down procedure.

Very Young Kids Aren't Asked to use Full Body X-Ray Scanners

In theory the a TSA agent has the right to ask direct any passenger through the Backscatter (though you always have the right to opt out), but young kids are generally acknowledged to be too squiggly (that's the technical term) to hold still for the machines. TSA is not allowed to separate a parent from his or her children, so families traveling with young kids are being directed through traditional metal detectors even when the full body x-ray is in use. Older kids may be directed through the full-body x-ray, and your family always has the option to undergo a pat-down instead.

SEATAC Security Checkpoint
SEATAC Security Checkpoint

Kids Are Less Likely to Get a Pat Down Thank in Past Years
The decision not to put very young kids through the full body x-ray scanner will mean that fewer kids end up undergoing a pat-down. Additionally, TSA has decided to allow kids to try the metal detector additional times before undergoing a full body pat-down, reducing the risk of a pat-down even furthur. Still, the possibility of a full pat-down hasn't been entirely eliminated. If you are concerned about how your child (or you) might react, you might want to read these tips on how to talk to your kid about TSA's Pat-Downs.

Baby Milk, Baby Food, and Medically Necessary Liquids are Allowed in Excess of Normal Liquid Allowances
Baby Milk, Breastmilk, Baby Food and any liquid that is medically required are allowed in quantities greater than the normal liquid allowances and are not required to fit in a zip-top bag. That might sound like a free-for-all if you're traveling with young kids, but there are a few things you should be aware of.

  • Each TSA agent has the authority to determine how much babyhood or formula is "reasonable" for your itinerary, and may confiscate anything that just seems like "too much." If you want to stock up in case of flight delays, consider packing powdered baby cereal and non-mashed bananas along with your babyfood. Similarly, it's useful to bring a few single serve packets of formula
  • Containers over 100ml (3.4 oz) of babyfood or formula are allowed, but TSA agents may require that each one be opened for testing. If you are worried about perishable items going bad in flight, choose containers under 3.4 ounces.

Sling Baby? Remove the Sling at Security or Undergo a Pat-Down
In past years, the TSA policy regarding babies in a sling was unclear, the TSA website said one thing but the rules were implemented slightly differently at each airport. The new rule seems like it's being applied consistently. You may go through airport security with your baby in a sling, but you'll need to undergo a full body pat-down. Unless baby is asleep, it's probably easier to put the sling on the conveyor belt and carry baby through the metal detector.

Family Lanes Have Been Improved
When Family Lanes were first introduced, they were simply a way of speeding business travelers through security by separating out the slowest travelers. The result was that families spent the longest amount of time in line - a sure recipe for meltdowns. As a result, I used to advocate skipping the family lane if you and your children were experienced travelers and had your gear organized for the security checkpoint.

Over time, TSA has improved the family lanes to the point that we now seek them out. Family Lanes often skip the longest part of the security line, and these lanes often have additional staff to help you gather your belongings after they've gone through the x-ray. Sometimes staff even has stickers for the kids.

If you are flying out of an airport with multiple security checkpoints, it's worth asking which checkpoints have a family lane.

Small Electronics Can Stay In Your Bag
It used to be that every electronic device, from your MP3 player to the kids' DVD player had to be removed from your bag at airport security and put in a bin. Today only large items (like a laptop) need to be removed, and your phone, IPad, handheld video games and other smaller items can all stay in your carryon bag.

Babies, Toddlers and Kids do not need an ID
There's no change here, but I get questions about this every year. Technically, nobody is required to have an ID to fly, though adults undergo additional screening if they don't have an ID. For kids, though, unless you are traveling internationally, there's no need to bring along a photo ID. If you are flying with a lap infant under age 2, you may want to bring along a birth certificate in case a flight attendant or gate agent questions your child's age.

Special Needs
TSA now has a helpful webpage describing it's policy for parents traveling with Children with Special Needs

Readers please share your airport security tips and questions in comments.

Related Links
Breeze Through Airport Security With Kids
How to Talk to your Kid About TSA's Pat-Downs
Are TSA's Full Body X-Rays Safe for Kids?

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  1. EverythingMouse on November 21, 2011 at 11:24 a.m.

    I travel a lot with my 3 children and I have noticed recently that some airports are getting better. Orlando International now has a reasonably efficient family lane. I still can't stop my 5 year old taking his shoes off as he goes through as he just does this automatically now!

  2. Marcia Tapia on November 22, 2011 at 7:09 a.m.

    Mirador Del Monasterio: tourist hostel, was designed and built with sismic protection.