I was flying out of Kansas City a few years ago and in front of me in the security line was a woman with a baby in a stroller and two young children. The woman had a carry on suitcase plus 2 large bags on her shoulder with stuff overflowing from it and her arms were full of other loose things. The children each had a couple of bags all overflowing with their things and the stroller was packed full of other things on the bottom. It took this poor woman 45 minutes to go through security while the rest of us waited behind her. When the TSA officer told her that all those bags, all those things, and the stroller would need to be put in bins and go through security she started yelling and screaming at him. She was so irate at the process of going through security and she took it all out on the TSA officers. In her anger to get done with the process she left her carry on suitcase and a bunch of loose items there in security and I overheard the officers say how much they were not looking forward to calling her back to claim her things.
Now I don’t tell this story to make fun of this woman’s predicament, because I honestly felt so bad for her that wherever she was going started with such an anxiety inducing and difficult time in the airport. Between keeping track of her children and all their stuff and making the way through security hoping that you make it time for the flight, I can only imagine what a stressful event that was for her. I’ve thought about this woman often since then and so wanted to share the things that I have learned in flying with children in hopes that it may help some other parent have a better experience.
:: TAKE ONE BAG AND CHECK THE REST :: The main way to lower the stress of the airport with children is to downsize to make it manageable. You don’t want to be encumbered with lots of stuff as you make your way through the airport. Pack one bag with everything you and your child will need just for the flight. Be sure to have your wallet accessible enough that it is easy to get to and put back, even if you’re holding your infant. If you are bringing a small bag of toiletries and medicine, be sure that they are in a clear bag that is easy to take out and put in the bin. For toddlers have them carry their own small bag with a few snacks, some entertainment items (book, coloring book, tablet, etc) and a change of clothes. For infants include extra diapers, a package of wipes, a change of clothes, a couples of ready made bottles, any medicine, and one favorite toy. With any liquid such as the bottle or medicine, you need to inform the TSA agent that you have it and they will ask you to remove it from your bag so they can check it separately. It is always good to have either a bottle or pacifier for your infant to suck on during take off because it helps their ears to pop and manage the pressure change. All the rest of what you will need for your trip, put it in your checked luggage. I know a lot of people are against checking bags either because of the cost or wanting everything to be conveniently with them. But again, it goes back to making it more manageable through the airport and by checking a bag you don’t have to worry about juggling it with everything else or worry that you are leaving something behind.
:: CAR SEATS AND STROLLERS:: The great thing about flying with children is that strollers and car seats can be checked for free. You can either check them with your luggage or you can check them at the gate. I always suggest that you bring your car seat as opposed to renting one at your destination. Not only is it very expensive to rent a car seat with a rental car, but you also have to deal with an unknown seat and putting it in the car and getting it adjusted. Not to mention that not all car seats are the right fit for your child. So take the one you use all the time and save yourself the headache of figuring out theirs. When you check your luggage check the car seat as well. Be sure to have a tag filled out and attached to your car seat so you can identify it when you land. You can also bring the car seat with you on the plane and attach it to the chair. If you want to do this, be sure that you have selected the infant to be in a seat and not on your lap on the ticket. I would not suggest this as it is very difficult to get that seat attached in such a small space not to mention the hassle of carting around the car seat through the airport.
Strollers on the other hand are perfect to take with you through the airport. While you can check a stroller along with your luggage, taking it with you makes it easier to make your way through the airport because your not having to carry your baby with you all the way. They can peacefully ride along while you make your way to your gate where they will gate check the stroller for you. When you go through security the stroller will need to be checked over by the TSA agent. If it collapse down, then usually you will need to collapse it and send it through security along with the bins. If it does not, then an agent will come and get it and wipe it down and check it that way. So when you arrive at security, get everything in the bins that needs to be and then hold your baby. It may a few minutes for them to retrieve your stroller and check it. Be sure to have a tag with your name on it attached to the stroller. When you arrive at your gate, you do not need to inform them that you will be gate checking your stroller. You will go down the ramp and leave the collaped stroller at the end of the ramp. They will place it underneath from there. Then when you arrive, wait on the ramp for your stroller to be brought up and you are on your way.
:: SECURITY PROCEDURES :: Security procedures are a little different when you have a child with you. Going through security they do not need to remove their shoes or their jackets to put in the bins. But if they bring a stuffed animal or blanket with them those do need to go into the bins along with their bag. My daughter always brings her stuffed giraffe that is full of rice so whenever we fly I make a point of telling the TSA agent that so they can check it manually. Generally your child will go with you through the metal detector and not on their own. With toddlers, when the TSA agent is checking your ticket and ID they will likely ask your child a few questions such as their name or age or birthday. It is always good to have some kind of identification for your child with you as well. More and more parents are encouraged to have a passport for their children, no matter their age, because that is a form of identification for them. And if you have a different last name than your child you want to make sure you have some way of connecting you such as a birth certificate or adoption document. More than likely you will not be asked to provide those things, but if so know it is a security measure protecting and watching out for children. And the last thing regarding security is to remember that the TSA agents are there doing a job that is about keeping everyone safe. Instead of getting upset at what you are asked to do instead thank them for all they do to safeguard us against possible danger. Be patient, follow instructions, and don’t let them be the scapegoat for your anxiety.
Hopefully this is helpful to any parent traveling with kids to create a less stressful experience. Thanks for reading!