How to Survive Airport Security with Kids
One of best ways to make traveling with kids less of a hassle, is to be prepared for airport security. Between the large crowds, the juggling of all the gear, and the wrangling of all those kids, airport security can feel a little bit like herding cats.
But you shouldn’t let it keep you from getting out there and going on adventures with your kids, regardless of their ages and all the stuff you’ll need to survive a flight with them! I’ve been flying with my boys since they were 6 weeks old… and let’s just say I’ve learned a few things along the way (often times the hard way)! I really wish I had pictures to show you the circus we used to bring to the airport when the kids were little! You’ll just have to trust me when I say we were quite the sight.
So to help prepare you for that first flight with little ones in tow, I’ve got 12 tips that will help you fly through airport security with kids (see what I did there 😉 ).
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1. Arrive Early
There is nothing worse than feeling rushed at the airport, especially if it’s your first time traveling with kids. Do yourself a favor and get there 2 hours early for domestic flights and 3 hours early for international. I’d rather have a few extra minutes to kill than be a sweaty mess when I get to the plane. If you are relaxed, your kids will be relaxed. So start your trip off right and give yourself some extra time.
2. Get Dropped Off at Departures
When we travel as a family, we often park in a long-term parking lot and take a shuttle over to the airport to save a little money. But if you want to avoid one less transfer of your luggage, your stroller, and your kids it is really nice to be dropped off right at the sidewalk at the Departures door.
Consider asking a family member or friend to drive your crew to the airport. Then when you get to the airport, do this…
3. Use Curbside Check-in
Frugal me used to scoff at the people wasting precious dollars on curbside check-in because they were too impatient to wait in line with the common folk inside. Such a waste, right?
If you’re traveling with kids it is such a relief to only have to get all of our crap the 10 feet from the car to the counter as opposed to trying to snake my way through the line inside balancing 3 car seats on top of 4 pieces of luggage and a stroller. If your airline offers curbside check-in, just do it.
And did you know that most airlines don’t charge for curbside check-in? Tipping is encouraged, so it’s not technically free. But I think the tipping actually makes for more friendly airline employees! In my experience they’ve even overlooked a bag that was overweight by a few pounds when I’ve checked in at the curb. An average tip would be around $1-$2 a bag.
4. Check Your Car Seat(s) Before Going Through Security
We have traveled every which way possible with car seats on an airplane. We’ve taken them through security with us and checked them at the gate, we’ve checked them right away when we check our bags, and we’ve even used them on the airplane for kids to sit in.
But unless you’ve purchased a seat on the plane for your child under 2, or have really strong feelings about your bigger kids sitting in car seats, I would suggest checking your car seat before you head to security. As long as you put it in some kind of bag made with durable material, it should come out on the other end just fine. And it is really freeing to not have to struggle with anything bulky while boarding the plane with little ones in tow.
We use a carseat bag with straps like this one. The straps can be worn like a backpack and come in handy when you’re pushing a stroller and pulling luggage behind you.
**Tip: There is one circumstance where I would advocate for bringing a carseat on a plane: when you are traveling with a child over 2 (you would have to buy them a ticket anyway) who has a hard time sitting still and would be more likely to behave in the confines of a car seat. In this situation, having a seat your child is familiar with and comfortable in could mean a more relaxing flight for you and the surrounding passengers. Just be sure to do your research ahead of time and know how to install the seat on a plane because flight attendants aren’t always familiar with all types of car seats.
5. Double Check Your Child’s Bag
If you have bigger kids who are able to carry their own backpack through security, it can really help the process. Just be sure to look through their bags on the way to the airport to be sure they haven’t snuck in anything that could hold up the process once you arrive. Look for water bottles, liquids, and anything that might even somewhat resemble a weapon!
I try to pack each of their carryon bags ahead of time with their input on which games, books, and comfort items they want to bring. Then when we’re done, the bags go in the car so they aren’t tempted to add anything else without me knowing!
6. Rehearse the Process at Home
It may sound silly, but I like to mentally walk myself through the process while I’m packing. That way I have things packed in the best place in my bags and I’m less likely to get flustered once we’re at the airport.
Here are some things you’ll want to think through before you even get in the airport security line with kids.
- Make sure you know how to quickly breakdown your stroller.
- Practice putting on and taking off your baby carrier in case they ask you to remove it (most times they won’t).
- Pack liquids and laptops in a spot inside your carryon with easy access.
- Some airports ask you to remove your snacks from your bag so keep these accessible as well.
- Give your kids a pep talk on the way to the airport so they know what to expect and what you expect from them.
7. Consider Applying for TSA Pre-Check or Global Entry
If you travel often you should really consider signing up for TSA Pre-check or Global Entry. TSA pre-check means no more taking off your shoes, belts or jackets, or removing liquids and electronics from your bag (although the same restrictions apply). Global Entry is a little more involved and costly as far as getting approved but means you get to breeze through customs when returning from International travel.
Children 12 and under can accompany a parent who has TSA pre-check without applying themselves. But in order to use Global Entry, every member of your family will have to have a membership.
To save on the fees associated with pre-check and Global Entry, you can apply for certain travel credit cards that cover the application fee. The Chase Sapphire Reserve is our go to credit card and will reimburse you for the cost of one of these options every 4 years.
8. Put Away Loose Ends
As you’re waiting in line, do your best to stash away any stuffed animals, blankets, or loose clothing inside of your carry-on bags. The fewer things you need to grab on the other end of the x-ray machine the better!
9. Remove Breast Milk or Juice from Your Bag
Good news! Normally, liquids greater than 3.4 ounces are a big no-no when it comes to airport security. But according to the TSA website, formula, breast milk and juice in reasonable quantities are allowed through security when traveling with children (you can travel with breastmilk even when traveling without kids). Just be sure to put them in a separate container as they may need additional screening.
Water cups are also allowed for small children but in our experience they will always pull you aside to test the water before sending you on your way. So instead of getting held up, I suggest emptying all of your water bottles/cups before going through the line because it’s just easier to refill them once you’re through the line.
10. Look for a Family Security Line
Some airports offer a designated line for passengers traveling with children. If you see one, use it! You won’t feel like you’re holding anyone up, and if you are, they are likely in the same boat as you and will be feeling a lot more sympathetic. If you don’t see a family line, don’t be afraid to ask if there is one.
11. Have Your Documents Ready
Children under 18 are not required to show ID to fly domestically. But if you are flying internationally, everyone in your party will need a passport, regardless of age.
And if you are traveling with a lap infant (a child under 2 that you did not purchase a ticket for) it’s always a good idea to carry a copy of their birth certificate with you incase you are asked to prove they are under 2 years old.
Lately, either my husband or I will put all of our boarding passes on one phone so that only one of us has to swipe through and scan boarding passes. But when we travel internationally I prefer to have printed boarding passes that I can tuck into each passport before we get to the TSA agent.
Well? Do you feel ready?? Just remember that as intimidating as it might feel to wrangle everything and everyone through the airport, you can do it! And it is absolutely worth getting out there and experiencing the world with your little ones!
More Family Travel Tips
- 10 Travel Gadgets You Didn’t Know You Needed
- 5 Reasons You Won’t Regret Traveling While You’re Kids Are Young
- How to Take Your Family on Vacation for Free!