Flying with an infant or toddler may be an adventure for the kids, but cause you some anxiety. Recent news reports on TSA security screenings and airline customer service have not been favorable, whether you are traveling with kids or not. Planning ahead and knowing the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security rules and boarding procedures will make flying with your young kids much easier. It is possible that your family airline travel will be hassle and stress free and an adventure for everyone.
Check the Security Screening and Boarding Rules in Advance
Rules for what you can take past security and airline carry-on rules are in a constant flux. Before your trip, check the rules for security and airline information for boarding with kids and carry-ons so you can plan ahead to make boarding as smooth as possible.
Some general information you’ll need to know include:
*Every paying ticket holder is usually allowed one carry-on bag, with size restrictions. So if you are flying with an infant without purchasing a ticket, your infant cannot bring a carry-on bag. If you can fit the diaper bag under the seat, that will probably count as a purse.
*Strollers – Typically you can bring these on the airplane and not have it count as carry-on baggage.
*Car seats – Infant seats are generally allowed in addition to your carry-on bag. Toddler car seats are not allowed to be used in flight and must be checked at baggage, but these will probably not count towards your baggage limit. You can purchase a child aviation restraint system approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for restraining children in an airplane seat.
*Taking liquids through security is severely limited. Bottles of water and even toys filled with liquids will be confiscated, but you can buy them in the terminal to bring onto the airplane. Infant formula, breast milk, other baby food, and medications are exceptions. To make it easier, package these items together so you can pull them out and tell security you have them as you pass through.
*Dress yourself and your kids appropriately to make it easy for yourself and your kids to pass through the metal detectors. As of 2012, the TSA does not require kids under the age of 12 to remove their shoes, but you will be removing your shoes. Wear easy to remove shoes, as you will have to do this while also getting your young kids in line. Don’t let your child carry any toys or wear metal jewelry that will set the metal detector off.
*Remove your baby from the sling or carrier and put the sling or carrier through the x-ray machine. Then carry your baby through the metal detector. The TSA website states, “If a baby is carried through the metal detector in a carrier or sling, additional screening may be required regardless if there is an alarm or not.”
*You can bring food through security as long as it does not resemble a liquid. Bring enough food for your kids to get through the trip plus some extra if you can. If you are offered airline food (which is now rare), it’s unlikely your young kids will like it. You’ll want some extra food in case the trip takes longer than expected and you get stuck in the airplane or airport for an extended period of time.
*Children under the age of 18 do not need identification.
*Take note that these TSA rules are subject to change at any time. Read the TSA website the day before your trip for any security rule changes.
Pre-Boarding When Flying with an Infant or a Toddler
For most airlines, pre-boarding starts 24 hours before the flight. Do as much of the check-in online as you can 24 hours before your flight. From your home computer, you may be able to check in all passengers to get seating assignments and the luggage to be simply dropped off at a baggage drop point. The less time you spend in lines with infants and toddlers, the happier everyone will be.
You should know however, that many airlines no longer allow families traveling with small children to board the airplane first. You have to board when it’s your turn with all the other passengers. Yes, this means that as you make your way down cramped hallways and aisles with strollers, diaper bags, carry-on luggage, and the kids, you will be blocking all other passengers behind you. And you’ll probably be bumping other passengers along the way while trying to corral your toddler into his seat. It also means that if there is not assigned seating and not enough seats for you to sit with your baby and/or toddler, you will have to speak with the attendant who will have to shuffle already sitting passengers around. Don’t let it stress you. Such boarding problems are the fault of poor airline policies that makes sure all are equally annoyed. This is not something you can control.
You can control your own expectations and attitude when faced with boarding problems when flying with and infant or a toddler. Expect boarding to go slowly for you. You have to put strollers, baggage, kids, and yourself all in their proper places. Do be kind and friendly when boarding with your kids so that others are less likely to direct their annoyance at you. Do use online check in 24 hours in advance so you can be one of the first allowed to board and/or know that you have seats together. If you are traveling with multiple adults and children, don’t expect the entire family to be able to sit together.
Once you’ve gotten through security and boarding, you only have to focus on keeping your infant and toddler happy and pleasant during the flight. Keep an adventurous attitude for the entire trip and flying with an infant or a toddler will be less stressful, even if there are some challenges along the way.