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Travel, Toddlers, and the TSA

I would like to consider myself a veteran traveler. My family lives spread out across the United States and as a result we travel a lot. From an early age, airline travel has been a normal, if somewhat inconvenient at times, part of life.

When I started having my own kids, the term “normal” went out the window. Life as I knew it pre-kids was out the window. This applies to airline travel just as much to any other part of life.

Post-Baby Travel Reality Check

I’ll never forget the very first plane trip my husband and I had post-baby. A dear friend was getting married in Colorado a little over a month after my due date with baby number one. We naively assumed that would be plenty of time to recover and bounce back! We booked our flights.

Then we had a baby. A 54 hour labor, followed by an unplanned cesarean. I was so anemic, I looked like Caspar the ghost. Add to the mix a very needy, colicky little newborn who gave us very little sleep for the first several months. Strangers would stop me to ask if I was going to make it.

When the big travel day rolled around, not quite four weeks after giving birth, we severely underestimated how things were going to go. We set out for the airport, planning the usual one hour interval between arrival and plane departure, figuring it would be plenty of time. Not only did we hit heavy traffic en route, but the airport itself was then insanely busy for a random Thursday morning in July.

I begged the the airline lady to hold the airplane gate for an extra few minutes. My husband was running through the terminal like a crazy person trying to catch up to us after parking. I was about to resign myself to being trapped in a giant fuselage for 3 hours, followed by 3 days in an unknown city and state. Alone, with a colicky infant and not enough blood in my body. Then Mike appeared, red faced and panting, mere moments before the plane was sealed shut.

Don’t Ever Get Too Confident

Fast forward a few years, and we now had two kids, and several more flights-with-children under our belts. We always made sure to leave at least 3 hours between arrival and flight time. We figured out how to pack and park for efficiency. Pros.

Until that time the airline decided to throw us a curve-ball. At that time, we had flown several times with an infant-in-arms. Basically, an infant-in-arms is a child under two who doesn’t need their own seat and ticket to fly. No one had ever questioned our under-twos at the ticket counter.

That day, though, the ticket lady asked us, “And can I see proof that your child is under two?” Um, excuse me, what?

It was a totally reasonable request, of course. We had just never been asked before, and so we weren’t prepared with any documentation. The ticket counter lady told us that she would let it slide on the outbound trip, but we should expect to be slapped with a charge to purchase an extra seat for our toddler on the return trip if we couldn’t figure out a way to prove his age by the time we were returning home. Cool.

I spent a few hours back-and-forth on the phone once we arrived at our destination. We tried to get the pediatrician office to fax over records proving age. We talked to friends about breaking into our house and filing cabinet to get the birth certificate to copy and scan over. I don’t remember which solution we finally landed on, but you better believe that on the return trip, and every trip thereafter, we have been prepared. No one has ever asked us to prove our children’s ages again.

Be Prepared for the Unexpected

Fast forward again a few more years, and here we are now with three kids. I am no longer so egotistical to believe we are pros. Our most recent experience involved the TSA security line, and being accused of carrying explosives.

It all started when a couple of our bags got flagged on the screening. After extensive search of our carefully packed bags, we learned that some baby wipes containers have so much moisture, they appear too dense for their size on the screening. If you have something that is “too dense” in your bag, it gets flagged.

Then, I got my hands swiped down as part of the extra screening you get when you have to carry a baby through the x-ray machine. Explosive materials registered. Queue suspicious TSA officers.

I got pulled aside, and very intimately patted down. My bag was more thoroughly searched. The culprit? The diaper rash cream. Apparently it is not uncommon for some types and brands to have ingredients that will register similarly as the components of a bomb in their screening. So basically: the manufacturers and developers of baby care items straight up hate parents.

What About You?

There are, I am sure, countless more stories I could share if I stopped to think about it. Traveling with kids, as with all things  parenting-related, is never a dull experience. I would love to hear, though, do you travel with infants or children? Have you had any mishaps or adventures along the way? Any wise tips to share with other traveling parents? I would love to hear your stories and experiences in the comments!

Travel toddler

Traveling with one of my toddlers on an airplane.

8 Responses to Travel, Toddlers, and the TSA

  1. Akanksha January 30, 2017 at 8:20 am #

    Hi Kate, I can totally relate to your article…travelling is a challenge with babies. No matter how much ever your prepared, these airlines people always come up with some new stuff. In our case, it was the bag which contained the baby’s formula bottles got flagged. And they opened the seal of all the infant formula ready to feed bottles because they were not in a transparent packaging. (24 fl oz ones). So my advise to fellow flyers is not to carry any liquid item, (not even water) in a container which is not transparent or see through.

    • Kate Rich
      Kate Rich January 30, 2017 at 9:27 am #

      Oh my goodness! That has fortunately not happened to us, but thank you for the tip. I can’t imagine seeing all of those opened up! I wonder if there is any way around that since you ARE allowed to have liquid for babies and children under a certain age…

  2. Amy H. January 30, 2017 at 1:17 pm #

    I laughed reading this all to familiar story! My first post baby flight was also to Denver. My son was 13 months old and I was 20 weeks pregnant, I decided to go visit my best friend…without my husband. Everything was going pretty smooth until we landed in Denver. There was an electrical problem and the cabin filled with smoke. The plane stopped on the tarmac and we had an emergency evacuation! We had no coats, in March, and no diaper bag! The other passengers were great, giving us hats and blankets. We spent the next several hours trying to get our belongings. Thank goodness my son was very good during the whole thing.

    Fast forward two years…we are currently planning a trip to Denver. My husband, 2 kids (ages 3 & 18 months) and myself will be visiting my best friend in March. Let’s just say, I’m hoping for the best!

    • Kate Rich
      Kate Rich January 30, 2017 at 2:19 pm #

      Oh my gosh, Amy! I have tears in my eye laughing reading your story. You definitely win. That sounds… awful. I am glad you all are ok, and I hope your trip coming up is much less eventful! 😉

  3. Lisa February 5, 2017 at 9:38 pm #

    Now, 7+ years into traveling with children aged a few weeks old and well into childhood. Yep, seen and had it all done.

    The fluid in the bottle? Yes water yes for child. Patted down, swabbed, scanned, and pretty much all but strip searched thanks to kid items in my bags.

    We now take the kids passports when ever we fly even if it’s in the US.

    Even being pre-TSA hasn’t allowed me to avoid the bag searches, and hand swabs.

    • Kate Rich
      Kate Rich February 6, 2017 at 12:32 pm #

      Sounds like you and I have some things in common. What a great idea to bring the passports! That is probably smart no matter what, just in case. Here’s to the day we no longer get flagged, swabbed, and patted down just for being moms! 😉

  4. Kayla February 11, 2017 at 12:20 pm #

    We have flown many times with my son after he was born with nothing too major happening. After reading this though I think I will be bringing along a birth certificate since he is under 2! Very helpful article!

    • Kate Rich
      Kate Rich February 11, 2017 at 1:34 pm #

      Thank you! You have to tell me your secrets! I’m glad it has been so smooth for you. 🙂

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