You finally booked that trip with your child and made it to the airport, hopefully on time. We all know getting through security as an adult is a pain and now you're adding on a child! Here are 5 tips for a smooth airport experience with young kids.
Documents Needed For Check-In
Before you head to the ticket counter to check in make sure you have the proper documentation for your children.
Domestic Flights: For unpaid lap infants you will need to carry proof of age in the form of a birth certificate, immunization records, or passport. I personally have never been asked to show it but I have seen firsthand a father, who didn’t have proof of age, denied boarding for his flight unless he paid for a seat for his daughter. Buying a ticket at the gate is no small fee so better to be safe than sorry.
International Flights: All passengers regardless of age require a passport to travel internationally. If both parents or legal guardian(s) are not traveling with the child you are required to have a notarized document giving you permission to take the child out of the country alone or proof that you have sole custody. Although only required for entry to some countries, airlines, cruises, and immigration officers have the right to ask you for this documentation as they try to reduce kidnappings and human trafficking of children. Throughout our travels I have been asked for this form twice, once by Royal Caribbean and another by Delta Airlines. We’ve always gone to our bank to get the forms notarized. Although it can be a pain, I’m glad we took the precaution to get it done so we didn’t miss out on those two trips.
All passengers require a boarding pass, even non-ticketed infants. Some airlines such as Delta will have a notification like "Infant in Arms" on the adults boarding pass that they are linked to, others like JetBlue have separate boarding passes for the infant. Some airline apps allow you to access the infant boarding pass from it just like your own but others will only show the adults so you will have to stop by the check-in kiosk or ticket counter so allow extra time!
On most airlines parents of lap infants will be allowed to check in both a car seat and a stroller at the ticket counter or at the gate, free of charge. You will also be able to bring a diaper bag on board in addition to your carry-on allowance. If you purchased a ticket for your child they will have the same luggage allowances as an adult. Airline rules vary, especially when traveling budget airlines, so be sure to check the website of the airline you’re traveling. Print a copy of what’s allowed and keep it with you in case you are challenged by an uninformed gate agent or flight attendant.
Getting Through Security
Children under 12 do not have to remove their shoes, light jackets or headwear when going through the metal detectors, thank God! Unfortunately you still have to remove yours. I recommend wearing easy slip on and off shoes as you will likely be juggling with a car seat, stroller, and/or carrier or a combination of the three.
When traveling with an infant or toddler you are allowed to carry milk and juice for them and these liquids do not have to follow the 3.4oz Keep in mind these liquids will be subject to additional screening so give yourself an extra 15-20mins for this. Pack these items in a separate bag, take it out or your luggage and put it through the machine separately to speed up the process as they won’t have to search your entire bag. There is no limit on the amount of breast milk or formula you can bring on the plane, do not let a TSA agent tell you otherwise, some of them unfortunately just don't know the rules. Ask to speak with a supervisor if you get push back.
You are allowed to have ice packs, freezer packs, etc to keep these items cool but if your ice packs are not frozen TSA can make you toss them as they are now liquid so be sure they are frozen. To avoid this altogether consider traveling with a gallon sized zip lock bag that you can ask someone at a food counter or the flight attendants to fill for you.
If you are gate checking your stroller or car seat they will also have to go through the x-ray machine so be prepared to take your child out of them. If they do not fit, they will be hand searched. If you are using a baby carrier TSA agents are supposed to have you remove your child from the carrier, put your carrier through the x-ray machine and have you hold your baby while you walk through the metal detector. I’ve learned while your child always has to come out of the car seat or stroller, TSA seems to be more leinent with the carrier. Some agents have made me take my kids out of the carrier while others just let me walk through the metal detector. Whether you carry your baby in the carrier or in your arms, while walking through the metal detector, you will have to have your hands tested for certain particles before being allowed to go through to your gate. If you aren't traveling with your infant car seat I recommend baby wearing (hands free) through the airport and checking your stroller at the ticket counter. (I love my Ergobaby 360 and highly recommend it). You can read more TSA rules and tips on flying with children here.
Getting To the Gate
Being hands free and having your children confined by a car seat, stroller, or carrier is the fastest way to get through the airport. I like to carry as little as possible so my infant is always in the carrier. When traveling with a car seat the easiest way to get both the car seat and my toddler to the gate is to turn her car seat into a stroller with our car seat transporter. We have the SmartMove by Brica and it is absoultely a lifesaver.
If you have an infant you can use the Brica Cover Guard Car Seat Tote to either carrier your infant car seat like a backpack or roll it. It's also fits convertible car seats so if you are using the SmartMove Car Seat Transporter but not using the car seat on the plane you can use this to protect your car seat from scrapes and dirt when it's under the plane after you gate check it.
Killing Time Before Your Flight
Before getting to the airport check if there are any play areas for kids. This will keep you sane, especially if there are any unexpected delays. If there aren’t any playgrounds let them walk around the gate area or play in front of your seat. Nothing like wearing the kids out before a flight so hopefully they sleep for most of it!
I hope these tips prepare you for smooth sailing through the airport with your kids in tow. Are you a pro at flying with kids? Drop your tips in the comments on how you get through the airport smoothly!