The prospect of going through a security checkpoint can be as stressful as thinking about the flight itself. Have no fear – all you need is a plan, a systematic approach, and a little practice, and you’ll be beating the businessmen through the line.
I strongly recommend rigging up all of your gear in the privacy of your living room and practicing breaking it down and then setting it back up again. This will give you a feeling of calm when you get to the checkpoint – you will have “been there” before.
The objective here is to put your stuff on the belt in an order that allows you (a) the most freedom before you have to set your child free and (b) to pack up your stuff on the back end in logical fashion. If that order is slightly different for you than it is for me, and that’s great! The practice in your living room can help you wheedle out what adjustments you need to make.
If you are at a non-US security checkpoint, verify what you need to put through the x-ray. Some international locations may not require computers, liquids, or shoes to come out, and you can save yourself the hassle. Some checkpoint, such as customs or agricultural inspection scans, only need to scan the bags, not the car seats or the stroller, so you don’t even need to really collapse anything.
I put together a text description below, but I’ve also done a video demonstrating my (baby in bucket) set up and how I get it through security.
While Waiting in Line
Start with your shoes and jackets. You can take those off let them sit on the stroller. Your child’s shoes don’t need to come off until they are six years old, but you will need to remove any jackets or blankets and put them in a bin.
Think about removing your child’s pacifier if it’s clipped to their shirt or the car seat strap. I hate to having it pick up germs by riding on the belt through the x-ray, and it is possible to set the metal detector off if the sensitivity is set really high. Tuck it into one of your carry on bags.
You may also want to tuck the contents of your pockets (cell phone, pedometer, change, wallet) into one of your carry on bags so that you don’t need to deal with a bunch of loose stuff. You have a lot of pieces to keep track of – no need to increase that count unnecessarily.
Check in the basket underneath the stroller to make sure you haven’t left anything.
At the Table/Conveyor Belt
When you get to the start of the table, put your shoes in the bin with any other loose items you might have. Other loose items might include jackets, baby’s blanket and/or stuffed toy, small bags or purses, the contents of your pocket, a belt, etc. Hopefully you consolidated this stuff while you were waiting in line.
Next pull your computer out of your bag and put it in its own bin. Queue up the bag the computer was in behind it.
You are allowed to take liquids through the security checkpoint. Pull any liquids (in sippy cups or bottles) out of your kid bag and put in either your “loose stuff” bin or a new bin of their own. A TSA agent will need to do a swab test on the containers, but this likely won’t take any longer than it’ll take you to pack your stuff up. We have never had TSA want to touch, smell, or drink the liquids, but I have heard urban legends of that happening – best to be prepared for anything. Queue up the kid bag behind your liquids.
Now you should be down to the kid, car seat(s) and stroller.
If you can manage it, you can start pushing your stuff through while you are getting the stroller folded down. Just put the car seat up there in front of your remaining items. If you are traveling with a companion, they can push your stuff through while you go about the stroller business. If you need to leave all of your stuff on the table until you are done divesting, that’s okay too. You’ll take up a lot of linear space, but you’ll be able to move quickly.
For a Baby in an Infant Bucket
If you have a baby and are using an infant bucket, you want to leave the baby in the bucket until the last possible second so you have your hands free. And then you ideally want the seat to come out as soon as you get through to the other side.
Take the bucket off of the stroller and set it on the floor. Fold the stroller down and put it on the belt, leaving room to put the bucket up there in front of it – you’ll need the bucket first.
Remove the baby from the bucket and place the bucket on the belt upside-down. Try and put the bucket in the front of the queue – make it the next thing that goes through the machine.
For a Convertible Car Seat
If you are packing convertible car seats, and your child is sitting in the stroller, detach the seat from your stowage location and put on the belt as close to the front of the queue as you can.
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Once the seat is on the belt, set your child out of the stroller so you can fold it. Hopefully, your child will be so entranced by what you’re doing that that they won’t try to wander off. If you have a wanderer, this would be a good time to introduce them to the TSA agent or to the person in line behind you so that they’ll be entertained for the 10 seconds it takes you to collapse the stroller and get it on the belt. This should be the only part that you aren’t able to have at least a hand on your kiddo.
Fold the stroller down and put it through the machine. Try to place the stroller as the next thing that will go through the x-ray so it will be waiting for you when you get to the other side.
On to the Other Side
If you are with a small child, you will not have to go through AIT screening (that large machine where you have to put your arms over your head) – you’ll just go through the metal detector. Carry your child, or if they are old enough, you can help them walk through the metal detector. Be vigilant and make sure that you have no metal in your pockets – if you alarm in the detector, you (and potentially your child too) will be subject to additional screening, and that’s no fun.
If you are traveling with one child, your companion may or may not be allowed to skip AIT as well – this varies by airport (and sometimes by the mood of the TSA staff). Mention that your companion is with you and if it’s within policy, they’ll be waved through the metal detector. My husband always opted out of AIT anyway, due to the sketchy radiation exposure issues. You always have the choice to opt out of AIT if you want to. You just say, “I’d like to opt out,” and then you’ll get a pat down instead.
Once on the other side of the metal detector, start with the piece of your gear that allows you to put down and/or restrain your child first – this is probably the bucket seat or the stroller. This will free up your hands to handle the rest of your gear. If you are still waiting for the piece you need, shove your stuff down to the end of the table while you are waiting. This will help you get out of the way of other passengers as your large queue of gear emerges. Once your child is seated in the bucket or stroller, see about getting the rest of your stuff together:
- Shoes on
- Small items in pockets
- Jackets/blankets stowed underneath stroller
- Computer in bag, bag on stroller
- Kid liquids in kid gear bag, kid bag on stroller
I highly recommend doing a count of your pieces before and after your pass through the security checkpoint. We have had to go back to retrieve items from a checkpoint more times than I care to admit. The current count for our family is 3 backpacks, 2 small bags (a purse and a camera bag), 2 carseats, a stroller, and 2 kids.
Congratulations, you made it through security. That’s the hardest part!