Children and Airport Security

Navigating TSA Airport security with young children

Photo Credit: David Benbennick CC Lic.

Portions of this have been updated to reflect changes to TSA guidelines, June 2014.

A few years ago, there was a video on youtube and broadcast on news stations everywhere of a little girl in a wheelchair put through a pat down screening at the airport.  The video is heartbreaking as her parents looked on (videotaping) unable to stop what was happening for fear of bringing TSA down on them and making their situation worse. The little girl was crying and saying she didn’t even want to go to DisneyWorld…

In June of this year (2014) TSA revamped their policies for ALL children, both those with and without disabilities.  Perhaps the viral video and bad publicity had something to do with that???  Read these policies DIRECTLY from TSA: and I recommend that all parents traveling with children read them carefully.  

This video caused me to think – If parents want to travel with their children (and it’s a safe assumption that they do  🙂 )  what can they do to minimize the stress on themselves and their children through the security lines?

I can’t really address situations of children with medical or mobility equipment as I have no experience with that.  My suggestions are for families with children who can walk through security on their own.

My “solution” for all situations involving my kids was always pre-emptive.  Anticipate the problems before they arise and come up with solutions THEN…

INFANTS:  Babies are carried through the body scanner by a parent; however, ALL equipment (infant carriers, car seats, strollers, etc…) must be folded up and sent through the machine.  Don’t ‘load’ the stroller, etc… with traveling supplies before going to the airport. You’ll just have to empty everything.  Wait until AFTER you’ve gone through security.  🙂

NOTE:  You can take more than the allowable 3.5 fluid oz of formula, medication etc. through security – and it does NOT have to fit in the quart bag as other liquids do.  Declare it to the TSA official BEFORE going through security.


First: The recent changes allow children under 12 yrs. to keep their shoes on through security.  (This is a HUGE blessing!!!!)  🙂    However, pockets must still be emptied.  To make this easier, dress your child in something to make it LESS stressful….i.e. few or NO pockets!!!  –especially if you have multiple children to get through this process. I’ve stood in line behind parents who didn’t pre-think this.  Don’t do that to yourself.  Children (especially boys ha!!) are notorious for stashing things in their pockets.  🙂  If one of those stashed items happens to set off the metal detector, it will slow down or complicate your journey through security. Just a little forethought and you’ll have one less thing to worry about at the airport.

Photo Credit: Bill Alldredge

Second, PREPARATION! PREPARATION!  PREPARATION!  Prepare your children for the experience. They will probably have to go through these scanners alone (without an adult) so explain to them what to expect, where to go and what to do so they will feel comfortable doing it while mom or dad are standing several feet away.  Role play this entire process at home….from emptying pockets to relinquishing that favorite toy to walking through the metal detector or body scanner.  A doorway in your home makes an excellent pretend “metal scanner”….and a closet makes a nice “body scanner” for your role playing.

Photo Credit: wikipedia

Instructions:  1. Put your feet on the footprints on the floor  2. Hold your hands above your head  3.  Stand very still (machines can’t ‘register’ if you move and you’ll have to repeat the process.)

Talk to your child about what will happen and why (avoid scary words like “terrorist” et al)  Just tell them, at an age appropriate level, that this is to make sure that items that are against the rules don’t accidentally get taken onto the plane.  Doing this at home, away from the stress of the actual situation, makes it like a game.  🙂  Talk to them about the importance of getting EVERYTHING out of their pockets.

The new TSA regulations now allow children to go through the scanners multiple times if the alarm goes off – and TSA officials must get permission before ‘searching’ a child.  This is a GREAT relief to many parents.  Still…the more you can make sure your child does not set off alarms, the less stressful and time consuming your journey through security will be.

To keep the alarm from going off on your child, do a “parent check” of pockets et al. before approaching the scanners.

Photo Credit: Rich. Piggbox CC Lic.

Third, if your child will have a doll or stuffed animal traveling with them, it can be quite traumatic to place that “lovey” on the conveyor belt and watch it roll away.  It WILL have to go through the x-ray machine.  If possible, keep your child’s “lovey” in a carry on until you get past security. Not only does that eliminate the need for your child to “surrender” it and watch it roll away (Traumatic!!) but there’s no chance it can be dropped or lost en route.  If that is not an option for your child, you will need to talk/walk them through the process of relinquishing that favorite toy to go through the “tunnel” beforehand.  Turn it into a game of pretend.  (This is the answer to so many problems)  Talk to them about how FUN it will be for the toy to go through the “tunnel”…. make it an “adventure” for the toy.  🙂  Do what you can to make the process a “fun” experience.  You can role play this by putting the doll or animal in a box and closing the lid.  Show your child that when the box is opened, their favored toy is still there,  unharmed and exactly the same as when it went into the box.  🙂


  • Explain
  • Role play EVERYTHING
  • Make a Game of it

When you get past security, take time to go to the bathroom (airplane bathrooms are extremely tiny….too tight for child and parent.)   Walk around to expend energy.  You’ll sit a LONG time on the plane…  Maybe they’ll even be tired enough to take a nap!!  🙂

This is a video from TSA about going through security with children.  It’s very informative – all in 2 min.  🙂

Bottom Line:  Children do best when they know what is coming, know what to expect, and know what is expected of them.  The more you can prepare them for what will happen, the better off you’ll be.

For more information on traveling with children:


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