9 Quick Tips for Airport Security with Kids

Almost everyone loves to travel, but no one likes going through airport security. (Sorry TSA!) These nine tips for airport security with kids will make your travels smoother so you can get to your destination with your sanity intact. Buckle your safety belt because your family’s going to be all set for take off!

Follow airport security with kids tips
Follow these airport security tips to improve your family’s flight experience (Photo credit: FamVeldman, Depositphotos.com)

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1. Prepare to get carded.

If you’re headed out of the country, make sure EVERYONE — including baby — has a valid passport. It can take four to six weeks to obtain official documents, so plan ahead. Even when flying domestically, some airlines may require children to have identification for travel, such as a birth certificate. This is especially true if traveling with only one parent. Be sure to check with your airline prior to departure, or bring along ID just to be safe.

If traveling out of the country, every family member needs an up-to-date passport
If traveling out of the country, every family member needs an up-to-date passport (Photo credit: maxxyustas, Depositphotos.com)

2. Don’t wrap presents.

Bringing gifts along for the holidays, a wedding or other celebration? Security officers may need to unwrap presents for control purposes, undoing all of your pretty bows and ribbons. If you need to be discreet or hide things from the kids in your travel group, hide presents in boxes or dark trash bags instead. Be prepared with a whopper of a distraction for the kiddos, too, should TSA need to take a peek! (Electronics, candy, or money come to mind…)

If bringing gifts in your carry-on, wait to wrap them after you arrive at your destination
If bringing gifts in your carry-on, wait to wrap them after you arrive at your destination (Photo credit: AntonMatyukha, Depositphotos.com)

3. Pack favorite snacks in your carry-on.

Airport security lines can be very long, especially during peak travel times near holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. Keep kids happy by bringing along some favorite travel snacks, like fruit, granola bars, or chocolate. Liquids and gels are limited to 3.4 ounces per container, packed into a single 1-quart bag per person. If you’re traveling with a child under the age of 2, you can bring more than this liquid limit in baby food, formula, milk, water, and juice. Put these items in a separate clear plastic bag to show security.

Keep kids distracted with food at the airport
Keep kids distracted with food at the airport (Photo credit: Anna_Om, Depositphotos.com)

4. Arrive early for airport security with kids.

Be sure to arrive early for your flight, especially when traveling with kids. During the off-season, you should plan to arrive about two hours before a domestic flight and at least three hours before an international flight. Airports become a frenzy of activity during the holiday travel season, so you may need to show up even earlier depending on your travel dates.

Arrive early at the airport when traveling with kids
Arrive early at the airport when traveling with kids (Photo credit: Depositphotos.com)

5. Use the family screening line.

If traveling with a baby or young child, take advantage of special help in the Family Line at security. Don’t fret about skipping ahead of other child-less passengers, either; if they could do it, they would! It will mean less stress for you and more time in the airport play area for your kids. Can’t find a Family Line? Sweetly ask the friendliest looking TSA officer you can find if there is such a line; they just may wave you through.

The quicker you can get through airport security with kids, the more play airport play time your family will have
Some airports, like Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, offer fun play areas for children (Photo credit: jingaiping, Depositphotos.com)

6. Avoid lugging liquids.

Buy bottles of wine, spirits, or perfume at Duty Free stores post-security or after you arrive at your destination. Your carry-on bags are limited to tiny 3.4-ounce bottles, and while you can pack larger sizes in your checked bags, glass bottle breakage is a distinct possibility. Your suitcases needn’t be drenched in scotch or Chanel No. 5.

Hit up Duty Free rather than lugging heavy liquids onto your flight with kids
Hit up Duty Free rather than lugging heavy liquids onto your flight (Photo credit: photo_stella, Depositphotos.com)

7. Wear security-friendly clothing.

Avoid wearing large metal jewelry and clothing with metal buttons or snaps to avoid airport security snafus. Dress yourself and your kids comfortably with easily removable outerwear, belts, and shoes. If traveling to or from somewhere chilly — hats, mittens, and winter gear need to be taken off and placed in the security bins for screening. Pack them in carry bags until needed. Kids under the age of 12 and adults over age 75 do not need to remove their shoes.

Adults must remove shoes during airport security but kids under 12 can keep them on
Adults must remove shoes during airport security but kids under 12 can keep them on (Photo credit: trekandshoot, Depositphotos.com)

8. Know how to handle bulky gear.

If you’re packing golf clubs, skis, snowboards, or other bulky sports gear, check those items as special or fragile baggage. Check with your airline ahead of time about size, weight, and packing restrictions to ensure a smooth check-in process.

Keep in mind that gear for kids, like strollers and car seats, can typically be gate-checked for free. To avoid hauling heavy children’s gear through the airport, consider purchasing a compact CARES Airplane Travel Harness and renting baby and toddler travel gear for delivery to your travel destination.

TSA Pre Check helps parents breeze through airport security with children
TSA Pre Check helps parents breeze through airport security with children (Photo credit: TeriVirbickis, Depositphotos.com)

9. Apply for TSA Pre-check or Global Entry.

Have you applied for Global Entry or TSA Pre-check yet? If you’re a U.S. resident who travels often, you should! Yes, you must pay a fee and jump through a few hoops (an extensive online form and an in-person interview). But the payoff in terms of sailing through security is well worth it.

Most U.S. airports and airlines recognize TSA Pre-check. This typically means no more shoe removal (no matter your age), no more removing laptops or liquids from your carry-on (though you’ll still be subject to the same liquid limits), and much shorter screening lines. As a bonus, children under age 12 are granted Pre-check status when traveling with a Pre-check parent or guardian. Global Entry costs a bit more for the five-year membership but enables travelers to whiz through customs when returning to the U.S.

TSA’s goal is to respond to your application within two to three weeks. Global Entry can take longer. Even if you don’t have time to apply before your next flight, you might want to apply for TSA Pre-check or Global Entry sooner rather than later so your family is all set in the future.

The Travel Mamas' Guide to Flying with Children

Learn more travel tips.

For additional air travel hacks, download The Travel Mamas’ Guide to Flying with Kids. It’s free!

Traveling with young children? Read these essential tips for flying with a baby or toddler.

Fly prepared with this list of travel toys for kids.

Follow these tips for traveling as a single parent.

9 Sanity Saving Airport Security Tips for Travel with Kids

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Rules may be subject to change. Please check with your carrier or the Transportation Security Administration’s website for the latest security information prior to departure.

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  1. My daughter recently took a trip with her children that included several flights. She had planned well, but had not idea what to expect when trying to juggle all the bags she packed to keep from having to check or lose them and wrangle a two year old that was refusing to go any further. Good times.

  2. I just recently flew for the first time in years. The rules to follow can be daunting and quite confusing at times. I had to throw away a bottle of medicine because it was too big. Thank you for all the pointers!

  3. Global entry is soooo worth it! (Unless you are in Newark)! I never knew that there were family friendly screening lines, that is awesome!

  4. Thanks for these tips. Traveling with kids can be stressful and going through airport security can trigger a tantrum. I agree with distracting them with food or electronics. That would definitely ease their anxiety of waiting in line.

  5. So great to know! It’s very important to prepare for these things especially over the busy holiday months when its already so stressful!

  6. We love to travel and these are really, really great tips that I would have never thought of! Especially wrapping the presents – I will keep this in mind for any of our future trips.

  7. I thought it’d be great to bring three kids on a plane by myself. Once we got through security, we did okay. These tips are great for making those stressful few minutes not define the whole trip. A quick folding stroller would have made life easier to get through the metal detector.

  8. I’ve always wanted to do a destination Christmas, but I never thought about having wrapped presents and going through security. Maybe I could mail them ahead of time and hope they arrive in one piece!

    1. You could contact the hotel concierge ahead of arrival to arrange for gift-wrapping service, if you’re staying at resort property.

  9. Great points. After my daughter got the old pat down because she had “fancy buttons” on her jeans, we always wear leggings to the airport now. No more pat downs and we usually get right through without any issues.

  10. These are all really awesome tips. Flight security is as high as it’s ever been, so one misstep could ruin your entire trip.

  11. Global entry? That’s a new one to me! I have visitors who come here from the U.S. frequently and I wonder if they’re aware of this, I always end up hearing nightmare stories about the TSA lines and how terrible it gets over the holidays. Thanks for this great list, it’s perfect for the feeling of the season, helping people not feel so uptight and stressed out that they’re at each other’s throats.

  12. I have a friend who sprayed half the bottle of her perfume in the airport because she doesn’t want leave it, it’s a Chanel, I think.. and there was a Chinese woman who drank a bottle of champagne (or was it a wine?) in front of airport officers to mock them. The didn’t let her in the plane because she was too drunk. 😀

  13. Thanks for the tips! I’ve been traveling with my family for years now, the children are now preteens. Once you get through the lines at the airport things seem to come together. (a bit stressful, especially these days). Love your blog!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Kathy! Have fun with your preteens, I certainly enjoyed traveling with mine at that age, as they’re so much more capable and responsible (most of the time). 😉