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Tonight on Milepoint there was a live chat with former TSA Administrator Kip Hawley. If you missed the chat, you can still read the transcript. Like many frequent travelers, I have mixed feelings about the TSA. I totally agree with their mission to keep travelers safe, but the execution sometimes leaves something to be desired. Though in truth air travel has thankfully been very safe post-9/11 so they must be doing something right.
Anyway, I asked a question on the chat and (to my surprise) it ran and was answered. My question was:
In case you can’t read the screen shot, here is the question and answer……
Comment From Mommy Points:
Hi there! Pretty much every time I fly with my toddler I am told a different “rule” about what you can and can’t bring through security for little ones, and everyone speaks as if they are quoting from some official source, yet I am told something different almost every time. Is there an official source? Presumably there is, so is there any way for other traveling parents to know the exact rules of what they can and can’t bring for babies and toddlers?
Short answer, anything you need…
There is a huge Standard Operating Procedure that each TSA has to follow exactly. Obviously with 2 million people a day, there are things not covered by SOP. One of my points is that common sense should play a role and they should get rid of 90% of prohibited items.
For babies, toddlers, there is always the option of asking for a “liquid exception” for fluids and they can test virtually anything for explosives. Easily. They are even supposed to have “Family lanes” to help you and make you not feel rushed by freq flyers.
I am very grateful that the former head of the TSA took the time to answer the question, but sadly this has not really been my experience. “Common sense” seems to vary dramatically from person to person and I am given all sorts of different rules about what I can and can’t bring for infants or toddlers almost every time I fly. In fact, it reminded me of a post I wrote a while back but had yet to publish. I wrote it right after my trip to Disneyland with my kiddo. It was entitled “The TSA vs Chocolate Milk”.
TSA vs Chocolate Milk
I recently flew with my two-year daughter to Disneyland. On the way home we flew out of Orange County, and we had an encounter with the TSA agents that I will to refer to as The TSA vs. Chocolate Milk. I have flown a fair amount with my daughter over the last two years, and have been through the transition from bottles, to sippy cups, and now to juice boxes. I have to say that travel with little ones does get logistically easier as you make each of those transitions, but life with the TSA only seems to get more complicated.
It seems that almost every time I fly with my kiddo, a different TSA officer proclaims some new rule or policy when it comes to bringing various supplies for babies and toddlers through security. Here are a few of the policies I have been told related to bringing liquids through for my kiddo: I can bring as many liquids through as I “reasonably” might need (ie not a whole crate of apple juice), I can have only one bottle of each type of liquid (ie juice, milk, water, etc.), but no limit on the types; I cannot bring water through for my child, only other types of liquids; and I can have two liquids max. Typically, the TSA agent either doesn’t do any further checks on the liquids after they go through the scanner, or if they do, they just swab the outside of the containers and then check that swab to make sure everything is acceptable.
However, on this trip I guess the TSA agent had been trained to follow a different protocol. The agent was insistent that the only way to bring a box of chocolate milk through security was to open it so it can be tested. Hmmm, if I open the box of milk with the straw there is exactly a 0% chance of me actually getting that liquid on the plane where I need it. It will either be consumed by my daughter long before we board, or, more likely, I will end up squirting it all over everything because it will then be an open juice box. Which is essentially the equivalent to a live bomb in the world of toddlers. I had only packed two drinks, both boxed liquids, for the return trip – one for takeoff and one for descent. I didn’t have any sippy cups to pour the liquids into (despite the agent’s insistence that I must have some sippy cup somewhere to pour it into). Since I had no alternatives, and I didn’t know this airport well enough to feel confident that they sold drinks that would work for us, I held my ground that I was not opening the boxes. There was no way I was going to be on the flight without some sure-fire drinks for my daughter to drink on take-off and landing (so her ears would pop).
The agent eventually said that I could keep the boxes closed, but I would have to go through additional screening in order to do so. This meant I had to get the TSA “full body massage”, in addition to a full search of my bags, while keeping a toddler secured, in order to keep my closed boxes of chocolate milk. I routinely opt out of the scanners when traveling alone, so I am used to the TSA pat-down, but it is a whole other ballgame when you are traveling alone with a toddler, as you cannot hold the kiddo while getting the pat down. You have to just hope they will stay nearby. My kiddo ended up laying on the airport floor while I received my additional screening.
I’m clearly all for airport security, and I suppose I should be grateful that I am allowed to bring drinks through security for my kid, but I think I would feel much better if there were at least a small shred of consistency from airport to airport and agent to agent. It really is like playing roulette, as you never know what rules and policies will be quoted to you each time you fly with supplies for kiddos. Each time the policies are spouted off as if they are the gospel, but yet on the next trip it is highly unlikely that the same “policies” will be quoted. I can’t help but wonder if there is this much variability when it comes to a routine issue like supplies for babies and toddlers, then how much variability is there when it comes to other more serious issues?
What policy variance have you encountered with the TSA? Have you experienced “common sense”, or have you had an experience like mine where you were sent through extra security and a full search due to your box of chocolate milk?