By Katrina Cameron-EppFeb 09, 2023
Just leaving the house with kids is hard enough. Actually traveling with little ones in tow can feel nearly impossible. As an airline pilot, former flight attendant and mom to two boys, I know all the tricks for making air travel easier for families. Here's my guide to getting through security as painlessly as possible.
Start thinking about getting through security before you even leave for the airport. Pack your carry-on luggage with a plan, knowing what will need to be removed for inspection. Place your liquids, aerosols and gels (LAGs) in a one-litre clear baggy and have it handy so you don't have to dig through your luggage to find it. Remember that you can carry up to 500 ml in total, with each container carrying 100 ml or less.
Hot tip: When you go through security, grab a handful of the one-litre, clear baggies for your LAGs, so you'll have the proper bags on hand for future flights.
My husband and I discuss our plan on the drive to the airport. We plan out who will be with which child, who will be responsible for which bag, who will be handling documents, and so on.
Dress the whole family in easily removable outer layers, and keep items with metal buckles and buttons to a minimum. If possible, wear slip-on shoes. It is best to keep jewellery to a minimum, and security often. It's also suggested that you remove any non-visible piercings.
If there is a family/special needs lane and you aren't automatically ushered to it, ask if you can use it. That lane typically has more space for strollers and wheelchairs, and you get to cut a big part of the line, which is a huge bonus!
If you are travelling with a stroller, ensure it is completely emptied out. You will have to remove the baby and walk through with them. The officer will swipe the stroller with an explosive trace detection (ETD) device (that tool they sometimes wipe across your palms). Officers will also check infant carriers and car seats with the ETD device.
Security officers want to avoid holding your baby (something about liabilities) so if your child can walk through the metal detector independently, they are encouraged to do so. I suggest the glue game for toddlers. I often have my son "glue" his hand to a place close to me while I get sorted. It usually buys me a few minutes.
If flying with a child under 24 months, you can carry liquids, aerosols and gels over 100 ml or over 350 ml for granular materials like powdered formulas. This also means you can bring juice or milk from home and not spend an arm and a leg on it at the airport, but once your kiddo is over 24 months, you have to stick to 100 ml.
For passengers travelling with breastmilk, you don't have to fly with your baby to carry it with you. When my husband and I were flying back from our delayed European honeymoon (thanks COVID), I was informed that I couldn't fly with the milk I made while on my trip since I didn't have my baby with me. That's a punch to the gut. Luckily in Canada and the U.S., you can carry it without a baby.
If you have exempt items, you must inform an officer and present the items to them. They will use the ETD device and swipe it for explosives. You have the right to ask the officer to put on a clean pair of gloves before completing this check.
When flying with a child under 24 months and you need to keep items cold, you can use gel ice packs exceeding 100 ml.
You can pack toys for your kids; make sure they don't look like weapons. No replica guns, swords or grenades. This one is pretty straightforward.
It takes a little more thought and prep if you are flying solo with a kid. As mentioned above, officers can't hold babies and you will wish you had ten arms. Sometimes the stroller ETD check takes a bit of time, so you find that you have nowhere to place your baby while you put your belt, jacket and shoes back and re-pack your bags. I am a big fan of carabiners and The Mommy Hook. I can clip items (bags, snacks bags, toys, refillable water bottles) onto our stroller or my carry-on bag, so it eliminates me holding on to random objects.
People are flying more now than ever before. It can make the security experience just that much more stressful. New officers have had to be hired to keep up with the traffic. Not all officers are wholly versed on exemptions yet, so if you are travelling with breast milk, formula or juice, I'd recommend printing off the exemption page to show them in case they aren't as familiar with what is allowed yet. If you see another parent or guardian struggling, offer them a hand.
In Canada, you can download the CATSA (Canadian Air Transport Security Authority) app for current airport wait times, dos and don'ts, and straightforward advice on getting through security.
Also, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, and Toronto have recently rolled out a new Express program where you can reserve your spot in the security line for select flights. This is an excellent option if you are travelling with kids that are older and you don't get to use the Family lane any longer. Check the departure airport's website for more information.
I often hear about people not going on a trip because they are nervous about flying with their children, so if you're reading this to get ready for a flight, good for you. If you are on the fence, I hope this gives you the little nudge you need. Flying with kids is hard. Period. But remember that once you get on that plane, you can start making memories.
I am Katrina Cameron-Epp, a pilot at an airline, a former flight attendant, and Mumma to two little guys, Reid was born in Sept 2020, and Archie completed our family in March 2022.
I started in aviation in 2010 as a flight attendant and enjoyed that role for six years; finally, in 2016, I decided it was time for me to head to the pointy end of the plane and fly it myself.
Starting flight school at 30 years old with mostly male classmates who have only had their driver's licences for two years was a bit terrifying, but I got through it.
Throughout the last decade, I have had family, friends, and even strangers reach out to ask about flying with babies and kids. I saw a need for realistic information from somebody with a background in aviation. Alas! Pilot Mom - Jet Set Jr. was born.
I have been helping parents and guardians fly flawlessly since 2021 and have learned so much myself along the way.
I invite you to follow and learn with me. My inbox is always open, so feel free to reach out with any questions.
Happy flying, friends.
Katrina, aka Pilot Mom