Are you planning on traveling through TSA airport security with a special needs child?
If you answered yes, keep reading.
You may be wondering things like…
- What do I need to take out of my bag to go through airport security?
- How do I go through airport security smoothly?
- What’s the protocol for mobility aids or devices?
- What are the rules for liquids, gels, and aerosols?
- How do I avoid long lines?
We will cover these commonly asked questions and more so you know what to expect when going through airport security.
The goal is to arm you with valuable information so you can avoid unnecessary hiccups along the way.
With that said, here are 8 essential TSA airport security travel tips for a smoother experience!
What is TSA?
TSA (Transportation Security Administration) is the airport security checkpoint you go through before getting to the holy grail…
To board your flight.
This checkpoint experience can be one of two things either super smooth or complete disaster!
We are going to go for a smooth sailing experience here.
This leads us to our next topic…
What to Expect
At the checkpoint, everyone is required to undergo screening either through technology or an awkward pat-down.
Normally, you are required to remove your shoes, laptop, 3-1-1 liquids, light jackets, or belts before getting screened.
The 3-1-1 liquids rule allows each passenger to carry liquids, gels, and aerosols in travel-size containers that are 3.4 ounces or100 milliliters. Each passenger is limited to one quart-size bag of liquids, gels, and aerosols. Common travel items that must comply with this rule include toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, mouthwash, and lotion.
So if you need to pack your favorite hand lotion or diaper ointment for your babe be sure it’s 3.4 ounces or less (or in a TSA-approved travel bottle).
Important Tip: If you are TSA PreCheck you do not need to remove ANY of the items just mentioned (shoes, laptop, 3-1-1 liquids, light jackets, belts). If you are not TSA PreCheck, we will cover how to get this designation in a minute.
Tip #1: TSA Cares Toll-Free Hotline
Are you traveling with your precious one who has special needs?
Three days before your travel day approaches, utilize the TSA Cares toll-free hotline.
This helpline provides travelers with disabilities, medical conditions, and other special circumstances additional assistance during the security screening process.
TSA wants you to have an easier time while navigating with your child through airport security.
They are there to answer your questions so you aren’t blindsided when you get there.
Here are common questions to ask:
- What are the airport security procedures?
- What are the screening policies?
- What should you expect at the security checkpoint?
- What rules apply for you to take medications or liquids more than 3.4 ounces?
They are open weekdays from 8 am to 11 pm and on weekends and holidays from 9 am to 8 pm (Eastern).
Tip #2: Medications or Large Liquids
Any medication that is in pill or solid form must go through the security screening process.
Let the TSA officer know that you have medically necessary medications or liquids more than the allowed 3.4 ounces.
3-1-1 Liquids Rule Exemption allows you larger amounts of medically necessary liquids, gels, and aerosols in reasonable quantities for your trip, but you must declare them to TSA officers at the checkpoint for inspection. Remove them from your carry-on bag to be screened separately from the rest of your belongings. You are not required to place your liquid medication in a plastic zip-top bag. If a liquid, gel, or aerosol declared as medically necessary alarms, then it may require additional screening and may not be allowed.
Keep these tips in mind when traveling with your medications…
- Make sure it’s clearly labeled and separated from your other belongings for a smoother screening process
- You are the one responsible for showing, handling, and repackaging the medication when it is time to be checked
- A TSA officer checks your medication by x-ray or visually in person
To be completely prepared, call the TSA Care helpline ahead of time before your travel date.
If you need an easy travel bag to keep medications or baby formula cold.
Tip #3: Mobility Disability, Aids, or Devices
Let the TSA officer know of your ability to stand or walk before going through the security checkpoint.
Provide your TSA notification card or other medical documentation to describe your condition.
When being screened in standard lines, the TSA officer will do so through…
- A possible pat-down
- Metal detector
They screen mobility aids and devices through x-ray screening (if it fits).
If the device does not fit the x-ray screen, then the officer will inspect the item directly.
Tip #4: Service Dog
Are you traveling with your furry friend or service dog?
If yes, let the TSA officer know.
Provide your notification card or other medical documentation to describe your condition.
Here are helpful tips when going through airport security with your dog…
- To be screened, you walk through a metal detector either together or individually
- If individually, you have to accompany your dog on a leash
- If you are unable to be screened through a metal detector, then you will have a pat-down
Important Tip: Your service dog’s collar, harness, leash, backpack, vests, and other items are subject to screening. However, if you need these items to keep your dog under control or they are on duty, then these items will not need to be removed during screening.
Tip #5: Intellectual Disabilities or a Brain Injury
Let the TSA officer know your child has a brain injury, intellectual or developmental disability.
Provide a TSA notification card or other medical documentation to inform the TSA officer.
Your loved one can be screened with you (without being separated) when going through security.
Tip #6: Maintain a Familiar Environment
Have you ever taken your child to a grocery store or restaurant and they had a complete meltdown?
Most of the time this happens when a child is on sensory overload or in an unfamiliar environment.
It can be an overwhelming experience.
So when traveling, it’s important to keep them surrounded by familiar things they like and know.
To keep you sane and your child happy, here are a few ideas of how to keep their environment familiar:
- Download a movie or show they love
- Pack their favorite stuffed animal
- Bring a pillow or blanket that comforts them
- Pack snacks to prevent a ‘hangry’ episode
- Throw in a few small toys they enjoy
Important Tip: If your child’s favorite item (like their banket) is required to go through the screening process, to prevent an episode, let them know their ‘blanket’ is going on a quick adventure and will be back in their hands right away. A countdown is also another great way to ease any anxiety your child may experience when being departed from their favorite thing.
Tip #7: Separate Screening Process
If your child has a disability, they can be checked through security in a private room if needed.
This is rarer but can happen if you ask the TSA officer or by calling the TSA Care hotline beforehand.
Important Tip: During most security checks, your child is not required to remove their shoes. Keep in mind, their shoes will be checked visually and possibly physically.
Tip #8: TSA PreCheck
Have you ever wondered how to avoid the dreadful long lines at the airport?
The answer is most definitely yes and here is how.
It is called TSA PreCheck.
The bad news is you pay to play (the application fee is $85 for 5 years), but the GREAT news is, this designation allows you to experience a smoother screening process.
TSA PreCheck comes with cool perks too like…
- Not having to remove your shoes, belts, 3-1-1 liquids, laptops, light coats
- Shorter wait lines (on average TSA PreCheck passengers wait 5 minutes or less)
- Families with children under 12 years can join their parents in line at no additional cost
- Utilize your designation Nationwide at more than 200 airports and 80 airlines
How to receive your TSA PreCheck step-by-step…
Apply online to submit an application.
This takes roughly 5 minutes to do.
Then, you are prompted to schedule an appointment at an enrollment center (over 380 Nationwide locations).
Enroll in person by appointment.
Be prepared for a 10-minute appointment that includes fingerprinting for a background check.
Add your Traveler Number to your airline reservation.
Once your TSA PreCheck designation is received by applying online or in person, you get a Traveler Number.
Use this “number” for a seamless screening process.
And VOILA, your TSA travel experience is now easier with less wait time. 🙂
Here’s a short clip (less than a minute) showing TSA Precheck versus the standard line screening process.
TSA Useful Resources
- To view a TSA notification card, click here.
- To download a TSA notification card form, click here.
- To submit an application for TSA PreCheck click here.
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