Are you planning on traveling through TSA airport security with a special needs child?
If you answered yes, you may be wondering things like…
- What do I need to take out of my bag when going 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.
More importantly, to help you avoid unnecessary hiccups along the way!
With that said, here are 8 essential TSA airport security travel tips for a smoother experience.
Why TSA Is Important and What It Means
TSA (Transportation Security Administration) is the airport security checkpoint you go through before getting to the holy grail, to board your flight.
TSA was created in the wake of 9/11 to strengthen the security of the nation’s transportation systems while ensuring the freedom of movement for people and commerce.
As you may have noticed, this checkpoint experience can be one of two things either super smooth or a complete disaster!
Let’s prep you for a ‘smooth sailing’ experience here which leads us to our next topic…
What to Expect
At the checkpoint, everyone must undergo screening either through technology or an awkward pat-down.
Usually, you are required to remove your shoes, laptop, liquids, light jackets, hats, or belts before getting screened.
So with that said, let’s cover one of the most common TSA airport security rules you need to know called the 3-1-1 Liquids Rule.
What’s the 3-1-1 Liquids Rule?
The 3-1-1 liquids rule allows each passenger to carry liquids, gels, and aerosols in travel-size containers that are 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or smaller-sized containers that fit in a 1 quart-sized resealable bag. Each passenger is limited to one quart-size bag of liquids, gels, and aerosols that may go on your carry-on and through check-point security. Common travel items that must comply with this rule include toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, mouthwash, and lotion.
But what if you wear makeup?
This rule applies only if your makeup is in a liquid, lotion, gel, paste, or creamy form, then it must be in containers that are 3.4 ounces or less.
Makeup in a solid or powder form is allowed in your carry-on and checked bags with no quantity or size limitations.
Helpful Travel Item: 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 like the image below).
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 tip #8.
Tip #1: Utilize the TSA Cares Toll-Free Hotline
If you are traveling with a child who has special needs you may utilize TSA Cares toll-free hotline three days before you travel.
TSA wants you to have an easier time while navigating with your child through airport security.
This helpline provides you with additional assistance during the security screening process. They will answer your questions so you aren’t blindsided when you get there.
Here are common questions to ask:
- If you’re traveling early, when does airport security open?
- What are the airport security procedures?
- What are the screening policies?
- What should I expect at the security checkpoint?
- What rules apply for me to take medications or liquids more than 3.4 ounces?
Their hours are 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.
How you may travel with larger amounts of medically-necessary liquids, gels, aerosols…
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 is declared medically necessary sounds an alarm, 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 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 at (855) 787-2227 or email firstname.lastname@example.org before your travel date.
Helpful Travel Item: If you need an easy travel bag to keep your medications or baby formula cold, here is our recommended insulated travel bag to use.
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 may 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, or 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.
Helpful Travel Item: If you do not have the proper carrier, traveling with medications or medical supplies may be a pain. Here is our recommended TSA-approved organizer for medications or medical supplies.
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 to help you 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
Helpful Tip: If your child’s favorite item (like their banket) is required to go through the screening process, to prevent a meltdown, 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 rare 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, that 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?
If your answer is most definitely yes, here is how to avoid those long wait times…
Get TSA PreCheck.
You have to pay to play (the application fee is $85 for 5 years), but the GREAT news is that this designation allows you to experience a smoother screening process.
TSA PreCheck comes with cool perks too…
- You do not have to remove your shoes, belts, 3-1-1 liquids, laptops, light coats
- Experience 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. There are 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.
Your TSA travel experience is now easier with less wait time. 🙂
To learn more about TSA PreCheck click here.
If you’re curious about TSA Precheck versus the standard line screening process, here is a short clip to show you the difference.
How To Get A TSA Notification Card
If you are traveling with a disability…
Getting a TSA notification card is helpful because it allows you to confidentially inform the TSA officer of your disability by simply handing over your card.
This helps you keep your personal information private in front of others while letting airport security know of any medical conditions, disabilities, medical devices, or medications that may impact your screening process.
To view what a TSA notification card looks like click here.
To download a TSA notification card form click here.
We want to wrap up by extending our gratitude to thank you for stopping by today!
What other TSA airport security tips do you recommend?
Let us know in the comments below. ♥
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About the Author
Lindsey is the co-founder of The LENN Foundation and content creator of the Intensive Therapy for Kids blog.
When she isn’t busy playing Godzilla with her son or chasing around her mischievous Rottweiler pup, she loves creating experiences and memories with her loved ones (traveling, watching a good flick, trying new n’ yummy restaurants). Speaking of restaurants, one of her favs is Taco Bell!
Most of all, she is grateful for her supportive circle of family, friends, and to live out her passion for helping kids with Cerebral Palsy (like her sweet nephew Lenny).
If you’re curious about The LENN Foundation, you may see the kids’ helped and feel-good content here. ♥
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The contents of the Intensive Therapy for Kids Site, such as text, graphics, images, and other material contained on the Intensive Therapy for Kids Site (“Content”) are for informational purposes only. The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.