Saturday, October 5, 2013

The ever changing TSA and infant travels

Neva and I travel quite a bit and embark on many an adventure.  We are not exactly low profile with our large futuristic-looking stroller, bright yellow panniers, and adorably cute, socially manipulative toddler who could talk a polar bear out of it's fur.  Yet, with all of the obstacles we encounter, people seem to find our travels through the airport most heroing.

Our first bike tour together.  Neva was 15 months old.  I have 2 bikes, one for me and one for Cass.

I guess when I think about it, going through an airport with a child (or in general), has an equivalent stress level of biking in heavy traffic, or driving a car on the New Jersey turnpike in the middle of a downpour.  The constantly changing rules and regulations don't help matters.  Neither does the fact that your experience is highly reliant on whether your TSA agent got laid that morning or got dumped; and chances are you're not going to bump into Johnny Sunshine at 5:00 am.  I've put together some coping mechanisms, specific language and packing methods which work most of the time.


I stopped counting child flights when the number surpassed 40.  Yeah, lotta flights.  I took advantage of the fact that children under 2 fly for free.  If you're flying overseas, sometimes tax is added on, or sometimes there is a country exit tax (Costa Rica has a $26 exit tax per person, no matter how old), but basically free.  Our $1000 flight to Okinawa, Japan had an extra $52 added on for taxes for Neva; so yeah, free.

A few rules about this caveat:

1.  If the child turns 2 before the return flight, you will be charged FULL fare.  Make sure you get home before their 2nd birthday.

We returned from Peru the day before Neva turned 2 years old.

2.  It used to be that you could only either bring a stroller OR a car seat.  I have found that car seats don't serve us much use internationally because we usually take public transportation buses (easiest to transport bike/trailer), in which case, you can hold the baby in your lap. When bike bound, you wouldn't want to strap a car seat to your trailer anyway, but there is the Nordic Cab bike trailers which does integrate a snap in car seat mechanism.

Neva's first trailer was a Nordic Cab.  She loved it!

When we travel within the US to see family, usually they have car seats, and it's not an issue.  If you're planning on renting a vehicle someplace, car rentals also offer car seats for an extra fee per day.  All that said, I noticed this year that some airlines were allowing both car seat AND stroller.  Make sure to check the rules and regulations on the airline's website to confirm.  If you're unsure about anything, print out the rules as reference and keep it with you, just in case.


Sometimes airlines will have new ideas about infant air travel.  Some are cool, and some are not.

1.  For long flights overseas, some airlines have bassinets which will hold children up to 7 kilos (or a little over 15 pounds). When you are getting your ticket, make sure to ask for one because they will sit you right behind first class since that is where the two holes are for the bassinet to snap into.  You have plenty of leg-room, your baby has a place to stretch out that is not your lap, and you can get out of your seat without worrying about the dreaded 'dead leg' syndrome from lack of circulation. Neva was about 18 pounds when she turned two, so I was able to utilize the bassinet option for most of her lap-seat fare, but lots of kids, especially boys, might be too heavy to utilize this option after one year.

Neva in a bassinet, on Asiana  Air, for the 13 hour flight to Seoul, South Korea.
2.  Flying to Peru, we were given seat belts for the lap infant which looped through my seat belt.  I had always thought this would be on flights, but this was the only time that I had seen it.

3.  On the return flight from Peru, the flight attendant moved a very tired mommy, baby and grandpa from the window seat to squish between other passengers in the center aisle.  Their reasoning was that there were only 2 floatation devices for 3 people...buuut then they moved us to a center aisle where there were 3 floatation devices for 4 people.  That's kind of what having a lap infant is, 2 people in one seat.  The effort to communicate in broken Spanish the intricacies of what was wrong with this picture was too great, so we silently submitted to our squished quarters.

However, on the return flight from Puerto Rico, I noticed a woman with a lap infant was given a perfectly logical solution for this.  She didn't seem to be creeped out when I asked to take a picture of the tiny floatation device the flight attendant had handed her.

Okay, I couldn't find my cool picture, but it looked a lot like this but bundled up.


1.  Remember, ALL AIRLINES HAVE THEIR OWN RULES.  I know this is reiterating #2, but read the rules and regulations on the websites because they change frequently and are not the same for everyone. The rules are typically money based, so if you don't want to get hit with unexpected fees, read thoroughly about the items you intend on bringing.

This was March, 2012.  Before that, I had to remove Neva's shoes in order to get through TSA security.

2.  Read the TSA REGULATIONS. These are pretty arbitrary, so just follow what they say.  For example :  You are allowed to bring a lighter as a carry on, but you can't have it as packed luggage. Other countries have different rules, so keep that in mind too.  On the way back from Peru, my 4" long scissors were confiscated even though the TSA website clearly states that "...any tool 7" or shorter is acceptable".  Other countries don't have any incentive to treat Americans nicely considering all of the extra measures agents have to go through for American security.  Airports in other countries don't check shoes, nor do they abide by fear-based rules set in place by the TSA, except for people coming from and coming to America.

You can't see my scissors in there, but they're in there!

3.  Body scanners - Homeland security decided that additional levels of radiation were okay, but I don't share in that enthusiasm, probably because I'm not getting a share of the profits.  I know radiation comes from everywhere, most of all the sun, however, I don't want to expose my family to more radiation than is necessary, hence the regular use of sunscreen for outdoor activities.  We protect ourselves every chance possible from the sun because radiation doesn't go away.  It builds in the body continuously, and there is only a certain amount that a body can handle in one lifetime.

Usually, when it's just Neva and I, we don't have a problem, but when Christian was there, they picked both him and me to go through.  When the scanners first started showing up, TSA would "randomly" profile (I mean choose) a person to go through the scanner, but now, it seems like they ask everyone to go through.  Exercise your OPT OUT option.  It's not convenient, but it's better than the alternative.  I carry a doctor's note for Neva, but so far, I have yet to have them ask me to frisk the baby.

I hope you enjoyed my basic overview of airport travel with an infant.  Stay tuned for more how-to's and adventures!

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