Air travel can be incredibly stressful for a number of reasons, but adding infants or children into the mix complicates things quickly. Wearing your little one to get through your trip will have many advantages, but there are air travel regulations that you’ll be expected to follow with regard to security screening and safety onboard the plane. Read on to see how you can use babywearing to your advantage safely and easily!
WHEN AND HOW You May Use Your Baby Carrier in an Airport and on an Airplane
TSA procedures require that all strollers and car seats be screened via X-Ray. This means that even if you arrive at the airport with your infant or child in a car seat or stroller, they will need to be removed for those items to be screened separately. Once you are holding your child you will bypass the Advanced Imaging scanners, but walk through a metal detector instead. A security officer will then swab your hands for chemical residue. Once you are cleared from this step you may obtain your belongings.
If you arrive at the airport wearing your child, you may be asked to remove them from your carrier to go through the screening process. This is stated in the TSA screening guidelines, but may not be strictly enforced. I have worn my child to the security checkpoint on six occasions and have never been asked to remove her from our carrier. Our family uses public transportation to access the airport so I am always wearing our little one when we arrive. To keep the process as streamlined as possible, simply follow the directions of the security officers. If you are asked to you to remove your child and carry them in arms, expect that you will need to fully remove your carrier for it to go through x-ray screening. Once you have been screened and had your hands swabbed, feel free to use your carrier again. You’ll probably need your hands free to gather all of your belongings and get your stroller set up again!
On the Plane:
Getting through a narrow airplane aisle is hard enough, but pulling a carry-on AND a newborn or wiggly toddler is pretty darn tough. Wearing your child while boarding the aircraft makes things much easier (especially if you also need your hands free to collapse your stroller as it is being gate-checked). Once you arrive at your seat, if you need to place any items in the overhead bin make sure that you request assistance – it is not safe to lift heavy objects above your head while babywearing.
FAA guidelines strongly recommend that all infants and children are placed in approved child restraint devices during air travel. While you are not required to purchase a seat for children under the age of two, they emphasize that securing an infant or child in their own seat using an approved device is the safest way for children to travel. In compliance with FAA regulations, most airlines will allow a caregiver to hold a child under two on their lap as a designated “infant in arms”, but require that any child restraint device be FAA approved. Baby carriers are viewed as an unapproved child restraint device, and you can expect to be asked by airline staff to remove your child from the carrier prior to takeoff and landing. This may be as simple as loosening your ring sling, unbuckling the chest strap of your soft-structured-carrier and pulling the shoulder straps off, or popping your baby out of a pre-tied wrap. For example, while using one of my buckle carriers with our toddler worn on my front, I only unbuckled the back strap and pulled the shoulder straps off of my arms. I left the waistband secured to me and used the panel of the carrier as a small blanket to comfort and snuggle my daughter. You may use your carrier again once you have reached cruising altitude and after you have arrived at your gate.
WHICH CARRIER is Ideal for Air Travel?
Bring the carrier that is the easiest for you to use. As you can see, you will be expected to remove your baby from the carrier multiple times on your trip and you want this to be something you can do easily and in a confined space. Consider that you may wish to have a carrier with you while traveling so that you can move quickly if you are running late, nurse your child, comfort your little one in a strange environment, or help them sleep during a flight or long layover. Which carrier have you used that you feel would most easily help you accomplish these things? Do you feel confident using the carrier quickly and in a narrow seat?
A ring sling is a great option because they aren’t bulky and allow you to quickly pop baby in and out without much adjustment. The rings may set off the metal detector though, so you may not be able to use it through the security checkpoint. When our daughter was an infant and we we arrived at the airport with her in the car seat/stroller combo, I held her through security then wore her in a ring sling until we were seated on the plane. I was asked to remove her prior to takeoff, but only had to demonstrate to the flight attendant that the sling was loosened and I was holding her securely in my arms. Once we were in the air, I still had the sling draped around me and was able to use it as a blanket/nursing cover for her so she could sleep comfortably.
An SSC (soft-structured or buckle-type carrier) is another option that most people find quick and easy to use. They typically don’t have any metal so can go through security easily. You can leave the waistband buckled around you during the flight and then just slip the shoulder straps back on after you’ve landed.
If you’re more comfortable with wraps or bei dai/meh dai-style carriers, opt for a wrap style that allows you to tie your knots in front or on your side so you don’t have a knot digging into your back while seated on the plane. Keep in mind that you may be wrapping/unwrapping in small, crowded spaces so very long tails will be a little more difficult to maneuver than they normally are.
Not quite sure what will work best for you? Would you like some help practicing your techniques before you take your trip? Come join us at a meeting! Our meetings are always free and open to all caregivers. If you don’t have a carrier that you feel comfortable with, we have a full lending library of carriers to try out at each meeting.
Our chapter’s own Christina O. penned this ode to babywearing travel around the holidays.
Twas the night before traveling and all through the house,
The toddler was running and the infant a grouch.
I struggled to pack my suitcase with care
And wondered how I’d get them through the air.
Time goes fast and it’s abundantly clear
Traveling with children, oh gosh, now it’s here.
To get through the airport and keep them in sight
With all of our stuff, very heavy, not light!
When what to my panicking eye should appear
But my stash of carriers, all of them so dear.
It was then that I knew without a doubt
I’d need a carrier, I’ll figure this out.
I’ll wear baby in buckles through the security line.
I’ll put stuff in the stroller, oh it’ll be fine!
My partner can wear the toddler in a bei dai,
A wrap as a blanket to keep warm while we fly.
A pouch or ring sling in the carry on,
Are great for quick ups they’re so easy to don!
And once we land and get off the plane
The carriers will make it so there’s no strain.
And when we’re walking a lot and tiny legs get tired,
A ride on my back is what is desired.
As I look at my options in sheer delight,
I know in my heart we’ll be all right.
In buckles! In bei dai! In ring sling! In wrap!
Into my bag and close with a snap.
With a carrier on hand while we’re on the go,
We’ll be just fine as we go to and fro.
So travelers, go on, bring your kids have some fun
Having your carrier makes it easy for everyone!