The Toddler Patdown

We all know that dealing with TSA when traveling is tolerable at best, and downright aggravating at worst. I have always had a sort of grin and bear it attitude, mainly because I know they hold the power, and if I tick them off I know they can keep me from flying, and no meltdown is worth losing a trip over.

Except when it is. When it involves my children, when my don’t mess with me instincts come out in all their glory.

So, this is a story of how I stood up to the TSA, or, rather, how I almost got us kicked out of the airport. Sort of.

A year ago we were headed up to DC for my brothers wedding, and I flew solo with the kids since my husband was meeting us up there later that night. Now, since my kids have flown a lot for kids, both domestically and internationally, and despite being loaded down to the gills with stuff, we travel well. We breeze through security, boarding, and the flight.

So naturally this would be the time that it didn’t go well, right?

I was prepared. I mean, I had the bag of goods to keep the kids busy so I didn’t get the hate that so many people give families when they travel. I arranged to have my sister in law meet me at the airport to loan me car seats, and I had F accepting that he needed to sit in the stroller while I had L on me.

As we approached security I was telling F he needed to walk through, not touch anything, and wait on the other side. I double checked with 2 different TSA people that I didn’t need to take L out of the carrier, and they agreed.

You can see where this is going, right? As F walked through and waited I walked behind him, and of course beeped.

So we went through again, minus L’s hairbow and belt. And beeped again.

Take three, with L out of the carrier. Guess what? We beeped.

At this point the TSA agent was irritated at me and said I could try to get her to walk through herself or we would have to be patted down. L wanted no part of it, as I tried to get her through to see her brother, and at that point they called for a female pat down. For both of us.

Have you ever had a moment where in your head you are thinking don’t cry don’t cry don’t scream don’t cry? I was having that moment, yet my external voice was totally uncooperative and didn’t listen to my internal voice.

I cried. I said there was no way I was going to let them pat down my 13 month old daughter, and begged them to let me try to get her to walk through again. At this point passengers were telling me how sorry they were this was happening. The TSA agent told me I was holding up the line. I refrained from saying what I really wanted to say but did express to her that I didn’t give a shit, in nicer words, and that I am held up all the time in line and they could wait.

Another TSA agent came over, and asked what was going on. When she was told she said that I needed to calm down and that they were sorry but this was the rule. I again refused, and said there was no way I was going to tell my kids that strangers can’t touch them and then hand L over to a stranger to be patted down. The whole time F is standing, alone, on the other side of the metal detector watching all of this.

As I was thinking about how I could get all my stuff loaded up and leave the airport a higher up TSA agent came over to find out what was going on. When I explained to him, and pointed out the attitude I was getting, he was actually apologetic, and suggested we try one more time to get L through, and, in a flash of brilliance (clearly not mine) I walked through first and she followed me.

I beeped. She didn’t. End of story.

I had the pat down. It is not the first time I have had it, and yet it never gets less invasive. It is absurd and demeaning and yet I would do it a million times over to keep my kids from having to go through it.

After it was over I loaded us up, walked around the corner, called Lee and burst into tears again. I have never had a mama bear moment until this one, and I know I would never let anything happen to my kids.

She looks scary, doesn't she?

She looks scary, doesn’t she?

Oh, and our return trip? I was wearing the same pants. Same bra. Similar shirt. Different airport. No beep.

We made it safely, and my daughter wasn’t felt up by a stranger. While I felt triumphant in that fact I worry that there are other parents out there, eager to get where they are going, who are in the same situation and who won’t stand up for themselves.

What would you do if your toddler/children were requested to have a pat down? Has this ever happened to you?

Here are some tips to navigate through TSA as seamlessly as possible, as well as their official site:

-Look for the family line. Often airports have a line where families can wait, and while they don’t do anything different you can relax more knowing everyone in line with you has kids too, and will take as long as you do

-Kids under 12 don’t need to remove their shoes, only we found out that some airports make them remove boots, so during winter months be prepared to remove their boots if asked

-You can bring a ‘reasonable’ amount of baby food/liquids over the 3 oz rule. Make sure you get it out to present it to the TSA agents, and they may randomly check them.

-If you are wearing your baby you can wear them through security. We have had some TSA agents tell us that we couldn’t but according to their rules you can, but you may be subject to extra screening.

-Prepare your kids for security. Let them know that their lovey/blankie/bag/stroller will be going through the x-ray machine. We have had many moments of sadness when our son’s stuffed sheep was placed on the conveyor belt, even with knowing ahead of time it would happen.

-Some airports ask you to remove your iPad, some don’t, but you always have to remove your laptop from your bag. We remove both just to cover all our bases.

-Try to get your kids to walk through on their own. It can keep the story above from happening and makes them feel grown up!

-Finally, always remember, they have the power. Stay calm and know you will get through it, babies and kids and stuff and all!

10 thoughts on “The Toddler Patdown

  1. Ann

    I feel like airports are really inconsistent and the TSA person at the moment is the one who dictates what is allowed and what isn’t. It’s very frustrating.

    Fortunately, I haven’t had an issue like that. The one I had was in Edinburgh where the person wouldn’t let us through without me sampling half of our food/formula. Which would have meant that, for the stuff we brought, my son would have had to consume it within an hour after opening to still be within what the company recommended for safety reasons. Which meant we would not have enough food for the connection flight or if anything would have gone wrong and there was a delay. What was annoying about it is that we had gone through the day before with even more food with no problem. But, flights that day were cancelled, so we showed up the next day with most of the same food (except what he had eaten overnight) and suddenly it’s a issue. They had to take it up with someone higher ranking who let us through without opening as much. Then we were fortunate that once we got through we were able to buy more of what we needed because we did have to get rid of a small amount of stuff.

  2. tripswithtykes

    I’ve been lucky that my daughter has never been subject to a pat-down. But on the few occasions I’ve had to be patted down (usually because I was carrying liquids for her that have thoroughly confused the agents at smaller airports), she’s occasionally been quite upset for me and that has been enough to make this mama bear upset too! I’m lucky that I live in the SF Bay Area where a lot of families travel — the agents at SFO and OAK have just seen it all, and I can almost always breeze through at my home airports.

    1. andrea

      You would think in Atlanta, where this happened and where we live, they would be used to everything, being the busiest airport in the world, but they always seem incompetent!

  3. Jessica

    I don’t think I could ever feel comfortable with a pat down for my kids. I just don’t like the whole thing. Sorry that you had to deal with it, but thanks for sharing your story with others.

  4. Danielle (Bubs on the Move)

    Good grief! We have had some trouble with security lines in Australia ourselves. At one they decided I was suspicious and needed a pat down. I was told I had to put my toddler down and of course when I did he ran off into the airport. When I went to chase him security blocked be from passing. I told security in a Mama bear voice that if they would not let me get my child they better chase catch him themeselves. They didn’t want to (and were still forcibly blocking my way into the airport and to my child). It took me asking them how it would look on the evening news if my son was lost in the airport as a result of their actions to get them moving (now 100 meters away) and bring him back to me. And yes, the incident made me a bit teary too.

    1. andrea

      That must have been so scary! That was one of the things that I was worried about, that while all this was going on my son would disappear and I wouldn’t be able to get to him cause they had me stopped!

      1. Keryn Means (@walkingontravel)

        Holy smokes! You better believe that if I was detained and my son was running away the entire airport would hear me yelling at him to get his butt back her, and screaming at the agents to grab my kid or I was suing the whole darn place. NO ONE puts my kids at risk. Talk about a mama bear moment!

        I have been lucky not to have too many issues with pat downs. I always carry my youngest through in a baby carrier. He can’t walk yet, so he would have had to crawl through, which knowing him he would have because he is my runner. I did have to get pat down once while wearing a dress which was a bit awkward, but they allowed me to hold my toddler son’s hand at least. You can always tell which agents have kids and which don’t that’s for sure.

  5. thriftytravelmama

    Oh my goodness, this is AWFUL!! Good for you for standing up for yourself and protecting your kids. I have had some issues with TSA and some allowing me to have a baby strapped on, some not. But never have I had to face the possibility of them patting down my child. I am so sorry to hear about this experience!

    1. andrea

      The lack of consistency across the board is so frustrating, isn’t it? Luckily she doesn’t remember it, so we all left fairly unscarred :)


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