It’s only natural for new parents to assume that wearing their child through the airport in a carrier, wrap, or sling and keeping their hands free for juggling passports, shoes, diaper bags, and carry-ons at security is a smart way to travel—until their plans get derailed in the final moments before passing through the walk-through metal detector.
As I advise all parents in Travels with Baby, be prepared to remove your carrier, wrap, or sling to run it through the X-ray at airport security even if it is only made of fabric, without any buckles, plastic, or metal components (yes, even if your baby is blissfully slumbering in it at the time).
A while back, I’d received an email from Elizabeth in Austin, Texas, regarding a comment I’d made on carriers and slings at airport security:
I noticed a comment in one of your Amazon lists saying:
“Since the TSA won’t allow you to wear your baby through security in any kind of frontpack carrier or sling, even if it IS only fabric (trust me, I’ve tried), streamline your passage through security, with a simple sling that slips on and off with one hand. This one has handy pockets for travel documents and a couple of diapers– also helpful when you visit the lavatory with your baby.”
This struck me, because we took our 9-month-old son to the Virgin Islands for a couple of weeks at the end of May/beginning of June and we were able to wear him through security both directions. He was in an Ergo, and perhaps we were able to do it because it’s their organic version that doesn’t have much metal? We went through security in Austin on the way down and in St. Thomas on the way back and didn’t even pause for a moment. He even had shoes on when we went through on the way back. I hadn’t thought about it until right when we are about to go through security, but when I started to take them off, the guard said that wasn’t necessary.
What’s the actual TSA policy?
Having tested the theory at security myself, with my own all-fabric Moby Wrap (shown above), I had the unpleasant lesson—along with all of the travelers piling up behind me—that it doesn’t matter if it is: “…only a long piece of fabric, with no buckles of any kind!” The TSA officers explained to me, as I unwound and unwound and unwound my wrap defending its clothing-like virtues, that any kind of carrier or sling has to go through the X-ray. Period.
As the TSA states on its website regarding the X-ray at security:
“All child-related equipment that will fit through the X-ray machine must go through the X-ray machine. Examples include: strollers, umbrella-strollers, baby carriers, car and booster seats, backpacks, and baby slings.”
…and also at the walk-through metal detector:
“Remove babies and children from their strollers or infant carriers so that our Security Officers can screen them individually.”
Still, I get conflicting reports from parents who are sometimes allowed to wear various carriers, wraps, and slings through the walk-through metal detector. For example, I recently heard from a mom who wondered if she’d been allowed to wear her baby through the detector because it was in a sling made only of fabric, which she was able to lift away from her body as she passed through.
That may have been what the particular guards she encountered had been thinking, but the policy still holds and could be enforced at any time at any U.S. airport, so don’t get caught off guard. There can be enough unpredictable delays when traveling with a small child, so you might as well avoid those that you can.
Let’s face it, since it can be awkward enough, and certainly stressful enough, to get your carry-on bags and gear through the X-ray while juggling a baby, the last thing you want is the added complication of trying to unbuckle or unwrap a carrier on one side of the detector and having to reassemble it again on the other side as you juggle your child and watch your bags and shoes pile up with other travelers struggling to pass through.
That’s why I recommend not wearing your carrier or wrap to security at all, unless you have a simple over-the-shoulder sling you can easily remove and replace with one hand while holding your child at the same time (practice at home to be sure).
For more tips and advice on “Clearing Security with Small Children and a Small Mountain of Gear,” see Chapter 16 in Travels with Baby.
Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning guide Travels with Baby
The Ultimate Guide for Planning Trips with Babies, Toddlers, and Preschool-Age Children
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