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Update 6/7/2013 – While it’s much less likely you’ll be asked to remove your baby carrier or sling at airport security these days, the current policy of the TSA states that, “If a baby is carried through the metal detector in a sling, additional screening may be required even if there isn’t an alarm.” Although it’s not currently a “blanket requirement” to remove any type of carrier or sling, be prepared that you may still be asked remove your child carrier or sling when walking through the metal detector, as this does occasionally still happen, and may be based on the materials your carrier is made of, the “risk climate” at the time of travel, or because you simply get an agent who doesn’t see many baby carriers. ;-) For the latest, see http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/traveling-children.

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.

Safe journey,

Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning guide Travels with Baby
The Ultimate Guide for Planning Trips with Babies, Toddlers, and Preschool-Age Children
PUBLISHER’S DISCOUNT – Save 15% on Travels with Baby and qualify for FREE Super Saver shipping at Amazon when you buy from “Travels with Baby Books” – Click here!

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7 Responses to Tip #44: Baby carriers, wraps, slings, and airport security

  1. Kristy Hall says:

    I really love the photo with the Moby wrap — where was it taken?

  2. Shelly Rivoli, author says:

    We were at an elephant farm in Thailand — Angelina was 7 months old.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Wish I would have known this before my Trip a year ago! I brought my Ring Sling and had my 5month old daughter all snug and comfy. And was told to take her out and screen the Sling. And at the time getting her in the sling and not screaming was a feet in itself. She hated being in it and it was only a rare occasion She would let me! So my Hands free trip thru the Airport, on the train and to the concourse was ruined. Suitcase, Diaper bag, 88 year old man who can’t see and 5 month old daughter all in my hands. Lordly, They really need to lighten up at TSA!!

  4. Debbie Dubrow says:

    I think the policy regarding slings has changed within the past year. I used to remove my son every time, but for the past 6 months or so they’ve let me walk through each time, checking only to make sure that the pocket of my ergo is empty.

    It’s good to plan to remove baby, but before you do, ask a TSA agent what the current policy is.

  5. Shelly Rivoli, author says:

    Debbie & all – Thanks for your notes on recent experiences. I checked with my TSA contact this past week, and he says he isn't aware of any change in the policy re: slings and baby carriers, but remarked that you may run in to an Officer who feels the sling is so insubstantial that they might just ask you to move it away from your body slightly and go on through the Walk-Through Metal Detector. He noted that an alarm would, of course, change the situation. As he says and as you can imagine, the variety of devices available for child carry would make it nearly impossible to create a single screening procedure that would cover them all other than the one currently in place. So, ultimately, your results may vary! To avoid unpleasant surprises and dealys, be ready to cooperate with the official policy.

  6. laurenhaws@gmail.com says:

    This page has lots of good information but it most definitely needs to be updated. It appears that the tsa policy has changed. Now you can walk through the metal detector wearing your child and they swab your hands for explosive residue on the other side. Every parent that went through security at both airports I was at last month had the exact same procedure.

    • Shelly Rivoli says:

      Hi Lauren, thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your comment. As you can see from the date the post is actually 5 years old, and you are right that TSA policies have fluctuated on this – however, they continue to change and fluctuate with regard to wearing carriers (and which carriers) through the scanner depending on current “risk climate”, and also can vary by airport. Just when I’d assumed it was over, a couple years ago, I was surprised and asked to take mine off. I will leave an updated comment at the top of the post though to help clarify the current status. Thanks! ;-)

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