If a car seat containing an infant is placed “just for a moment” on a non-moving conveyor belt at an airport security machine the infant may pass through the machine.
It has happened. How? Parent places car seat on the belt. Parent turns around to take off his/her shoes or to tend to another child. Belt starts. Infant enters machine. Parent hysterical. Infant unharmed. Radiation negligible. (One grandmother intentionally placed her infant granddaughter in a baggage bin and sent her through the machine, thinking it was mandatory to do so.)
In fact, family trips involving air travel are quite safe for infants and young children. Mishaps are rare, mostly preventable, and more likely to occur at airports than in flight.
Here’s how to make your family’s airport experience safer and less stressful:
1. Security screening machines are safe for infants (And for pregnant women.) No X-rays are involved. Presently, passengers are screened by advanced imaging technology (AIT) or by metal detectors. AIT uses non-ionizing radio-frequency energy. Both techniques have been extensively studied and have no known harmful effects. Parents do have the option to decline such screening in favor of pat-downs. Low dose X-rays are used to scan items on conveyer belts but cause no harm to milk, other foods, medications (or infants). For details on screening children, see https://www.tsa.gov/travel/special-procedures/traveling-children.
2. Sign up with . The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has programs especially helpful for parents. It allows adults and their children under the age of twelve to go to the head of the security line on domestic flights. Registering for the program requires filling out a form online, a onetime visit to a TSA office (usually at an airport) and a onetime fee. A similar program, TSA Goes is available for overseas travel. See http://kidsareatrip.com/tsa-precheck-what-you-need-to-know-and-how-to-apply/.
3. Prepare for screening process. Carry tickets and ID items in an easily accessible place. Empty your pockets – and those of your children – of items that set off alarms to avoid passing through the detector again or a hand search. Wear shoes that are easy to remove. Place strollers on the belt first so that they will be available first on the other side, enabling you to place your infant in the stroller while you retrieve other belongings. Consider wearing a sling carrier to hold infants, freeing your hands for other chores.
4. Instruct older children not to make jokes about terrorism, weapons or explosives. Security personnel take mention of such subjects very seriously, even from children, possibly resulting in delays, missed flights and (extremely rarely) fines. Authentic-looking toys and knives may cause similar problems.
5. TSA also has a website and a telephone helpline for screening children with disabilities. “TSA works closely with disability advocacy groups to help understand their needs and adapt screening procedures accordingly.” See https://www.tsa.gov/travel/special-procedures/traveling-children. Call the helpline (1-855-787-2227) about 72 hours ahead if you’ll need specific assistance for your child. If necessary, they will arrange for personnel to assist you on your arrival at the airport
6. Prevent accidents. Injuries to pedestrians occur daily at large airports. For example, many drivers of carts transporting people around airport terminals are poorly trained, and drive too fast, and many carts emit no noise. Children make sudden moves, sometimes darting into the path of carts. Lately, more carts are equipped with flashing lights and beeping sounds when in motion. (Some airports have speed traps to check on how fast cart drivers go.)
7. Avoid escalators. Injuries result from carts, luggage and strollers falling down escalators and when people fail to quickly step away from the escalator when getting off. Leave a few stairs or a short distance empty before entering an escalator or moving sidewalk. Be careful with strollers. On down escalators, the first few steps are level at the onset, forming a platform, giving you a sense of false security. Wherever there are escalators there are elevators, often out of sight. Ask.
8. Parking lots are hazardous. They intermingle people and cars and require drivers to back in and out of spaces. And children can be near impossible for drivers to see. Airport lots may be especially hazardous. Much time is spent milling about to load/unload children, toting luggage may leave no hands to hold children, and the shortest walk to the terminal may entail walking between cars.
9. Many airports provide children-friendly facilities. Ask. They generally have playrooms, restrooms, diaper changing facilities, and breastfeeding rooms. Some airports have special attractions. Chicago O’Hare has an interactive exhibit featuring a cargo plane that needs fueling, a cockpit in a fantasy helicopter, and an air traffic control tower. San Francisco International has an aquarium. Boston Logan has a baggage-claim slide. Many airlines provide free transportation within terminals for families with children.
10. Miscellaneous. The most common accident at airports is falling over luggage, often your own. Consider leashing rambunctious children and placing toddlers in strollers, even if they usually walk. This reduces accidents and prevents children from becoming lost. Milk and other liquids necessary for young children may be carried in larger amounts than otherwise allowed. US authorities are easing rules governing the carrying of breast pumps and related paraphernalia though security screening.
For in-flight health/safety issues for infants, see tinyurl.com/p2lse2d