One lesson that we learned the hard way when first setting out to travel as a family is that the more conveniently packed your infant formula is for you, the less convenient it is to bring it through airport security. Officially, the TSA must let you carry through a “reasonable” quantity of formula, water or any other liquid that your child may need. Unofficially, it has been my experience that it will be made inconvenient for you at the security checkpoint unless you do it a certain way.
Pre-mixed formula is your friend
When packing for a trip with a baby, I absolutely recommend being conservative with your carry on. That means packing enough food, water, diapers and other necessities to last the duration of the flight, airport waiting time, plus some additional allowance for delays. While I would like to stay out of the formula debate, if you happen to be at the stage where your child is drinking it, liquid pre-mixed formula is an incredible convenience for a number of reasons. It’s ready to drink, shelf (or backpack!) stable for a long time and won’t hypothetically cake you in a cement-like substance if you happen to make a wrong move. Something like this ought to fit the bill, right?
These come in nice, stackable packaging, contain enough for a solid serving and if sealed will certainly stay fresh. You absolutely should not carry these on. That’s not a typo. The first of multiple times that we tried to carry these through, the TSA was having none of it. To a parent, this is a convenient container. To the TSA, it’s an opaque container full of who knows what. They cannot test these in their liquid equipment, so my experience has ranged from them insisting that I open it to submitting to a full search and allowing me to leave it sealed. The former case complies with the letter of the regulation – at no point did they deny I could carry it through, it just wouldn’t be sealed, and therefore ready to spoil before takeoff. The latter scenario still makes no sense to me, other than to offer up a search as a deterrent. Assuming you’re not like me and don’t take the “I’m going to make it so awkward for them” mindset into a pat down, I will offer up an alternative. These –
Right off the bat, your parental sensibilities make you want to throw these at me for suggesting it. They hold 3 ounces instead of 8, are round instead of square and are glass instead of cardboard. You need 2 or 3 of these for every 1 of the cartons and the packaging is heavier to boot. These will, however, be met with no resistance by the TSA, because they can put them in the magic liquid scanner due to the mysterious transparent property of glass. Bringing these is a matter of net convenience. And science! Maybe. What I do ultimately suggest doing is carrying enough of the glass bottles to get you to your destination. Pack the cartons in your luggage so that you have them on arrival, or if weight/bag fees are a concern, swing by the store and buy a case on the way to the hotel.
But I don’t want to carry glass jars of formula
That’s fine. Neither do I, really. There is another way. It is slightly less convenient than pre-mixed formula and slightly more difficult when working with the TSA, but it falls within the regulations (that we know of) and ends up being a good compromise. The “recipe” –
- Multiple bottles with lids, plus nipples that screw on. I suggest separate lids because they aid in the mixing process and keep things from leaking after the fact. One bottle per anticipated feeding
- Gallon zip top bags
- Powdered formula
- Bottled water
Before you leave the house, take each very dry bottle and add enough powder for one feeding. Put the lid on it. Pack the bottles plus nipples in a zip top bag. Pack an extra zip top bag or two, completely empty. Pack enough bottled water to mix said formula. When you need it, you’ll just pour water into the bottle, shake and serve. When finished, put the spent bottle in the extra zip lock bag – preferably using the lid instead of the nipple – to contain leaks. This method is very convenient because you don’t have any powder to dump on yourself. It’s already in the bottle. It does involve carrying bottled water, though, so TSA will ask and possibly lecture you. You are allowed a “reasonable” amount, so stand firm that what you’re carrying is needed to mix formula. I once had a TSA agent give me a hard time at PHL because she thought I had “too much” bottled water, and started asking about my flight plans. I was polite, and recommend you do the same, but I added up the total flight time, airport time, and transportation to the hotel. She listened to me, but decided to get a supervisor involved. All I overheard from their conversation was, “It’s for a baby. Just let them go.” My point is, it’ll be obvious to some, but not to others, so be polite and patient, but it is your right to bring water for your child.
But formula is evil!
I’m not entering this debate! Some do it out of choice, some do it out of necessity. Some supplement, some switch after the first year. I’m going to hang out on the sideline for that debate and just tell you how to do it conveniently if you choose to. I do know my wife pumped for an entire year because our daughter refused breast-feeding directly – at least consistently, so I admire her resolve. After the first year, we switched to formula. In either case, clear containers are your friend at the security checkpoint.Naturally, my way isn’t the only way. What tips, tricks and lessons have you learned?