Moving through airports with young children can be stressful, especially when a baby’s light cry turns into a full-on scream. That’s why most parents will do their best to prepare for the trip beforehand to make things as easy as possible. Whether it’s packing an extra drink or a child’s favourite toy, every precaution can help ease a difficult scenario. However, when Heather Jones flew with her baby daughter for the first time she wasn’t prepared for the treatment she’d receive.
Now Heather, from Colorado, believed she had prepared thoroughly for her first flight with her newborn daughter, Amelia. And she was aware of how tricky getting through security might be, with strict rules applying for hand luggage. So the new mom, who was taking a flight from Denver to Los Angeles, did some research beforehand.
As Amelia was three months old then, Heather knew that feeding would be a major factor in her daughter’s comfort. So, in the days ahead, she looked into how much fluid she could travel with to maintain her baby’s routine. And as it turned out, the amounts allowed as well as the way they could be stored, weren’t too odious.
That’s right, because Jones headed to the airport with enough pumped breast milk to last Amelia the journey. And the mom had even frozen some, too, to bolster her options. So it seemed as though the pair were set for a smooth journey – through the airport, and on the flight.
However, after Jones passed through the metal detector and went to gather her belongings, she was pulled aside by security officers. At first, the mom of one wasn’t too worried, because she’d followed the rules in relation to liquids. But suddenly, things appeared to take a turn for the worse. Astonishingly, the officers had found traces of explosive materials.
Now, by the time Amelia turned three months old, Heather knew her daughter’s quirks pretty well. Generally, the infant didn’t make a fuss in public. Moreover, the mom had a good idea of what would cause her baby to grow restless and how to fix it. Unfortunately, however, she was about to travel without the support of an important person in her life.
For not only was this the first flight Heather had taken since becoming a mom, she was traveling without husband, David. Therefore, the new mom did everything she could to make the trip as smooth as possible for Amelia and herself. As we’ll find out, though, best laid plans don’t always come off the way they should.
So Heather described the incident in a June 2017 post to the Facebook page of web group, Breastfeeding Mama Talk. As she explained, “I was flying with my three month old. First time flying with a baby, and it was just her and I. [I] did my research, and brought frozen breast milk as well as [fresh].”
Indeed, it is well known that security restrictions are in place for the amount of liquid permitted in hand luggage. However, how much fluid is allowed might not be the type of knowledge many casual fliers can call to mind. So, prior to travel, Heather looked into how much she could carry with her.
However, what Heather learned is that breast milk is allowed in larger quantities than other liquids. Indeed, most fluids are restricted to items of 3.4oz or less and all should fit comfortably within a quart-sized bag. However, rules differ when it comes to breast milk, formula and juice, as we’ll find out.
Yes, fluids used for nursing infants are permitted in larger quantities than 3.4oz. Furthermore, they do not need to be screened in a quart-sized bag. However, they should be scanned separately from other liquids. The Transportation Security Administration (T.S.A.) website adds, “Ice packs, freezer packs, frozen gel packs and other accessories required to cool formula, breast milk and juice are allowed in your carry-on.”
After her research, then, Heather headed to Denver International Airport that day in 2017 with some peace of mind. For it meant that she was carrying enough breast milk for both before and during the flight. And most importantly, she was carrying what was permitted within the rules and regulations.
As she went on to explain, “Amelia can be a bit picky about breast feeding, so I figured I’d have both options for the flight,” she said. But before she even boarded the flight, things started to go wrong for the new mom. You see, navigating airport security wasn’t as plain sailing as she had hoped.
“Getting through security… turned out to take much longer than expected, with a heart attack shutting down one lane and [a] wedged car seat shutting down another,” Heather explained. “Amelia was definitely getting hungry and fussy.” Therefore, the situation was far from ideal for a mom juggling baggage and an infant who was getting restless.
However, Heather eventually made it through the queue of passengers. But, as it happened, the long queue and consequent delay with a grumpy child on her hands was just the beginning. As she reached the scanning machines, Jones’ day was suddenly about to get a lot worse. And in fact, the reason why appeared to be quite random.
As Heather explained, “Once I got through the metal detector and started collecting my things, I was directed to another area where [the] T.S.A. needed to inspect something inside my bag. I figured it was the frozen breast milk. [But] that cleared right away, but they were having problems with my 4oz bottle of fresh milk.”
However, Heather had followed the T.S.A.’s regulations to the letter, and so she wasn’t concerned about the issue. For she knew that her pumped breast milk wasn’t a problem, as it was a substance that the security body allowed. In fact, she believed that the matter would be resolved very quickly.
Meanwhile, Amelia was starting to make a real fuss. But Heather knew exactly what to do to calm her little one down. Believing at the time that the milk wasn’t the issue, she asked if she could feed it to her daughter. And what transpired after that might surprise you somewhat.
“Amelia was really starting to lose it,” Heather recalled. “So I asked if I could just stand there and feed her the bottle.” Indeed, the mom wouldn’t feed her daughter something she thought might be contaminated in any way. Nevertheless, security officers gave her an answer she hadn’t anticipated.
“Nope,” Heather said emphatically of the security guard’s answer to her request to feed her daughter. “They put it in a machine and it somehow tested positive for explosives.” Security officers all of a sudden started to treat the mom as if she had done something wrong. And this was just the beginning of the ordeal.
“I was then surrounded by about six T.S.A. agents, and they made me wait till a woman agent could come over and give me a very detailed pat down,” Heather described. “At this point Amelia was on the edge, making all the motions of desperately needing to feed.” So how did the breast milk show traces of explosives?
Well, Heather had already followed the T.S.A.’s own guidelines for the breast milk she was carrying. However, the issue seems to stem from a specific substance that was picked up by their machines during testing. And as we’re about to find out, what fluids are tested for tends to remain fairly secretive.
Yes, the T.S.A remains tight lipped over what substances might trigger a false red light on its screening machines. However, educational website ThoughtCo suggests that the scanners are designed to detect compounds used to produce a variety of bombs. And those substances tend to be nitrates and glycerin.
However, as well as making bombs, glycerin and nitrates can be found in everyday cosmetics and personal hygiene products. For instance, glycerin is often used in baby wipes and hand creams. So it could be that glycerin was transferred to the bottle if Heather had applied lotion or used a wipe beforehand.
What’s more, Lucia Martinez, a representative of the T.S.A., told lifestyle website HealthyWay, “Our equipment tests for a variety of explosive components.” However, Lucia refrained from commenting on whether glycerin was among those substances. She added, “Unfortunately, we don’t publicly reveal what they are to not tip off anyone who is trying to game the system.”
Moreover, what it meant for Heather when she triggered the alarm was a thorough security check. For Heather was due to undergo a meticulous pat down, while her hand luggage was subject to a rigorous search. For the mom, however, it turned into a stressful experience that kept her from comforting Amelia.
Yes, so before Heather was subjected to the “detailed pat down”, baby Amelia started squirming and showing real signs of discomfort. For the three-month-old was now ready for a feed which, of course, couldn’t be provided with the milk in question undergoing examination. Sadly, it didn’t end there, either.
“They made me put [Amelia] in the stroller and hold my arms out while they patted me down,” Heather explained. “She lost it. She just started screaming and screaming. I started crying cause I couldn’t do anything, looking down at her while the T.S.A. agent took her sweet time with a very detailed pat-down.”
Now, Heather didn’t elaborate on what was involved in the thorough search T.S.A. agents performed on her. However, the agency’s website stipulates that a pat-down will be carried out should a passenger’s baggage trigger the alarm. Also, it’s part of routine additional checks when a mother denies examination of breast milk, for example.
For the mom, however, the experience turned into a stressful one due to Amelia’s crying. As she described, “[The agent] finally finished and let me pick Amelia back up.” Nevertheless, her ordeal wasn’t over. As Heather explained, “I had to continue standing there while waiting for the gloves to be tested.” However, there was to be some light at the end of the tunnel.
“Finally they came back with a negative result,” Heather said. “I was forced to dump the bottle of breast milk. I grabbed my stuff and walked over to the nearest place to sit, Amelia screaming the whole time. Finally able to feed her, we sat and I calmed down some.” But even then her ordeal didn’t end.
As Heather described, “Then a T.S.A. agent came up to me and asked if he could find me a cover while I breastfed.” Considering how she and Amelia had suffered whilst being searched, the mom was in no mood to indulge his request. And with that, came a swift response.
As Heather went on to explain, “‘No thanks,’ I told him. He tried to argue, but I said [Amelia] doesn’t like having her head covered while feeding. Besides, she’s almost done. He hesitated for a minute, then gave up.” Finally, then, the mom’s nightmare was over, and she caught her flight without further delay.
Surprisingly, the T.S.A. does not have any rules insisting moms should cover up in airports during breastfeeding. As a spokesperson clarified to HealthyWay, “T.S.A. does not have a policy on breastfeeding in public, nor are we against it.” Therefore, Heather was within her rights to refuse the agent’s request.
As she continued to explain, “Amelia finished [feeding] and we caught our plane to LAX [Los Angeles International Airport], where I found a wonderful nursing room to feed her the next meal.” Judging by the research she undertook prior to her flight, Heather is a mom who likes to be prepared. Indeed, she’d heard about other moms encountering problems at airports.
“I’ve read so many stories of other women having issues [at airport security],” Heather explained. “[But I] really never thought I’d end up having such a hard time myself.” After all that, she ended her blog post with a snarky message for the security body. Yes, the mom said, “Thank you, T.S.A., for an experience I’ll never forget.” Interestingly, one of the stories Heather may have heard about could’ve been that of mom, Stacey Armato, in 2014.
That’s correct, because the California resident had been held by the T.S.A at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. For she had told agents not to X-ray her milk, resulting in her being detained. But Armato put a spanner in the works by insisting she’d confronted the T.S.A. with their own documented rules. In fact, she said at the time – according to HeathyWay, that they refused to perform an alternate test. And that resulted in a cash settlement to Armato.
That aside however, there are everyday items that can activate a warning for sensitive compounds. And some of these common products may even be lurking in your carry-on bag or suitcase. So if you’re going to fly, be wary if you’re carrying any of the following items on your person, somehow.
Yes, among the items that might contain glycerin are hand soaps, lotion, cosmetics, shampoos and conditioners or baby wipes. Also be aware if any medication you take contains nitrates or nitroglycerin. Furthermore, according to website Thought.Co, most people won’t realize they’re carrying something that might trigger a false positive. So try to retrace your steps in your mind as to where something may have came from. You can then mention this to a T.S.A agent, if asked, to help pinpoint the source of the problem.
What’s more, allow plenty of time before your flight to clear security. And if the unfortunate happens and you trigger an alarm, stay calm and comply with security agents’ requests. Because, at the end of it all, it’s in no one’s interests to get suspected of doing something they didn’t do. And, just like Heather and Amelia, chances are you’ll always get through – eventually at least.