One of the scariest things about traveling with a toddler is the fact that they are easily distracted and can dart off at a moment’s notice. Probably one of my biggest fears when traveling when my son was a toddler was losing him in a crowded airport or train station. Alex seemed to progress straight from crawling to running, without really learning to walk first. If my husband and I were momentarily distracted at the ticket counter, our boy would be halfway across the airport terminal making friends with a child in another line in two seconds flat. We originally thought that letting him walk on his own in the airport would be good for him, since he would be cooped up in an airplane for hours. We found that it was better not to let him walk around on his own until all the bags were checked and we made it throug security.
Since our son liked to run off in any direction, we resorted to keeping him strapped into the stroller, but made an effort to get to the airport early enough to let him play on the playscape or run around a bit before boarding. When he got a little older (around 2 1/2), he was able to pull a small, wheeled suitcase and that slowed him down a bit and kept him from running off. Other parents we know opt for a baby backpack, which is also handy for places where a stroller won’t work—snow, cobblestone streets, hiking trails, etc. If you are traveling with a toddler, try to arrive at least 2 hours before your flight time so that you can ensure that you make it through the check-in and security lines, and have a little time to let your child walk around or play on a playscape inside the airport before boarding the flight.
When you go through security, the child will need to walk through the metal detectors on her own. You are not permitted to hand the child to another person who is traveling with you, or to the security officer. For a Transportation Security Administration article on getting through security with kids, click here.
On the last five trips we've taken, the security guards have insisted that everyone take off their shoes, so you will need to remove the shoes and run them through the X-ray screening. If your child is sensitive to having her shoes removed, you should prepare her ahead of time for this procedure. Try to use shoes that slip on and off easily so that you don't have to wrangle all of your stuff and try to tie shoe laces at the same time. Wearing shirt with a front pocket, though not exactly the hippest fashion statement, is a convenient way to keep your ticket and ID handy for going through the lines.
Due to airport security regulations, you will not be able to carry milk in in your carry-on, but you can purchase it inside security. Infant formula and breast milk are an exception if you are accompanied by a child, so you might be able to argue that you should be allowed to carry almond or soy milk with you if your child is allergic to dairy. Bring a doctor's note to bolster your argument, but whether you get through may depend on the security agent.
Photo: Alex in his Sit n Stroll at airport in Inchon, Korea, 2002.