One of the many challenges of air travel with toddlers is deciding how to best transport the milk, juice, or other liquids they need. Although TSA allows parents with babies and toddlers to bring liquids in excess of 3.4 ounces, the reality is that the process is still far from easy. If you bring milk or other liquids with you for a flight, you very well may have to endure extra security screening. And let’s not forget the hassles that liquids like milk pose if you need to keep them cold.
The original inspiration for this post came nearly a decade ago, when I received a full body pat-down at the Orange County, California airport for bringing milk for my 13 month old. It wasn’t the first (and it definitely wasn’t the last) time this happened to me. After over a decade of flying with little ones, I’ve experimented with all the options to try and dodge the hassles that toddler travel with milk brings.
There is no perfect solution for air travel with toddlers and liquids. I find it is helpful to do things a bit differently each time I travel, depending on the age of my little one and the duration of the flight. Here are the choices and alternatives you might consider when you need to travel with toddlers and milk.
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Can I Bring Milk on a Plane for My Toddler? Current TSA Rules
Since I started flying with young kids, the official TSA rules about milk and other liquids for babies and toddlers have changed multiple times. Often these rules have been confusing or internally inconsistent. And they’ve definitely been misinterpreted and incorrectly enforced by TSA agents all over the country.
For the definitive word, always go to TSA.gov’s page about traveling with children for the most current formulations of the rules. Here is what they say in 2023:
Liquid Formula, Breast Milk, Toddler Drinks, and Baby/Toddler food (to include puree pouches)
Formula, breast milk, toddler drinks, and baby/toddler food (to include puree pouches) in quantities greater than 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters are allowed in carry-on baggage and do not need to fit within a quart-sized bag. Formula, breast milk, toddler drinks, and baby/toddler food (to include puree pouches) are considered medically necessary liquids. This also applies to breast milk and formula cooling accessories, such as ice packs, freezer packs, and gel packs (regardless of presence of breast milk). Your child or infant does not need to be present or traveling with you to bring breast milk, formula and/or related supplies.
Inform the TSA officer at the beginning of the screening process that you are carrying formula, breast milk, toddler drinks, and baby/toddler food (to include puree pouches) in excess of 3.4 ounces. Remove these items from your carry-on bag to be screened separately from your other belongings. TSA officers may need to test the liquids for explosives or concealed prohibited items….
The bottom line? Yes, you can bring milk, juice, or other liquid foods and drinks for your child. No, your child does not have to be a baby – the rules apply to toddlers too (although the age cutoff for toddlers isn’t defined).
Note that the rules contain additional detail, recommending that passengers put liquid in clear, translucent bottles for easier screening. They also make clear that ice and frozen gel packs are permitted to keep permitted items cold as well.
Options & Ideas for Milk on Planes for Toddlers
Now on to the nitty gritty – exactly what products should you bring to make sure your toddlers have milk and their other favorite drinks in-flight? Here are the different solutions we’ve used and strategies we’ve employed in a variety of travel situations.
1) Cold milk in a thermos or insulated bottle
If your trip is fairly short and you can keep regular milk somewhat cold in a thermos or bottle, this is probably your best bet. TSA agents are often able to screen the milk by itself easily just by opening and testing the container. This means you often avoid the time and hassle of the dreaded full body pat-down.
If your toddler is partial to warmed or at least room temperature milk, however, you have to think about how best you can bring the temperature up before serving. If you carry a non-insulated container too (like a clear bottle), you can run that under warm water to warm up the contents. But this means a little bit of a juggle and a risk for spillage if you need to transfer the liquid into other containers. This challenge certainly isn’t insurmountable, but is worth noting.
2) Shelf stable milk
For longer flights where you can’t keep milk cold for the duration of your travels, shelf stable (aseptic) milk packs are your best bet. Since we often travel cross-country to see family, this has been the option we used the most.
We’ve found two brands are normally easy available in many grocery stores or online – Horizon or Organic Valley. But many grocery stores stores only seem to stock the 1% milk version, so if you have a younger toddler who only drinks whole milk, finding an acceptable product can be more challenging. Ordering online is probably your best bet, although you’ll often have to pay a price premium.
- Horizon Whole Milk Boxes on Amazon
Be aware, however, that carrying shelf stable milk will sometimes result in enhanced security at the hands of TSA. Because TSA cannot open the sealed milk boxes (because they’d spoil), some agents insist on subjecting you to an enhanced pat-down. It’s no fun, but I just accepted that this would happen some times.
If you fly often, you’ll quickly learn which airports let these milks pass with ease (usually the larger ones used to seeing a lot of family travelers). Luckily, my home airports of SFO and OAK seem to let me pass without incident.
3) Powdered toddler formula
Toddler formula was one of the newer products on the market when my first child was a toddler. And although it is probably not a necessary product for most toddlers most of the time, it has the huge advantage of being available in powdered form. And that means no worries about liquid screenings for air travel!
As long as your toddler likes the taste, you can use it instead of milk while in transit. Bring a small amount of the powder with you on your air travels, and mix it up with water in the airport or on the plane.
Before you commit to this strategy, however, try the formula out at home well in advance of your trip if your toddler doesn’t normally drink it already. The taste might be a struggle for some toddlers who’ve fully transitioned to milk.
4) Buy milk in the airport
Many families simply plan to avoid the TSA screening hassles by purchasing milk for their toddlers once they get through the checkpoints and on the sterile side of security. This is a little risky, as milk isn’t always available in every location in every airport. You may have to try multiple stores, and you may not be able to find the type of milk your child drinks – particularly if you have a younger toddler who drinks whole milk.
However, if you know the airport you are departing from (or if you can wing it without milk with one or more of these other backup options if it turns out to be unavailable), this approach is certainly viable.
As our toddlers got older and drank juice on occasion, we knew that could work in a pinch in transit as well for hydration.
5) On-board your flight
This is the one option that I don’t recommend – at least when it comes to milk! Although all airlines usually carry several varieties of juice, most airlines do not carry much milk on board, if any. And some airlines will only make the limited milk they do have available for use with the coffee service. If you wait to think about milk for your toddler until you board the plane, you will likely be out of luck. So plan ahead for another choice.
Additional Tips for Milk and Air Travel
Worried that carrying milk or other toddler liquids is going to be a hassle? Here are a few other tips to set you up for success.
- Leave extra time: If you are carrying liquids over the 3.4 ounce limits, always build in extra time for TSA screening. And make sure you know all the other tricks for speeding through airport security with kids so it’s only the milk that might slow you down!
- Print/screenshot TSA Rules: If you anticipate trouble with TSA (or even if you don’t!), it’s never a bad idea to have the rules handy to address any misunderstandings. Don’t assume TSA agents know the rules. Chances are good many parents who do their research know them better!
- Ask for a supervisor: If you are having trouble with a particular agent and think the toddler milk rules are being misapplied to you, don’t be afraid to ask for a supervisor. I did this several times when agents insisted that I open shelf-stable cartons which would result in the milk inside spoiling.
- Do additional research for international travel: The rules for milk and liquids are often different in other countries. So although this post should have you covered for domestic U.S. travel, if you are traveling internationally, you need to carefully read security screening rules for all airports you are departing from and connecting in.
How have you handled milk when traveling with toddlers? Leave your tips in the comments.