The Strict TSA Rule That Kids 12 And Under Are Exempt From

Airport anxiety can make traveling extra challenging, and strict TSA rules only add to the stress. While security regulations are necessary to keep the skies safe, an innocent mistake could lead to confiscated items, revoked boarding passes, and massive fines.

Traveling with kids can make security checkpoints even trickier to navigate. There are the extra liquids (in the form of milk for your little one), diaper bags overflowing on X-ray belts, toys, and strollers — it can seem as if airport security wasn't made with families in mind.

Thankfully, not all standard TSA rules apply to children under the age of 13, including the agency's guidelines on shoes. TSA generally requires travelers to remove their shoes and place them in a bin for screening, but those aged 12 or under can leave their shoes on, per the TSA's website. No need to worry about lost sneakers or your child walking around the dirty airport floor barefoot. Parents, you can breathe a little sigh of relief.

TSA rules on shoes have changed over the years

If you've been traveling for decades, you might remember a time when no one had to remove their footwear in the TSA security line. The shoes-off rule is linked to an attempted flight bombing in December 2001, just months after the tragic 9/11 terrorist attacks. On a plane flying from Paris to Miami, a man attempted to ignite his shoes, which were later found to contain explosives. While he was ultimately unsuccessful in detonating his homemade shoe bomb, TSA took note of his frightening plot and began randomly checking some travelers' shoes in airports.

However, the shoe rules adults must follow today weren't officially implemented until 2006. Then, even children were required to remove their shoes before being allowed to board a flight. In 2011, TSA revised the guideline to exempt passengers under 13, unless the child is asked to participate in additional screening. That year, Janet Napolitano, former Homeland Security Secretary, told Congress, "There will always be some unpredictability built into the system, and there will always be random checks even for groups that we are looking at differently, such as children." (via the Los Angeles Times.) In other words, don't be alarmed if an agent does ask you to remove your child's shoes.

Other TSA rules are different for children too

If shoes are no problem for your kiddo — or if they're too small to even need shoes yet — you'll be pleased to learn that other rules might also not apply to your child. Similar to footwear, children 12 and under may be allowed to keep their light jackets, sweaters, and headwear on when going through security, though this can depend on the type of screening technology available in the airport.

If you're traveling with a baby or toddler, note that some items may be exempt from the TSA's liquid rules. Milk, formula, and other drinks or liquid foods intended for small children are considered "medically necessary" by TSA and allowed through airport security, even if they exceed the standard 100-milliliter limit.

Finally, keep in mind that if you've been approved for TSA PreCheck, your child under 13 automatically receives the same benefits. According to the TSA, travelers aged 12 and under can use PreCheck lanes, as long as they're traveling with a parent or legal guardian enrolled in the program. Older children under 18 may also use the PreCheck lane independently if they're included in their parent or guardian's reservation and received a boarding pass printed with the PreCheck mark.