The Trouble With TSA When You’re Pregnant, And What You Can Do About It

by Alyssa Jensen
Originally Published: 
tsa pregnant
Orbon Alija / Getty

Traveling anytime can be stressful. But add in being pregnant, and it’s a whole other story. The first time I flew while pregnant, I thought I was completely prepared. I had done all the research, talked with my doctor, and felt ready to get on the plane. Turns out, I was completely wrong. I was in no way prepared for dealing with the TSA.

You might be thinking, this was probably just one bad experience. Sadly, not the case. I took four trips while pregnant with my son, which totals eight times through security round-trip. Unfortunately, every experience was roughly the same. I had hoped things had magically improved since I was pregnant in 2016, but I watched a friend receive the same treatment just 2 months ago. Most moms I know will tell you that they had similar experiences when flying while pregnant.

So what’s the problem with going through security while pregnant?

Well, their “optional” screening is anything but optional.

According to the TSA website, if you are concerned about the advanced imaging technology (aka, the full body scan), you can opt out and request a pat down. I had actually read this exact article before I went to the airport so I would be informed on their policies. Turns out, opting out isn’t quite as easy as they would lead you to believe.

Here’s how security at the first airport went down:

Me: “I’m pregnant so I’d like to opt out of the scanner.”

TSA employee: “Don’t you know the scanners are perfectly safe for pregnant women?”

Me: “I was instructed by my physician to avoid the scanners.” (Totally true.)

TSA employee (rolls eyes): “We have to pat you down then.”

Me: “Okay, that’s fine.” (The pat down part, not the attitude).

TSA employee (yells to other TSA employees across security): “I need a female for a pat down, this woman is refusing to be scanned!”

Now suddenly about a million eyes are on me (maybe two million, I don’t know for sure). Did I threaten anyone? Try to take something dangerous on the plane? Nope. I just had the audacity to try to fly while growing a fetus.

They proceeded to have me wait for 30 minutes (yes, I timed it) before a woman finally came over to do the pat down. The entire time, I also received a lecture from her about the safety of the machines.

Okay, let’s pause here. First, who would choose to have a full body pat down instead of just going through the machine? My thought is no one unless they had a really good reason. Let me just tell you, having someone all up in your business is not my idea of a good time.

Second, who honestly thinks that a TSA employee knows more about fetal health than an OB-GYN? No one? Good.

I find it totally unreasonable that it’s much easier to go through security with a baby (I’ve done it more times than I can count) then to go through while pregnant. When I fly with my son, I walk up, stroll through the metal detector (never a full body scanner) and go on with my day. What is the

magical difference about the baby being outside instead of in?

Who knows?

But the moral of the story, make sure that you a prepared for some difficulty when you go through security while pregnant. Want to know how to make it slightly easier on yourself? Here are my tips:

1. Meet with your doctor before your trip and ask their opinion on the scanners. While the airport scanners aren’t known to cause harm, medical opinions on this might vary. So talk to your doctor before traveling and get their opinion. Trust your doctor and trust your gut. My OB/GYN wasn’t aware of any definitive evidence on the safety of full body scans, so he recommended just avoiding it.

2. Get a note from your physician that says you’re pregnant, especially if it is early in the pregnancy and you don’t have an obvious bump yet.

3. Have the TSA webpage above available on your phone to show to anyone who argues with you about opting out. Unfortunately, I have a few friends who have gotten a lot of argument from the employees, and one who was forced to go through to avoid missing her flight. It’s much harder for them to argue if you have their policies right there.

4. Make sure that you leave yourself plenty of time to make your flight. Between the waddling while you walk and waiting for TSA, getting on the plane takes quite a bit longer.

Hopefully one day soon there will be no difficulties with going through security at an airport while you’re pregnant. But until that day, hold onto these tips to make it just a little bit easier.

Related: How To Survive Flying With Kids

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