Travelling with kids: Q&A with Heathrow Airport

children playing at heathrow airport

You don't need to resign yourself to summer holidays at home until your children are out of uni, let alone nappies. Heathrow Airport has made flying with kids not only bearable but, dare we say it, fun. See what tips and advice Heathrow shared in response to Mumsnetters' questions about travelling with little ones – and be in with a chance of winning some lovely Jo Malone goodies, too!

Airport security

Q: How does going through security work with children? And at what age or stage would children be treated in the same way as adults in terms of searches? I hate the thought of my children being searched in a way they would find hard to understand – they'd be frightened. What would I have to prepare them for?

Heathrow: We completely understand that security checks can be slightly strange for children – even adults! – who haven’t been through security before. Airport security rules apply to everyone, so we can keep everyone safe. Should any extra checks for children be required, we will seek permission from parents up until the age of 16. After 16, we ask for the consent of the individual and will assist them through the process. No one needs to be worried about security – our staff are very understanding. We try our best to present a friendly service to children when they're going through security.

Q: What's your policy on babies going through security in slings?

Heathrow: If your baby is asleep, we’ll do our best not to wake him or her. However, we may have to ask you to remove him or her from the sling so we can scan the sling. This is simply a safety measure, so that we can keep you and your children safe in the sky.

Q: Last time I flew through Heathrow I had to remove my shoes and belt at security – does this rule apply to children too?

Heathrow: Yes, security rules apply to everyone. We do this in order to keep you safe on your travels.

Q: My son has a nut allergy so we carry an epi pen. Is there any issue with having this in hand luggage? It has a prescription label in his name on it. Should I also bring a copy of the prescription?

Heathrow: There are no issues with him carrying his epi-pen with him. I would encourage you to bring along a copy of the prescription, just in case the epi-pen gets wet and the prescription label gets smudged or falls off. Please make sure you present your epi-pen to staff when you arrive in the security inspection area. You don't need to contact the airport beforehand about this.

Q: I'd like to know a little more about the safety of full body scanners.

Heathrow: The Department for Transport has confirmed there are no known health effects from the scanners we use at Heathrow, and we've been using them safely for over five years. These machines do not use radiation, and are in use across airports in the UK. We hope this proves reassuring.

Q: Are there any innocent items that the average family packs which look a bit “suspect” on the scanners, and how could we avoid the resulting hoo-hah? Also, in spite of my careful packing (and my husband's dogged refusal to wear a metal belt at the airport) I feel like I ALWAYS set the metal scanner off and need searching. Why is this?

Heathrow: Decisions on what looks suspicious and needs further review is at the discretion of the security officer. Usually tightly packed bags can take longer to review and require closer inspection, so do try and keep your bag light where possible. As part of our security requirements, we have to conduct random searches in addition to scanning. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have something on your person, this is just an extra precaution. It's not necessarily your husband's belt – or lack thereof!

family in airport

Taking liquids through security

Q: I have a considerable amount of medication that I would need to take on the plane with me . Would I be able to have it in my hand luggage, even the liquids?

Heathrow: You can take enough essential liquid, aerosol or gel medicines in your hand luggage to cover your flight plus a reasonable amount to cover any delays. Any liquid, aerosol, or gel medication not needed on the flight – together with any spares – must be packed in your hold baggage. There are no security restrictions on the carriage of powder or solid based medicines.

Liquid, aerosol or gel medicines in containers over 100ml must be carried separately, together with supporting documentary proof of authenticity – a prescription or letter from your doctor will do.

These rules apply equally to homeopathic and children’s medicines, and we would encourage you to present this straight way to the security officer, to avoid any delays. Following x-ray screening, security officers might do additional checks – just to make sure.

Q: Are all bottles ok as long as they are 100ml or below, and does it matter what's in them?

Heathrow: The 100ml liquid rule applies to all liquids, aerosols and gels. This also includes pastes, lotions, liquid mixtures, and the contents of pressurised containers, such as toothpaste, hair gel, drinks, soups, syrups, perfume, shaving foam and other items with similar consistencies. Some dangerous liquids can’t be carried on aircraft at all. For more details, see the list of hold luggage banned items.

You can carry a reasonable amount of liquid or food for the baby – including breastmilk.

There are, of course, special exceptions for parents with young children:

If you are travelling with a baby or infant you can carry a reasonable amount of liquid and liquidised food for the baby or infant. It goes without saying that this includes breast milk.

Breast milk may be carried in quantities greater than 100ml – however, the volume of each container or bag must not exceed 2 litres, and breast milk must not be frozen. On average, 100ml is well over one feed's worth of breast milk – depending on how greedy your baby is! Liquids in flasks are not permitted.

All baby and young children’s food must be in containers with a capacity of no greater than 100ml. These containers must fit inside a single closed transparent resealable plastic bag with a capacity no greater than 1 litre – that's roughly 8in x 8in. You can only take one liquid bag per person, and all your liquids, aerosols and gels must fit inside with the bag completely closed.

At Heathrow, we have sorting areas and the correct plastic bags available if you need to prepare before security, and our security ambassadors are always on hand to help. It's also worth bearing in mind that you can buy ready-to-drink formula milk in the airport shops after security. Boots sells formula in 250ml and 500ml sizes. If you’re worried about availability, you can reserve formula by emailing reserve_collect@heathrow.com

Getting through the airport with kids

Q: My kids get so fidgety in long queues. Do you have family lanes in security, and check-in desks?

Heathrow: We open family lanes during peak travel periods and when we see greater numbers of families travelling through. Family lanes are dedicated to those with children eight years and below, however we are able to get most passengers through security in under five minutes – so your children shouldn’t have too long to wait.

Our passenger ambassadors are also able to help you with any questions you may have when travelling through security. You'll be able to spot them a mile off in their purple uniforms.

little girl in airport

Q: My daughters are four and six, and I've yet to brave the airport with them. I recently brought two Trunki portable booster seats for use in a hire car abroad – would these be permissible as hand luggage for children, if they carried one each?

Absolutely, Trunkis can be considered hand luggage. And they make travelling fun!

Q: What are the rules on using the special assistance lane at passport control? Are you allowed to use them with small babies?

Heathrow: We know getting through the Border as quickly as possible is important to our passengers, particularly those with small children, and we work closely with Border Force to ensure the UK’s Border remains safe and as stress-free as possible.

We ask families to leave the special assistance lanes for passengers with reduced mobility. However, if you are having a particularly difficult time with your little one and require further assistance, please don't hesitate to approach a passenger ambassador in passport control. If there is extra capacity to move you through a special assistance lane, we will do our best to get you there. It's important that families stay together, as sometimes the Border Force Officer may need to ask some simple questions.

You can carry a reasonable amount of liquid or food for the baby – including breastmilk.

Q: Do you have any extra-large toilet cubicles for parents travelling without another adult that will have enough space for two or three small children, carry-on luggage, and even a buggy as well? Sometimes my husband flies alone with our daughters, and finds it awkward and difficult when all of the family toilets and changing areas are in the ladies.

Heathrow: There is normally a bigger toilet in every toilet facility. We also have baby changing areas in every terminal, both before and after security control, and a Family Room in Terminal 3. Children up to a reasonable age are welcome to accompany their parents to the toilets. But we also have unisex, wheelchair-accessible toilets in every terminal, which parents are welcome to use with children.

Q: Are there any toys that are not allowed in hand luggage? I would assume toy guns are a definite no-no, but what about things like playdoh?

Heathrow: Please use your discretion for this – any toys that are designed to look like weapons or have the appearance of weapons will not be allowed on board a flight. Equally, any toys that contain liquids are going to be subject to our liquid rules. Luckily, we don't imagine that any favourite teddies or treasured toys will fall under this remit!

Playdoh is absolutely fine and not subject to our liquids rule.

Q: Is there any assistance for lone travellers with a child at all? Can this be arranged in advance?

Heathrow: If you need assistance at the airport, our passenger ambassadors, easily distinguishable in their purple uniforms, are standing by ready to help you as you travel, before and after security. There is also a paid-for Meet and Assist service team who can also provide additional assistance for you – this service is available to all passengers, on any airline, in any ticket class. For more information, visit here.

Child-friendly facilities

Q: I have never taken my daughters on a plane but I am planning to do so quite soon – could you possibly tell me what (if any!) facilities there are in the airport to keep children entertained while we wait?

Heathrow has play areas in every terminal, and a Family Lounge and Game Zone.

Heathrow: We have Mr. Adventure themed Play areas in every terminal for children up to nine years old. It's a great way to tire out kids before a long flight.

In Terminal 3's Family Lounge, there is a dedicated play area for younger children, and a Game Zone for children aged 10-15. Visit our website to find out the locations for these areas.

There is also currently (as of April 2017) an interactive screen to entertain kids at check in in Terminal 5 and iPads in Arrivals in Terminal 2.

During key getaway periods, we also have entertainers, and children's activities. Visit here to see what's going on in your terminal.

Q: I didn't know kids ate for free in Heathrow. Is that in all the restaurants?

Heathrow: Kids eat for free in a really impressive range of our restaurants – from Carluccio's to Giraffe, there's something for everyone, even the pickiest eater. See the full list.

Competition closes on 26th May 2017