Menu Close

Feeding Tubes and the TSA: “Explosive Residue” Made Us Miss Our Flight

TSA Made Us Miss Our Flight

If you follow me on Facebook and Instagram, then you already know that Sarah and I missed our flight out of Seattle because I was held up in security. We were hassled by the TSA on our flights to and from Houston last year because of carrying Apollo’s formula on the plane. I didn’t think it could get much worse (or more ridiculous) but it turns out it can. And did.feeding tube TSA

TSA Opened Our Cans of Formula to “Test” Them

I called the TSA before the first flight to find out what precautions I should take. The person I spoke to insisted I would not be hassled about the formula or feeding tube and we didn’t need to do anything special. He was wrong. So wrong.

When we flew to Texas I had Apollo’s tube feeding supplies and medicine in the diaper bag. The TSA officials freaked out about that and insisted on opening a can of formula and “testing” it. On the way back I requested a letter from the hospital stating he was recovering from heart surgery and the formula was medically necessary. The TSA officials refused to even look at the letter. They searched every bag and patted me down. Okay. I can deal with that.

feeding tube TSA

TSA Found Explosive Residue on Me

This time, I decided to pack Apollo’s feeding pump, medicine, and formula separate from my other carry-on items but all together in a cooler. I walked right up to TSA official and said, My son has a feeding tube and this cooler has formula and medical supplies in it.

Can’t be much more direct than that, right? Except they refused to just search the cooler and ran it through the x-ray machine….this caused everything to come to a halt as the person viewing the x-rays freaked out about the liquid, demanded to know who it belonged to and pulled me aside. I was then taken to the search area, patted and rubbed down by a TSA official wearing latex gloves while all of my belongings were searched by another TSA official. The latex gloves were then removed tested by running a probe with a removable pad on it. This piece was then put into a computer to be scanned. I was looking right at the computer when it flashed: EXPLOSIVE RESIDUE DETECTED.

feeding tube TSA

Off to the Private Exam Room with TSA

At this point, everyone freaked out. Three more officials came by to surround me and my carry-on items. They searched every inch of my bag and told me they would have to do further testing…then Apollo announced rather loudly that he needed to go pee…but I wasn’t allowed to take him.

Are you traveling with anyone?” asked the official, wanting someone else to take him.

Yes, my friend, but she’s got two kids with her and she’s at the gate.

All the while Apollo was getting louder and louder and doing the pee-pee dance. The woman finally asked the other officials to guard my stuff as she escorted us to the bathroom. She stood right outside of the stall as I took Apollo to relieve himself. She escorted us back to the security area and told me she needed to take me to a private room to “pat me down” again. We had to wait as she found another female TSA official and finally the two women escorted me to a room.

feeding tube TSA

I Wasn’t Allowed to Touch or Comfort My Three-Year-Old Son

This “pat down” was even more thorough with the official pulling out the waistband of my jeans (front and back), removing my shoes, checking my breasts, crotch, and thighs. all with new pair of gloves. Apollo was scared. We were in a small room with two strangers. “What are they doing?” he asked.

“Oh, it’s kind of like a massage,” I answered.

He got more and more worried as the minutes passed. He began to cry and wanted me to pick him up. As I reached down the official said, “You can’t touch him right now“. She didn’t want me to “contaminate” him. He curled up in a ball in the corner and began to cry softly. “Mama, pick me up. Mama, I want you to hold me“.

All the while I was gently pushing him away and trying to comfort him with my voice. Finally, the officer relented and allowed me to pick him up. Meanwhile, they were calling our names over the intercom…our flight was boarded and ready to leave. To make a long story short, the flight left without us. As it turns out, they don’t hold flights for people suspected of carrying explosives onto the plane.

feeding tube TSA

I Called Ahead, I Was Told the Formula Was Fine

Part of me gets it. There are terrorists. We need to keep people safe. The other part is irate. Tell me of one instance where an American woman traveling with her medically needy preschooler has committed an act of terror. Oh yeah, never. Apollo was scared. We missed our flight. All over a couple of cans of formula. The formula I was told was fine to take on the plane. The formula for a feeding tube I showed the TSA officer.  Ridiculous. Something needs to change.

If you are traveling with someone with a disability check out:

The Ultimate Guide to Air Travel with a Disability

And now more photos of our trip:

feeding tube TSA

We had the pool to ourselves Thursday morning before the photoshoot.feeding tube TSA

Our dozens of trips to Seattle and back for doctor’s visits have made Apollo a great little traveler!feeding tube TSA feeding tube TSATSA, travelin with g-tube, tubie airplanes, flying with g-tube, TSA g-tube, large family, large family blog, oceanside pier IMG_9851 blogTSA, travelin with g-tube, tubie airplanes, flying with g-tube, TSA g-tube, large family, large family blog,

We spent a fabulous morning soaking up sun and salt at Oceanside Pier!

Media Articles about our TSA encounter: Yahoo Shine!, TSA News Blog,  Police State USA, TechDirt, Information Liberation



  1. Samantha

    What an ordeal :(. As if traveling with a toddler is not hard enough. One of my biggest frustrations with TSA is that the rules DO differ from place to place. One airport you don’t have to take the carseat out of the bag…another you’re told “you always do.”

  2. Lauren

    I wish you could have seen my face as I read that because I’m not sure how to put it into words.
    Did you get an apology at the very least?
    Hopefully people can become a little more aware of medical issue and be more accommodating to those that don’t fit into the “normal” traveler category

  3. Michele P

    There are no words…slightly humored by your good sense of humor…more appalled that you were treated like a criminal. Good grief! My husband always seems to be the one that gets patted down- the military man. Silly!
    What made them decide finally that you were not out to blow everyone up???

  4. Jessica

    That’s not ok and violates their own rules. IMO you should write the TSA head and alert them to this. If we make a big enough stink, enough people are needlessly tormented and hassled and more about the people that aren’t trained well, maybe we can get rid of the TSA. Because you know how many terrorists they’ve stopped? None. We’ve given up our rights for false security.
    I’m so so sorry you endured that. All over formula that your child needs to exist. And! Those explosive residue tests have a HUGE false positive rate.. especially since hand lotions and SOAP can trigger a positive result.

  5. Beth

    You might see if there is someplace to make a TSA complaint because the rules are very clear that you should not be hassled! They can not make you open the formula even! I have traveled with formula many times for my little ones. They have even told me at some airports that I could take juice through for the kids! Not sure if you use anything like baby powder or diaper rash cream sometimes even lotion but they set off explosives the sensors! Always make sure to wash your hands before packing your carry on. Sorry you had a bad experience! I have had both very easy times and very hard times with TSA.

  6. Maddison

    I’m just going to say I’m sorry that happened to you. I have never been on a plane in my entire life. This is not the only time I hear about how rude TSA can be. The part about Apollo crying and you saying it’s a massage was awful, I’m just truly sorry. Glad it went okay on the way home.

  7. Amber

    Sooo stinking ridiculous! I have to say when I flew with S recently the TSA people were wonderful, but maybe it was less suspicious because she’s still a baby.

  8. Ellen

    Wow – this is just insanity. I would seriously encourage you to contact your Senators and Congresspersons (of course once the Government is back in action …) and report this. The emotional trauma on Apollo alone is inexcusable. So, so, SO wrong!!!

  9. Earl

    Yes that is amazing. Your tax dollars at work. It makes about as much sense as your mother and grandmother almost missing their flight back to Alaska some time ago obviously, because of supposed security issues. We do need to be careful about security in this day and age but what bothers me is that no one is allowed to use plain common sense. We know from past experience that it is not 80 year old grandmothers or women with small children who are blowing up planes. So while everyone needs to be screened why can’t someone use a little common sense and concentrate the efforts where they need to be concentrated? Enough of that rant! Glad you had a good trip otherwise.

  10. Agnes

    Tgis has me very anxious. I’m flying out of Texas in a couple weeks with my tubie, the same age as Apollo. We’ll also need feeds and vents on the plane as well as chilled medications and breathing treatments. I don’t know what to do now!

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Agnes- I sure hope you have a better time than me. I don’t know what to advise you. They wouldn’t look at my letter from a HOSPTIAL last year. I packed everything seperate. I TOLD them about the g-tube and liquids straight up…I CALLED to see what I needed to do…please pop back in and let us know how it went for you.

  11. Sophie

    TSA agents are all different. I traveled internationally 3 times in less than 3 weeks and asked to be pat down (I am not going into that machine). Every time I was treated differently. 1st they often fake they don’t hear you when you ask to opt out of the machine (btw it is not making anyone safer at all). Then they sometimes take their time to find you a female agent. My best experience was on the West Coast, the only time I was offered a private pat down. It was also the only time they treated me like a human being, respectfully. The problem is that TSA has a little bit of power, and that goes into their heads very quickly. Depending on the agents, they’ll enjoy the power trip.

  12. Nicole

    Ridiculous!!!! On so many levels!!! And yet we can’t profile. Where has the common sense gone? I’m glad you made it through.

  13. Kippi

    This post made me want to kick TSA in the shin. So sorry you had to endure that and especially Apollo. I agree with the above – write some letters. I think someone was overstepping their bounds.

  14. RaD

    Before it sounds like I am agreeing with the TSA’s treatment of you and Apollo I want to state that I DON’T. It really does border on the ridiculous. Maybe border is a bad word since it sounds like they crossed the border and took off running!

    Anyway, all that to say that there are crazies out there that would pay a woman and her medically needy toddler huge sums of money to transport illegal substances which is why we have such dumb crazy procedures that the TSA have to follow. It’s a sad, strange world we live in.

    Either that or those people working at the airport had lacked some excitement in there lives and thought you looked like the perfect opportunity to practice their “skills”. :0)

  15. Tonymasons

    When did the US cease being a democracy based on the rights of the people and instead become a police state where everyone is guilty until proven innocent?
    It really is astonishing when a country views its toddlers as a security threat!

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Well said, Tony. Apparently Apollo’s formula (sealed in a can) is a matter of national security.

  16. Sarah

    I am sorry you had such a bad experience.
    When you called TSA, did you call the TSA Cares Hotline ( I have never needed to use it but I know of people who have called them before flights and had good experiences – even having a TSA agent who knows of the situation meet them at the airport before reaching the security checkpoint to help guide them through the process smoothly. I would think by now most TSA agents would have encountered individuals with a wide variety of medical needs and would know how to properly screen those individuals while maintaining dignity but from stories I hear, it doesn’t appear so.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Yes, that is who I called (in October 2012). The man was very polite and helpful. He assured me there would be NO problem carrying Apollo’s formula. He was wrong.

  17. Sarah Faulkner

    What was the explosive residue? I would have been tempted to lift up apollos shirt and show the g ~tube and say, “you can’t fake this!” Good grief.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      A flight attended suggested it may have been from the hand sanitizer I was dousing myself in while Enoch was in the hospital. And I did show the g-tube! When I walked up to the TSA official before being screened, I lifted his shirt and said, “My son has a g-tube and this cooler has formula and medical supplies in it”. What I *really* wanted to say was, “The only thing explosive here is Apollo’s vomiting!”

  18. Mollie

    When I opened up Yahoo today I saw Apollo as one of the main articles. I am so sorry that that happened, I am just am happy that know more people can find out about it and hopefully try and make it better when you travel next time.

  19. Renae Rathjen

    This was ridiculous! Ok so I haven’t traveled in the U.S in a few years but I thought you could bring liquids/ food on if it were for a child? I have a 2yr old and we had some juice or something and we were told as long as it was for him it was ok? Was just because of the can? Even if they were just following some stupid protocol, to not let you touch your crying child is so over the top!

  20. Sheri Watson

    Just opened yahoo and saw Apollo’s sweet face !
    So sorry this happened. I cannot wrap my head around the lack of common sense. Really. I have read articles about security in Israel and with the constant threat looming all of time there they are no where near as invasive and threatening to passengers. They use a lot of common sense and yes, they profile!

  21. Alana

    That’s pretty enraging but I’m also mixed in my feelings, like you. It’s good they’re checking, but they should include some common sense (and common decency) into their days.

    I’ve been patted by TSA when carrying those little applesauce pouches that are so popular. I thought they’d be a great travel snack for the kid, but never again. They say they have to pat because they can’t just open them to see what is inside. Right, because I totally want to blow something up with my kid by my side. Not that I would have the extra hands to put together a bomb while traveling with a one year old.

    Also, my step-mother has been pulled aside for the “explosive residue” nonsense and there are a lot of everyday products that trigger those things. Hers happened to be her lotion, so I don’t put anything like that one before I fly just to avoid being “randomly selected”.

    Those people have too much time on their hands.

  22. Annie

    As the mother of the three-year-old disabled girl, harassed on her way to Disney World (who was referenced in the yahoo article about your incident), I can totally relate. The TSA shouldn’t be touching and intimidating our children – period. Let me know if I can somehow be of service in any endeavor to shed light on this issue. You have my email. 🙂

  23. Annie

    As the mother of the three-year-old disabled girl, harassed on her way to Disney World (who was referenced in the yahoo article about your incident), I can totally relate. The TSA shouldn’t be touching and intimidating our children – period. Let me know if I can somehow be of service in any endeavor to shed light on this issue. You have my email. 🙂

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Annie, thank you SO MUCH for leaving a comment here. I saw your video and it literally brought me to tears because I too, watched my scared three year old cry…and I was unable to even pick him up and comfort him. Things need to change. I am so happy for families who haven’t had these issues, but people need to realize even when you do everything “right” you can still be harassed.

      • Annie

        Precisely! You can do everything right and still get treated like an alleged criminal – the whole guilty until proven innocent thing. I was criticized by some, claiming my child’s emotional trauma was largely due to us not preparing her for what might happen during a security inspection but, how can you possibly prepare a three-year-old for being isolated and treated with suspicion? Children should always question the appropriateness of being touched by a complete stranger. I think it’s deplorable how the TSA has the authority to restrict parents from their child during “inspection”. Essentially, they make your kid a ward of the federal government until they see fit to let you go. It’s unconstitutional and cruel. It was equally traumatic for our 11-year-old who had to see her parents treated like potential terrorists. She was really spooked, watching them stand guard over Lucy and still doesn’t quite understand what happened.
        Oh, and that crap about calling ahead and educating yourself on TSA guidelines, is just a canned response and completely ridiculous considering that the TSA doesn’t even know their own guidelines. They’re completely inconsistent. You can’t play a game where the rules are always changing.

        I’m so sorry you had to go through this. There really needs to be a line drawn in the sand over their access to our children.

  24. Sarah

    I just wanted to say that I’m sorry you had such a poor experience. I’m TPN dependent (IV fed instead of tube fed) and I’ve gone through TSA/security hooked up to my 2 liter TPN bags about 30 times now and never had a problem. I’ve actually had mostly positive experiences with TSA. My point is that I hope you don’t let this incident discourage you from flying with your little one again in the future. If you’re not familiar with the Oley Foundation, I’d suggest taking a look at their page ( They are a foundation dedicated to improving the lives of those on TPN and tube feeding. One their site they have a page for traveling tips when flying with tube feeds or TPN and how to best navigate TSA. Best wishes to you and your family for happy and easy traveling in the future.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Sarah, thank you for your comment. I have been on the Oley site (it is very helpful). Interestingly, when I googled “TSA and g-tube” it led me to several threads on the Oley site about adults having the same issues we had (including a refusal to read a doctor’s note) and even having to pour the formula into their tube before getting on the plane! Clearly, there is no real consistency between airports and agents.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.