Dear TSA: I’m a Dad, That Doesn’t Mean I’m a Kidnapper

Sam Cook
4 min readFeb 2, 2023
A father and child standing at the window in an airport.
Photo by Kate Trysh on Unsplash

I recently found myself at the front of an airport TSA Pre-Check line, silently praying that my daughter wasn’t about to break down in tears. It wasn’t how I wanted our holiday trip to Disney World to start.

When you go through airport security with a child, TSA agents typically ask the child a few questions to verify that they’re not being trafficked — simple things like “what is your name?” to verify that it matches the reservation, and “who are you traveling with today?” to make sure they’re with someone they trust. It’s a completely reasonable practice to make sure that kids are safe. But there are a few problems with it:

  1. Many people are suspicious of men, in particular, being child predators. Single dads are, unfortunately, often the subject of scrutiny and distrust.
  2. Lots of kids, like mine, are extremely shy around strangers.
  3. TSA agents, like the one I dealt with, aren’t good at talking to young children.

“What’s your name?” the TSA agent asked, in the stony tone of someone conducting an interrogation. My 8-year-old stared back at her, silent and expressionless.

“She’s shy around strangers,” I explained. Trying to help move things along, I leaned down. “Can you tell her your name?” My daughter quietly said her name.

“What?,” the TSA agent replied, louder than before. My daughter stated her name again.

“Who is this that you’re with?” the agent asked. Silence. “Who is he to you?” Again, my daughter said nothing, and I saw the stress on her face. She’s a really good kid, and isn’t used to getting in trouble, and right I think she felt like she’d done something wrong.

There was nothing friendly or gentle about the way the agent spoke to her, and it was only adding to the stress of talking to a stranger. But the agent doesn’t seem to recognize this at all. In fact, she’s reading my daughter's reactions as more reason to be suspicious. I again tried to explain that my kid gets nervous around people she doesn’t know, but the agent put up her hand to silence me.

After a few more tries, the agent asked “Are you okay?” and my daughter managed a small nod. Slowly and reluctantly, the TSA agent handed back my…

--

--

Sam Cook

Former writer for Tested.com and Geek.com, currently a technology professional, teacher, and father. I write about whatever is on my mind.