Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Making it Through TSA Airport Security With Your Children and Your Sanity!

As I've been packing (okay, trying to  pack) for our Disney mid-winter getaway for the past day or two, I find myself trying to mentally prepare for my least favorite part of any Disney trip.  No, it's not the crowds, the heat, or the price of a Diet Coke, but making my way, with three kids and a hubby through the Transportation Security Administration checkpoint at Midway and Orlando International Airports.  I am in no way trying to complain about the job TSA does. I firmly believe that their purpose is an important one, and that the rules and regulations are there to at least try to keep us a little bit safer in a post 9/11 world.  But no matter what, getting the entire family though, and put back together at the other side gives me palpatations.  There are some things you can do however, to make it smoother and a little bit less horrific.

Sign for the Family Friendly Line
 Some larger airports have special lines specifically for families.  If this is available, I recommend it for several reasons, even if you feel the other lines are shorter.  First of all, the TSA workers in the family line are ready for families. They will be more accomodating and helpful when you are there with strollers, car seats, and crying 3 year olds who don't want to go through the checkpoint.  Also, as you are having trouble getting little junior though the checkpoint, another family behind you who is in the same situation is likely to be more patient than a business frequent flyer who wants to know why you didn't get in the family line.

When you first approach security, you will have to present your boarding passes and photo ID to a TSA agent.  Have these items out and ready to hand over.  Children under the age of 18 are not required to show ID.  After the TSA agent has handed these items back to you, step a few feet forward to make room for the family behind you, and safely place your ID's and boarding passes back in your carry on.

Lets talk about shoes.  Thankfully, children under 12 no longer have to remove their shoes through security. I honestly think this was probably one of the most stressfull parts for me.  Getting the shoes off is bad enough, but getting them back on was a nightmare.  But older kids and adults must still remove their shoes.  You may want to consider wearing something that is quick and easy to get off and on.  A pair of slip on clogs will be much easier than lacing up those high fashion gladiator sandles.  The faster your shoes are back on, the faster you will be able to start putting your baggage and kids back together.
Also consider your attire when traveling. You may want to avoid large belt buckles, jewlery, or hair accessories that might trigger the metal detector.

Put your extra stuff in the bins boys!
 When you are still at home packing for your trip, remember the 3-1-1 rule for liquids.  All liquids are limited to 3oz, placed in a 1 quart size clear plastic bag.  Each passenger may have 1 of these quart size bags.  Pack this at the top of your carry on.  When you get to the security checkpoint, take these bags out and place them into one of the grey bins.

 I think its best to carry on as few liquids as you can, so we try to place as much as is practical into our checked bags.  If you will be utilizing Disney's Magical Express service, remember that you may not receive your checked bags for up to 4 hours after you arrive at your resort, so keep that in mind when deciding what to put in your 3-1-1 bag. I usually have one or two 3oz containers of sunscreen in case we either go swimming or to the parks before we get our luggage. I also pack any medications we may need in the 3-1-1 bag in case the airline loses our luggage.  If you or your child has a prescription liquid medication that is larger than the 3oz rule, do not place it in your 3-1-1 bag, but declare it at the checkpoint. This has happened to us when one of our little mouseketeers got an ear infection just prior to a trip.  If you are a super-planner like me who brings children's benadryl and tylenol in case of a vacation disaster, you should know that both of these childrens medications are now available in meltaway tabs.  This solves the liquid problem!

If you are traveling with a small child, you are allowed to bring small but reasonable quantities of formula, breastmilk, baby food and juice through security.  This must be declared to security, and they may require you to open the item for furthur inspection.

Gray TSA Bin
 Once you are close enough to the actual checkpoint, there will be long tables, and gray plastic bins.  Essentially, just plan on putting everything in a plastic bin. Everything.  Lots of bins.  If your child has a personal bag, stuffed animal, jacket etc... it MUST go in a bin through the scanner. 

When you get to the line to go through the scanners, its a good idea to start getting prepared. Get the kids out of the stroller, and fold the stroller. Babies must be removed from car seats and carriers/slings.  The baby will go with you though the metal detector, but yes, even your baby bjorn must go into a gray bin and though the scanner.  Remove your jackets or sweatshirts.  They will ask you to remove even a zip up sweatshirt.  It is much easier to remove it ahead of time rather than once it is your turn though the metal detector.  If you can put them inside another bag, that would be ideal. Remove anything large and metal that may trigger the metal detector, such as keys or change in your pockets, or large metal jewlery. Get out your 3-1-1 bag of liquid items, or any larger liquids you are bringing for the children.  Laptops not in a special "checkpoint friendly" approved case must be removed from your bag. Large electronics like full size DVD players, full size game consoles and the like must also be removed from your bags.  Small electronics like cell phones, iPads, book readers, and handheld game consoles can remain inside your other bags.  It is possible that it may trigger your bag to be searched further, but it is not required to be removed.  The less your carry on is cluttered with things, the easier it is for the scanner to make an assesment of what is in there, and the less likely that you will be subjected to an additional search.

Once all of your items are declared, and loaded up on the belt to go through the scanner, its your turn to proceed through the metal detector.  There will be a TSA agent on the other side of the scanner, and they will let you know when to proceed.  I have noticed that the order which the agent prefers the family to come through varies.  Some agents will call older children through first, so you can stay with the younger child.  Other agents will call you though first, and then each child one at a time.  Babies and small children will obviously be carried through by you.  We always have one of the parents go through as the very last family member, just in case someone needs a little encouragement to walk through the metal detector. 

Once on the other side, it always seems like a big rush to put everything back together. I like to get my shoes on as soon as I can. Then I start putting the kids back together. Get their jackets back on, backpacks back on, stroller open and someone (anyone at that point) into the stroller, so I can find my own belongings.  Put your 3-1-1 bags back into your carryon, gather any loose items you may have removed such as jewlery or electronics, and off you go! WHEW! MADE IT!

You are now in the so called "sterile area" and have officially survived TSA.  It may be a good time to get any additional juice or snacks for your flight.  If you haven't flown in a while, you may want to know that while major legacy airlines still give a comlimentary beverage, most no longer serve that nice little complimentary bag of peanuts or pretzels.  Southwest Airlines is the only carrier we have flown recently that does give out snacks, and I have heard Delta also offers one. Now that you have gotten through security though, anything you purchase in the "sterile area" can be brought on the plane. 

You can now sit back, relax and enjoy your vacation, knowing you have to do it all again in a few days!

Do you have any special tips or tricks for traveling with little ones?  Leave a comment!

For more official information on traveling through TSA you can visit their webpage on traveling with children here.

1 comment:

  1. Wow you got huge wise tips here. A must-read especially by families and parents who are traveling with the tots. It can really be a big hassle but by knowing the right things to do, everything will be worth.