Monday, December 26, 2011

Preparing Yourself (and your kids) for Airport Security

At this time of year, I can’t help but think back to Boxing Day 2009, the day after the botched attack on a Northwest Airlines flight where a passenger on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit concealed plastic explosives in his underwear.  Thankfully the explosives failed to detonate properly and the culprit was tackled and arrested on landing.  As a result of the attempt, airport security measures at many airports went into overdrive and we were booked on an early morning flight to Florida.  Departing Toronto, each passenger (including our 6 month old son) was subject to a secondary search by the RCMP.  Even in the early morning hours, we endured a 2 hour wait to get through security but we came prepared and thankfully our son was a good sport and too young to question or remember being frisked by a Mountie.

Thankfully this measure lasted only a few weeks, but there’s no doubt that going through security is a maze of constantly evolving rules and practices.  The individual traveler will be challenged to change these practices, but there are ways parents can make it easier on themselves and their children, regardless of the rules of the moment:

Be Prepared

As a first time parent, the thing I found more stressful than sleepless nights and midnight feedings during the first year, was trying to figure out how to use all the gear.  So, prior to flying with my son for the first time (and on my own), I practiced going through security in my living room.  Keeping mind I was traveling with an infant in a car seat clipped to a stroller frame, plus a backpack, but only two hands, I practiced time and time again folding the stroller while holding my son and getting everything (including shoes and a small Ziploc with liquids) onto the x-ray belt with only one available hand.  Boy, am I glad I did as it made getting through security a breeze.  Dry runs also help me to realize when I’ve packed too many things to bring on board, and either leave a few more things at home or pack items in our checked bags.  Our son is now 2 ½ and we’ve been through security screening over two dozen times, but I still do dry runs, even if it is only in my head.

Remember the 3-1-1 Rule

All liquids, gels and aerosols must be in 3.4 ounce (100 ml) or smaller containers. Larger containers that are partly-full are not allowed. That means don't bring along a 6 oz tube of diaper cream, even with only a smidgen left.  All liquids, gels and aerosols must be placed in a single, quart-size, zip-top, clear plastic bag. Gallon size bags or bags that are not zip-top such as fold-over sandwich bags are not allowed. Each traveler can use only one, quart-size, zip-top, clear plastic bag.  Each traveler must remove their quart-sized plastic, zip-top bag from their carry-on and place it in a bin or on the conveyor belt for X-ray screening.

Plan What You Are Going to Wear

Kids under 12 no longer have to remove their shoes going through security but you will probably have to.  Save yourself time by wearing shoes that are easy to slip on and off.  Tuck watches, pocket change, hats, necklaces and belts into your carry-on before getting to security or pack them in your checked bag to wear another day.  I’ve found it most convenient to carry my wallet, passports, camera and wipes in a waist pack.  It keeps my important items easily accessible, my hands free, and I just shove it into my backpack before putting it on the x-ray belt so it is one less thing to claim on the other side.  Security screeners will often ask you and/or your children to remove a zip-up sweater they perceive to be a ‘jacket’ so it can be helpful to wear zipper-free sweaters or sweatshirts instead.

Prepare Your Child

Children must be taken out of strollers and other carriers prior to going through security screening.  If your child is old enough, it is always helpful to explain in advance what to expect.  It is usually less distressing for kids to have their prized blanket or toy placed in Mom’s carry-on just before going through the x-ray machine, than having it go through by itself.  And, going through in a carry-on will keep it cleaner.  Dr. Pat McGrath of Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children offers helpful advice for preparing children to go through security.

You CAN:

Ask for help.  A security screener cannot hold your child while you put your shoes back on, but they can usually help you get your belongings on and off the x-ray belt if you are traveling with a child on your own and need a hand.

Ask your screener to put on clean gloves.  When my son was an infant, my carry-on was full of teethers and other things that would probably end up in his mouth.  On the occasion a security screener wants to do a hand search of my bag, I always ask them to put on a new set of gloves.  That way, I knew the same gloves that were handling a pair of shoes the moment before would not be the same ones inspecting my son’s belongings.

Remain with your child at all times.  You will never be asked to be separated from your child.

Follow these tips and give yourself plenty of time, and your trip through airport security will be greatly improved.  Happy flying!


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