Heading off on a vacation is exciting, but the requisite preparations for a trip that includes flying can leave a parent feeling frazzled. Once you’ve jumped through all the hoops needed just to make it to the airport, the last thing you need is to get hung up at airport security. While we can’t promise you won’t suffer through any airport lineups, we’ve got seven great tips to help make your own family’s trip through security a smooth one… so you can take off feeling excited rather than exasperated!
1. Leave the Liquids Out of It
Liquids and gels are strictly controlled for flying. Make sure any water bottles you bring are empty (you can fill them up at a water fountain on the other side) and that any liquid/gel/aerosol/cream/paste toiletries are in containers of 100 ml or less. And no, they won’t let you get away with a ‘nearly empty’ 300 ml bottle! Before leaving home, get these items together in a quart-sized (or smaller) ziplock-style bag (make sure it’s not so stuffed that it won’t zip closed). Keep your bag(s) (up to 1 per passenger) in an easy to reach spot in your hand luggage; you’ll need to take it out and place in a luggage tray for the x-ray. Don’t need it on the flight? Lighten your load, both physical and mental, by packing toiletries in your checked luggage.
If you’re traveling with an infant who needs formula, expressed breast milk or baby food, don’t fret; these infant items are exceptions to the liquids rule. I would, however, recommend that you keep them all together in one spot (perhaps a mini soft sided cooler or lunch box?) in case you’re asked to let the security agent visually inspect them.
2. Skip the Bling to Avoid the Beeping
You know the old adage ‘dress for success’? That counts in the airport security lineup too! Wear shoes that you can slip on and off easily (and socks if you don’t like the idea of bare feet on a dirty airport floor), avoid large metal jewelry and belt buckles that might set off the metal detector and take all that loose change and your car keys out of your pockets before you get to security; put them into your hand luggage to avoid the risk of loss. Remove jackets and heavy sweaters/hoodies before you make it to the head of the line so you can put them into luggage trays. Kids who are 12 years and younger generally don’t need to remove their shoes, though they might be asked to if they’re wearing big boots or heavy looking high tops.
3. Keep Things Rolling – Stroller Etiquette
Strollers are wonderful for keeping infants, toddlers and assorted baggage together and moving smoothly in the airport. You can generally gate-check your stroller, which means leaving it right at the door of the plane; you’ll get it back right when you disembark (just be sure to get a gate check tag when you check in). But security personnel vastly prefer sending your stroller through the x-ray over hand inspecting, so be sure you can easily remove any baggage from the stroller and that you know how to quickly fold it up so you can put it on the conveyor belt. Remove any random fishy crackers and Cheerios from the stroller tray – you don’t want litter the security station with crumbs and other mess!
4. Don’t Stash That Boarding Pass
You’ll need to show your boarding document on your way into security and also at the scanner station so don’t stash it in the bottom of your bag or in a zipped compartment of your wallet!
5. Turn Off the Shows and Be Ready to Show Your Electronics
Electronics are a godsend for traveling parents, but be aware that laptops and tablets with attached keyboards will need to be removed from your carry on and placed separately in a tray; keep them handy so you don’t have to scrounge through your hand luggage to find them! These rules may also apply to lithium batteries, such as those in some digital cameras. Ask your security agent if in doubt and keep any items with lithium batteries in an easy to access spot.
For a list of items that must be treated specially (such as carried in hand baggage only) or that are forbidden from flying altogether, check out the TSA’s ‘What Can I Bring?’ list.
6. Let Kids Know What to Expect
Especially with young kids or kids who aren’t accustomed to the airport drill, it’s well worth reminding them of how the security procedure works. Have a quick chat the day before your trip and again on the way to the airport so no-one is caught off guard; airports are busy places and it’s easy for young kids to feel intimidated… which can [understandably] lead to them acting out!
Kids should know that they’ll need to take off their jackets/zippered sweaters and you probably shouldn’t leave any electronics in their hot little hands while you line up for security. Although it may be tempting to use a device to make the wait easier and less fidgety, nobody needs to to witness a meltdown as you try to pry that iPad out of your toddler’s hands at the scanner station. Also, let kids (walking age and older) know that they’ll need to walk through the metal detector on their own. Reassure them that the security personnel are safe and helpful strangers and that you’ll be following right behind them. Or, when possible (and especially if you have nervous youngster), have one parent go first and the other follow behind. Remind kids that there may be a line up while you wait to go through security and that patience and good manners are expected. For really little ones, there’s no harm in promising a little treat on the other side, if they meet the behaviour goals you set for them.
7. Keep Calm and Shuffle On
Waiting in queues is an unavoidable part of airport travel. When possible, check in online and print out your boarding passes or have them on your (fully charged) smart phone or tablet. Get to the airport with lots of spare time to allow for unexpected parking troubles and long line ups at the luggage check-in or security counters. Allow extra time if you’ll need to clear U.S. Customs before your flight. Make sure no one’s going to need the bathroom when you’re halfway through a long line. Keep your hand luggage organized and avoid having too many pieces to juggle. Don’t try to bring on hand baggage that exceeds your airline’s size and weight limits; they’ll most likely make you go back and check it. Most of all, stay calm, exercise patience, breathe deeply and keep your sense of humour. If things get trying, a good attitude goes a long way toward making things work and sets a great example for your younger travelers.
Finally… never take your frustrations out on an airport security personnel; kicking up a fuss won’t make your experience any smoother!
Got any other great tips for getting a family through the airport in one piece, sanity intact? We’d love to hear them in the comments!