Without having my little people with me, I still whole heartedly believe going through security is the absolute worst part of flying. There are the long lines; the make it or break it rules; the unpacking of laptops, liquids, and dignity; the shoe removal; the anxiety of a hundred eyes evaluating; the atmosphere of annoyance. It’s toxic and spreads like an epidemic. Travelers are annoyed at the TSA, the TSA at travelers. Families are annoyed at business travelers who stand a little too close and tap a foot a little too loud while glaring at their watches. Business travelers are annoyed at families who are sifting through bags and searching for liquids a little too long while desperately holding onto the sleeve of a little person who’s a little too noisy. This single act of going through security has been the face that launched a thousand, well, frustrations.
In this environment, amongst all this chaos, the last thing that I want when traveling with my littles is to be on the receiving end of these frustrations or find these feelings lurking within myself (I’m sure my family doesn’t want these feelings festering inside of me either…it’s just can’t end well). So, what do we do to keep security as smooth as possible when dealing with three little people under five?
- Keep Calm: Let me give a brief glimpse of my normal weekday morning. Even if my daughter has 20 minutes before her bus comes for Kindergarten, if I mention that we need to hurry and get ready, she will panic. She is a ball of five-year-old nerves. And once she’s in that place, she never recovers until she is safely on that bus. That being said, if I were to act frantic while in line for security or actually going through security, she too would become frantic. Then the two year old would become frantic. And the 11 month old would probably think, why not, and join right in. Let me be clear. The last thing I want to deal with at any moment in life is three emotionally amped up little people. Ever. Even in my own home. So, in my little slice of security heaven, I try to remain calm. Not only do I operate more efficiently, so do my littles. Together we are focused and get the required steps of security done without having to jump the line to chase a rogue two year old. Regardless of how together or not we seem, it also always helps me to remember that travel is a teacher for my children, and no matter how frustrated those around me seem at my littles’ exuberant expressions of delight at travel, there is nothing to feel bad about. I don’t feel like I need to start the trip by apologizing to those people who believe children have no place on a plane, especially their plane.
- Pack Strategically: We get mere minutes to unpack all that TSA requires we unpack. Having kids makes no difference. Once the unpacking process is started, I like to be done with it. It is the equivalent of bedtime. Once it’s started, there’s no stopping it until it is gloriously over. Who wants to be searching through bags for liquids while trying to remember where the iPads were shoved? Even when flying with my husband, I am the sole person in charge of packing for my three kids (I have trust issues, apparently…maybe others would say control issues, but…I think trust just sounds nicer, don’t you?). This means that I bring with me all that the little people need for the plane (minus their backpacks of lovies). I use a lightweight Tumi two-wheel roller bag that’s approximately 1.5 ft x 3 ft (pictured). When I zip the bag, I have the zippers meet at the top of the bag, so I only need to slightly open the top to reach in and grab the snack bag (which always has apple sauce and baby food and sometimes a bottle of milk…you know, the stuff the TSA loves to deal with) and the bag of medicines/liquids. In the small front pouch of this bag, I slide two iPads so I can easily get them out when in line. Before I even put the bag on that belt, it is emptied of all those things that I have to put on display. And on my person I have my own bag, which only has my computer to pull out. Easy peasy. No opening bags and shifting extra toys or clothes around. No one can judge me by the mindless things I bring with me to read. (Kidding. I’m a mom. I don’t get to read anything with more than four sentences per page.)
- Bring a Stroller: To bring a stroller or not bring a stroller–that really is the question, isn’t it? Back in the day (those beautifully quiet days) of just one little person, I rarely used a stroller unless there was a lengthy layover. Usually, I just carried my tiniest of person in a carrier. TSA allows you to wear your children through the detector with just the added inconvenience of a hand swab (which given the fact that my bags are inevitably pulled so TSA can see that the baby food is, in fact, baby food, this doesn’t add any extra time and it doesn’t disturb the tiny person). Times have changed. I don’t just have one little person anymore. I value my stroller now. I use it as a means of keeping my children in line. Literally. As I mentioned, I have no desire to chase my children through legs and around other people’s luggage, nor do I want to have to drag them forward or hear them mentioning their exhaustion. So, we use a stroller. It also provides them somewhere to remain while I empty the roller bag of the necessary contents. Even if it only takes a second, that’s enough time for those tiny legs to scramble away. Not all strollers are ideal for this though. We make sure that if we are bringing a stroller to gate check (either single or double) it can easily and quickly be folded and unfolded since it too will need to go on the belt. The alternative to this is we bring one that is waaaaaaaay too big to go on the belt and needs to be hand checked by TSA (I’m talking about the kind of stroller strangers can’t help but comment on the size of as you happily push on by). This is, of course, more time consuming, but it also means we don’t have to fold and unfold. We take into consideration our connections too. There seems to be some unwritten rule that if you have a tight connection, gate checked items will take extra long to get unloaded, so we generally try to avoid bringing them if we know we will need those extra minutes to get us to our next plane (skycap anyone?).
- Know Your Rights: When my now five-year-old daughter was 14 months we were returning from a trip to Italy via Heathrow. As we went through security there, a female agent told me to hand me her daughter so she could give her a pat down to ensure that there was nothing hidden on her. Luckily, since I had been flying so frequently with my daughter from the age of five weeks, I knew that there was no reason that I needed to hand my daughter over to a complete stranger. While I was met with resistance initially, after involving other agents, the original agent finally understood that my tiny was sticking with me. In. My. Arms. I can’t stress enough how important it is to understand your rights as someone flying with an infant or toddler. This doesn’t mean being hostile, but it does mean being an advocate for your child. For instance, I will not let any TSA agent open up my infant’s bottles of milk, frozen or otherwise. This doesn’t mean that I won’t let them test the air coming from them. It means I request to be the sole person who opens and closes it and that it is tested in my sight. I have also been given grief about the amount of baby food I have brought onto the plane (I tend to pack enough to cover an overnight in case we miss a connection). Again, simply explaining my rights and asking the TSA agents to check with their higher ups has proved effective. It’s much easier for me to remain calm because I know my rights. Knowing what I can and can’t do helps ease some of that travel anxiety. And in my house, when my anxiety is high, it permeates into my children and then…seriously. I can’t even.
- Think about Your Clothes: It seems silly to say. But it can matter when there are so many other things going on. TSA will ask that all outer layers come off. So, don’t wear an old ratty, ill-fitting nursing top under a big bulky sweatshirt (totally not speaking from experience…nope). The same for little people. I just put my kids in comfy clothes and pack away their jackets well before we get to security, so there’s no added effort of taking them on and off. And if I’m baby wearing, I don’t wear a sweater over my carrier. I can only imagine what kind of shenanigans my littles could manage to get themselves into in the few seconds it would take to remove a sweater from over the carrier (of course the sweater would get caught on some type of velcro or hook and my arms would be as useful as a T Rex’s given the shoulder straps and the big ol’ baby strapped in front…so maybe it’s not my fault they could unpack an entire suitcase and throw its contents on the floor while I remove said sweater…). And shoes. I love shoes. All shoes. But I digress. Slip on shoes are important. Whether there’s a baby strapped to me or not, it just makes life easier when I’m trying to usher everyone through the metal detector. At the end of the beltway, I don’t have to worry about things piling up because I have to tie or zip my shoes. I can just grab my items (the ones the TSA hasn’t taken to check anyway) and get them packed. The littles get to keep their shoes on (and yet mine seem to always take theirs off anyway…everywhere), so they can go for comfort and style.
It’s just the way it is. Airport security is a drag. There’s no way around it. It is surrounded in anxiety and annoyance, a hotbed of frustration. But with a bit of planning and a decent amount of confidence, it doesn’t mean your trip has to begin with those frustrations too.