At the Airport

Archived Responses: 


Getting separated from children at the airport security check

April 2004

I am going to be traveling alone with my 8yo & 4yo girls from Moscow to San Francisco this summer and am looking for ways to avoid any chance of being separated from my children, as it happened to my friend coming back home from Miami with her 9yo, 7yo & an infant.

When my friend came to the security gate, she let the two older girls go through first, then went through herself holding the baby, and set off the gate. Since she could not think of anything in her clothing that could produce the alarm, she was taken to a room for detailed search. She was NOT allowed to take her older children with her, neither was anyone assigned to watch over the 7yo & 9yo girls in the international airport. The security officers even almost forced my friend to hand her baby to her other children, but then they changed their mind. No matter how much the mother protested this, she was forced to leave children unsupervised, and was not even allowed to say a word to them to explain to them why she was taken away. Nobody provided an explanation of any kind to the the two young children left behind.

Please tell me if there is any law I could refer to if I end up in a similar situation. I am terrified that something could happen to my girls during our travel - trauma, abduction etc. What are my legal rights - will I be sent to Guantanamo Bay as a suspected terrorist actually fighting back if I refuse to abandon my children like this? Terrified mother

That story freaked me out BUT GOOD! I did find this on the Transportation Security Administration website's FAQ:

''You will not be asked to do anything that will separate you from your child or children.'' Great, yet another document to carry with me through Security.

I do think your friend should take this up with the airport and the TSA. That is astonishing and horrific. My God, what if something had happened to the kids??? Sheesh. Jennie

The TSA has advice at

including this tip: ''You may want to consider asking for a private screening if you are traveling with more than one child. ''

And no matter what you do, you can't be sent to Guantanamo...only unlawful enemy combatants are held there. Remember that these rules are there to protect you and your children. anon

I traveled to Paris with my (then) 4 and 5 yr old girls. I had them wear very bright(garish!) and definetly unParisian fluourescent baseball caps whenever we went out in public and especially at the airport. The situation you described happened to my cousin and when she forcefully protested at being taken away from her son to be searched, she was arrested. I would suggest a cell phone for each girl and tell them ahead of time if they are ever seperated from you who to call and how. Have fun! love to travel

I had a different incident at security in the airport and it's when I found out that in addition to the idiot security guards, they do have some actual semi-senior law enforcement personnel who can be of assistance. The guy I dealt with was extremely professional and polite.

So if the situation arises, then demand that you talk to them. You can also always make a big deal and ask someone to call the news programs :) That's a story the airport certainly doesn't want publicized! anon

Will security x-rays harm the food I packed?

March 2003

I am going abroad for several months and would like to take some food stuff with me as my young daughter is allergic/intolerant to lots of foods. In particular I would like to take canned sardines and mackerals and some other food stuff as it is not easy to find these foods where I am going. I wonder how safe it is to consume foods that have gone through the Xray machines at airports? As my trip involves many changes of planes, my luggage will have to go through several lots of Xrays at the different airports. Will be most grateful for your advice/comments. Thanks, Timothy

Airport X-rays (and other x-ray devices like dental x-rays, etc) will not harm food products. You want to minimize the dose any living animal gets becuase eventually an x-ray could cause a DNA break in a dividing cell which could turn into cancer. But that's only for a living person/animal in which cells a busily dividing in the process of life.

Scanner x-rays do not ''activate'' anything, so once the x-ray source is turned off (or your bag comes out of the scanner) there is no more danger at all. No residual x-rays. Foodstuff that went through an x-ray machine might have a few atomic bonds broken, but out of the billions of bonds, it doesn't make any difference. A broken bond in something you eat CANNOT lead to broken bonds some cell of yours, so even if something you ate had a lot of x-rays for some reason, there isn't any additional risk of things like cancer.

I hope that helps allay any fears you might have had, and enjoy your trip! With the airlines cutting food left and right, it's a great idea to bring along something to eat. I always do!


Wrapped gifts on airplanes?

July 2002

We have not flown with our 4-year-old since Sept. 11th, but are about to do so. I have a variety of gifts that I was going to wrap for her to help make the cross-country plane trip interesting each way, pulling them out at a variety of intervals. If I understand correctly, you can't bring wrapped gifts in your carry-on luggage - is that correct? If so, I'm not sure how to handle both security and the element of surprise for my daughter when we're on the airplane. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. We leave in just a few weeks. Thanks! Lori

I would go to Michael's craft store or a discount party store and buy several small paper gift bags or ''grab bags''. Your daughter will instantly recognize them as presents and if security wants to look inside the bag, they won't make you unwrap it. You could cover the tops with colored tissue, but make it easy to remove. Bennett

I included wrapped gifts (for the same reason!) in my carry-on luggage on a total of four different flights last month and was never questioned. They X-Ray everything, so the fact that the gifts are wrapped is not a problem. Elisa

Yes, you may be asked to unwrap the present, if the x-ray machine shows anyting ambiguous. So be prepared to undo the tape, or wrap it in a pretty bag with a tie so that it can be re-wrapped. - sarah s

I took my son on a SFO-Chicago flight this week and had no trouble bringing small wrapped gifts on the plane for him to open and enjoy while we travel. I doubt you'll have any problems, although if you are stopped for a more complete search (we were not) they may ask what is inside. Good luck! Whitney

I recently brought small wrapped toys on a plane ride for my 2-yr-old, on the advice of a friend. I don't know it was a security issue, and no one said anything, but perhaps I just wasn't ''caught.'' However, I didn't really like the result of giving her wrapped gifts throughout the flight. After 2 or 3 of these she got the idea that there was an endless supply of presents in my bag, lost interest in the toys themselves and kept demanding more presents. Kind of ugly. Just giving her unwrapped toys on the return flight went better. The wrapping didn't really seem to make the experience any better -- if anything it just detracted from the toys, in our case. mary

What should I expect at the airport 9/11?

July 2002

On July 25th we're heading to the east coast by plane for a few weeks. We'll fly Oakland to Logan airport in Boston, and return the same way.(my boys are 11, and 7yrs). I/we haven't flown in 2 years. I've never liked flying anyway because I HATE the crowds, lines, waiting, chaos etc. at the airports. I would like to know realistically, how early we should get to the airport for domestic flights. We're flying Alaska Airlines one way, American on return. Does security and times vary per airline? What should we be aware of? Are my kids allowed to bring game boys onto the plane? What kinds of things are we not allowed? I'd heard absurd things like no sharp objects including pencils, keys, forks. Is this real? Also what kind of food should we expect on the planes? Should I bring enough food to feed us for the day? I feel silly being so nervous about all this but I''ve never liked flying to begin with. Any info on what I should expect and how I can be prepared would be very much appreciated. Thanks. June

The airport will be a breeze. Security is tighter since 9/11 but you only need to be at the airport 1 1/2 - 2 hours in advance of your flying time. You will probably wait in a bit of a line to get boarding passes; a little bit longer line to go through security. Be sure to have your ID ready and available for each line - including as you board the plane. That seems to be the biggest change - you show your ID to more folks along the way. You should only need food if you or your children are major snackers. I pack snacks and water for each traveller. Gameboys are permitted. I did have a nail clipper taken from me but you may carry pens, etc. And, if the flights are direct there will probably be a relatively current movie showing. So, relax, the day will be so smooth. Have a great time in Boston - our home before Oakland. Best of Luck. Signed, a frequent traveller with a baby

My son's baby fork was confiscated from our carry-on luggage at security in SFO, which seemed ridiculous since it was so blunt. But then on the plane in first class they used metal silverware (we were not in first class, but knew someone who was)! We did pack all of our nail clippers and tweezers in our checked luggage. Re. electronic devices, you might have to turn them on for security. I believe the security varies from airport to airport on what is not allowed in carry-on luggage. Perhaps you could try to call or look on-line at the airports you'll be flying in and out of. I hear in Oakland it's pretty quick and streamlined getting through security now. Good luck! T. Joe

I have flown several times in the last year, including to Europe and the East Coast with my 11 and 12 year olds, and many short flights alone. In my opinion, things were more chaotic before the tragedy than they are now. Everyone shows up early, gets in neat little lines, and submits. Airlines don't seem to cancel flights willy nilly like they did before, and with less people allowed on the other side of security, it is less crowded a lot of the time. That said, what SPECIFICALLY you will run into is less predictable. Ask your airline how early to get there for a particular airport. Try to get tickets for flights in the middle of the day. For mid-day weekday flights, you hardly have to be early at all in many cases. For example, when flying from Oakland mid day during the week an hour early is probably ok--again, ask the airline. The point is, you need to leave more time than you did before. Electronics: same rules as before. Game boys are fine. Sharp things: security is highly variable! We wanted to do beading on the Europe flight, and the only thing I could think of to take to cut with was a toenail clipper. I figured no way was that sharp. However, the security guy broke off the nail file on it. They also made a deal out of some fancy fountain pen because of the nib. So use your imagination when you think of sharp. This was at SFO in November. I have never experienced such scrutiny since. In London in November, there was a relatively long security line we had to go through when we changed planes. Flying southwest: you can now get your boarding pass 1.5 hours early, and people are at the airport so early with nothing to do that they actually start lining up then! If possible, have a form of ''government issued'' id that you can hang on your neck. You could put your drivers license in your cal ID pouch. I am going to just try my Cal ID because I am worried about losing my drivers license when I have to whip it out several times. Which reminds me you can get selected for a random search and they will go through your bags. In general, the less baggage the better overall. Wear slip on shoes, sometimes they put them through the big machine. You should have some form of ID for the kids if possible--again, check with the airline. But in fact, things seem more orderly to me than they were before. Lynn

We traveled on Southwest out of Oakland last month. Called beforehand to find out how early we needed to get to the airport, and was told one hour, which, with the long line at security, turned out to be too close for comfort. Add the fact that (unbeknownst to us) my 7 year old packed scissors in her knapsack, and we almost missed the plane. (At security, the inspector spotted the scissors via xray , but held onto the knapsack without saying anything. None of us realized she no longer had her knapsack until we were almost at the gate, and had to go back, and get it hand checked.) So, my recommendation (especially if you're nervous to begin with) is to give yourself more than an hour, and make sure nobody's got any sharp objects, and be aware of exactly which bags everybody's got. Judy

My husband recently flew to Michigan with our 6 month daughter. We flew out of San Francisco Airport. The airline suggested that we get to the airport 90 minutes prior to the flight. We had plenty of time. The security really checks over and through everything. My husband was carrying our daughter in the Baby Bjorn carrier and he had to take it off and they search her and the carrier thoroughly. Kind of a pain but well worth it for our safety. Do not take anything in a carry on that can be contrued as a weapon and you will be fine. I put everything that was sharp, even nail clippers in our check in luggage. I hope this helps. Good luck and enjoy your trip. Amy

I recently flew out of Oakland and here's what I found. Long lines inside for checking-in/tickets. Short, to almost nonexistant lines to use curbside check-in. At 6am, a very, very, very long line to get past security. However, it moved fast, and most importantly, every fifteen minutes an airport employee went through the line pulling out people whose flight was due to leave in the next half hour to 45 min. No one missed a flight. Had I known that, I would not have bothered to get to the airport that early. On the way back I flew out of JFK and everything there ran smoothly and efficiently, no lines. Helene

I've flown five times since 9/11 including 2 trips to the East Coast and one overseas. The good news is that the airlines and airport security have started to get things figured out and it is not as chaotic checking in now as it was last fall and winter. Back then, we had a 1-hour wait to go through the security check at Newark, time to feed the baby a jar of food, a bottle, and change his diaper, all the while shuffling forward bit by bit. It's much better now. Alaska Airlines is great - on a trip to Portland last November they had a computerized check-in which made it go really fast - you just enter your credit card and the machine does the rest.

The bad news is that the airlines seem to have cancelled all the flights that don't run full in order to save money. There are fewer flights and they are crammed full. Every flight I've taken has had no empty seats that I could see, including midweek flights at odd times. So ... if you can upgrade to business on a long flight, now's the time. And don't expect to find a free empty seat for the baby! Carry as little on with you as you can possibly get by with - a lot of airlines now are really holding firm to the one bag limit and will gate check any extra baggage. We had no trouble with the stroller (gate checked) and carseat (carrying it on) though, and since the baby had a seat, he got to carry on his diaper bag and gear.

The food is very pitiful nowadays. You will get food for a 4+ hour flight but lower your expectations and take some snacks and maybe a bottle of water.

Security ... Our family has lost a couple of Leathermans and a number of fingernail clippers at the security checkpoint due to teen forgetfulness. We could have predicted those, but the unpredictable is what makes it exciting. Ths last trip one of the teens brought along a CD player and an 8-pack of extra batteries in his carry-on backback. The batteries caused an enormous brouhaha. First of all, traveling with a teen boy who is dressed all in black with his face hidden in a black hooded sweatshirt attracts unwanted attention from the security staff. We quickly learned to stick close to him so as to decrease the liklihood of random bag searches. (Young men traveling alone are searched way more than families.) When his black backpack paused for a very long time in the xray tunnel, and there was a huddle of security people at the console looking at it, I stepped up to claim it. When it finally came out, they did not open it. First they had me take off my shoes so they could check them. Then they took the backpack to a table, scanned it, and then began prodding it with a long wooden stick, cautiously unzipping each zipper and holding it open for me, asking What is that? (a cd player) and what about that? (a book) and this? and that? It was the battery pack that caused all the trouble. We packed them in the checked baggage for the trip back. By the way, we had no trouble with anything we checked, including a 4-foot-long iron sword the teen bought in Scotland, which he clumsily packed in two boxes taped together with a lot of duct tape wrapped around. What's in there? A sword OK - take it over to oversized baggage.

In terms of allowing time to check in, we allow 1.5 hours for Berkeley to Oakland for domestic flights and end up with lots of sitting-around time. However, you never can tell when there is going to be a problem, so always allow plenty of time. Also: Call ahead the day of or check online to see if your flight is delayed or early. We had one flight unexpectedly change its departure time to 30 minutes earlier than when we bought the tickets, so check. My college-aged son got overconfident about the short checkins and a few months ago got to the OAkland airport only 45 minutes early and missed his flight -- a great inconvenience nowadays when there are fewer scheduled flights and they are all so full. It was the end of Spring Break and he couldn't get another flight till 2 days later, so be forewarned.

And now, the grand finale: last month, we drove to SFO during rush hour for a flight to London with baby, grandma, and teenage son. We were horrified to discover on unloading the car that we had forgotten the passports! Luckily we'd allowed 2.5 hours from Berkeley to SFO, and luckily it was a less popular evening flight, and luckily there were no backups on the bridge, so my husband was able to drive over and back, and we did actually make the flight with a few minutes to spare! It was a suspenseful start to a fun trip that was jinxed by multiple transportation snafus, train, plane, and bus, having nothing to do with 9/11, but that is another story! Relax and have fun on your trip. Ginger

Your airline can tell you how much time in advance each airport is recommending these days. It is typically 1.5 to 2 hours. For such a long trip, I hope you are taking a taxi to the airport or getting driven. Then you can be dropped off with the skycaps and just check your bags that way. As long as you are not flying on a holiday, my experience since 9/11 suggests you won't have a long wait with the skycaps or security (especially since I think you are flying on a non-Monday weekday). With regard to security, they are indeed asking for no sharp objects, but for regular folks that mainly includes things like pocket knives and metal nail files. If they find you have these, they will take them away and they will be gone for good. Keys are fine. Pens are fine, I imagine pencils probably are too. Of course, as always, take any pepper spray/mace you may have buried in your purse out for sure. I have heard plastic knives are also a no no, and that they don't even have these at the airport, but I'm pretty sure I saw plastic knives at an airport restaurant recently. Expect, however, to possibly be randomly searched, both your body (scanned with a wand) and your carry-on bags (physically opened and pawed). Prepare your boys for this too, if only in case you or your husband are scanned. I was recently pulled aside for scanning, and only afterward did I find out my 5-year-old thought someone was holding a gun to me (tip to anyone with young children traveling).

Except for cross country trips, the airlines are no longer providing meals to coach passengers. But, to Logan seems to me to be cross country so you should check with your airlines. A reservation agent can tell you the meal plans for your trip. At the very least, there will be a pretty substantial snack, I would think, given the airlines you are flying. You might still want to take some travel food with you. Or, given the extra time you will have at the airport, you can buy food there. All the food vendors are now set up to sell packaged meals, like sandwiches and salads. The pizza's not so bad at Oakland airport either. Your boys can take their game boys on board. Just the regular prohibition against having them on at the beginning and end of the flight. It's great you have direct flights. This time of year midwestern/eastern weather delays can wreak havoc on connections. Happy Travels. Amy

I've flown a number of times since 9/11. I'd suggest the following answers to your questions:

Get to the airport between 90 minutes and 2 hours before your flight. 90 minutes works for early in the day flights; things tend to get more crowded as the day wears on. All airlines have completely standardized security at this point. Most of the time is spent getting through the security checkpoint; this is where the line is the longest. Also, they randomly select people for searching via the computer (both carryon and with a hand-held metal detector); if you get singled out, it is most likely because of a code on your boarding pass, and not something about you personally.

Curbside checkin is allowed; the lines are usually a little shorter there than at the airline, but there still usually is a line.

Pencils, pens, keys and other necessary objects are fine. However, I would not take any beauty-related items such as razors, clippers, and so on, in my carryon. And definitely nothing resembing any sort of knife. It's easiest to check one bag at least, and put anything in doubt in that bag.

I think gameboys are OK security-wise, but they will have to be turned off at least for takeoff and landing, because they can interfere with the plane's systems.

Airline food varies tremendously, as it always has. I wouldn't count on a great meal, and would probably have everyone have some snacks in their carryon. You can often get better food ordering a special meal (lowfat, vegetarian, etc.) in advance. More importantly, take a large water bottle each.

All in all, it won't be that much worse than it ever was. The big difference is the line at the security gate, and the random selection of individuals to search. Karen

Greetings, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, and people who have flown more recently in or out of Logan can correct me on this, but when I went to Boston in November of last year, the airport was chronically overcrowded and chaotic as a result of increased security measures. I went more than two hours in advance of my flight and waited in long lines both at the check-in counter and the security checkpoint. And even then I barely made my flight, having to be ushered ahead by an airline official when the boarding time arrived and I was still pretty far back in the security line. This was with American Airlines, although I couldn't see much difference between carriers from where I stood. As I said, things may have improved, but I would try to check about that. People with kids seemed to be coping by having one person stand in line and the other sit or walk around with the kids.

The kids can have their game-boys; they just can't use them during take-off or landing, as I understand it. Caution about sharp objects has increased, though policies for checking for them (and confiscating them) seem to vary widely from airport to airport. Keys and pencils should prove no problem -- stainless cutlery might.

Most airlines have eliminated meals on all but the longest of domestic flights -- I've found that I either have to bring a meal or eat (ulp) at the airports, where selection sometimes is limited to the most standard fast foods. I would bring healthy snacks and water (sometimes flight changes leave little time for eating during layovers).

Having said all of this, I want to say that I have traveled quite a bit since 9/11 and have experienced no serious delays or incidents. In fact, planes and airports are often less crowded and flights have even arrived ahead of schedule! So it's not an entirely black picture. Have a good trip! Linda

You got a lot of advice about airport travel, but I'll add a few more notes. I have traveled out of Oakland and SFO in the past months, and waits at both airports were variable, for no apparent reason. However, the lines were generally longer at Oakland, so I recommend giving yourself plenty of time there.

My friend gave me an antique iron star as a gift on one trip. I didn't want to check baggage, and a security agents insisted that it was a ''tae kwon do weapon'' and confiscated it. Otherwise, no problems, EXCEPT I strongly recommend that you avoid wearing an underwire bra for air travel these days. These can set off metal detectors, especially those wands. I have twice had to stand in the middle of large crowds while security workers palpated my breasts searching for contraband. It's a strange age we live in. Elizabeth

I want to thank the many people who wrote to me with their airport and flying experiences. Mostly everyone's stories were pretty much the same which really helped me plan for food/toys/expectations at airport etc. We're off tomorrow morning, intending to arrive at the airport an hour and a half to two hours early (depending on airport shuttle van). Thanks again to all, June

CPAP device and airport security

May 2002

I was wondering if anyone out there has recent experience going through airport security with a CPAP machine and can tell me what to expect? We are flying to Europe in a few weeks for the first time since 9/11, and we must bring my husband's CPAP (Continuous Positive Air Pressure) device for his sleep apnea. For those who haven't seen one, it's a 6-7 pound black metal box about the size of a shoebox with a fan(?) inside that pushes air through a hose to a mask worn by the sleeper, and it could appear ominous to the uninformed. My husband must carry this on board as he can't risk losing or damaging it, but is resisting going back to his doctor for a prescription or letter of explanation to carry with him just in case. In the past, we always sailed right through security with this device, but now...? Am I right to be concerned that we may be in for a hassle unless we have some documentation or is this a non- issue? Thanks in advance for any advice. anonymous

Hi, Your best bet is to call the airline and see what their guidelines are. Recently my daughter went on a trip and we contacted the airline ahead of time since she is an insulin dependant diabetic and would be bringing syringes onboard the plane. We just had to bring her prescription and insulin with the syringes and it was no problem at all. steve

My dad uses a CPAP and has visited us several times from the LA area. He's been able to get through airport security quite uneventfully, though they do check his bag to see what this thing is. L.

Call his doctor and ask him to fax or mail you a short note (it can be on a prescription blank) stating that your husband has sleep apnea and will be carrying a cpap machine. Any questions and he can pull out the note. kj

It really would be easier to just call your husband's doctor and get a note. You don't have to go in for that. They can take the message over the phone, write one up and then all you have to do is pick it up. However, if the reluctance continues, just call the airport before you go and ask them. If they know ahead of time what you're bringing, there should be less of a problem once you get there. Be sure to get the names of the people you talk to so you can refer to them should a hassle occur. You can probably meet up with them there and they can give you whatever pass you need to get it through. Most medical items usually don't have problems, but I understand your concerns in light of the increased security. anon

My sister has flown with her sleep apnea equipment since 9/11 - She says ''The airport personnel recognize CPAP machines and didn't give me any trouble. The worst that would happen is they make you take it out and plug it in. A little hassle, but not a big deal.'' mary in oakland