Sunday, March 11, 2012

Q is for Queuing: Airport Security, Preparations, Social Stories, Meltingdown in Front of the Vice President's Wife

Nothing strikes fear in a parent’s heart as the thought of taking your child through airport security. It’s not enough that we need to deal with the nasty stranger looks when our children have meltdowns, outbursts and stimming behavior during a public outing. But the idea that there would be needless issues at airport security and how the strangeness, unfamiliarity and the misunderstandings between security and your child’s needs might cause the intervention of an all new level of bureaucratic nightmare, leaves many of us awake at night or not even bothering to try to go on vacation. Well a vacation that doesn’t involve car trips at least.

Honestly we have not been on an airplane in years. Actually hubby has been quite often because at times he has to travel for work. But we had not been on an airplane as a family for years, and years and years.

When the boys were little we had taken vacations and the boys always seemed to like the adventure. I know many people were afraid to travel after 9/11 but interestingly enough the added security gave us a huge level of comfort. In fact if security didn’t stop us the boys were not happy.

I know that many people complain that there are searches, and that they have to go through the screening process. I have to tell you that screenings are really nothing new. I am not truly certain what the hubbub is all about. Fine you don't like the x-rays and the searches. Well what I don't like is that they x-ray me now as a 51 year old mother of two. If someone wants to see me naked then its their eyes that are going to need corrective surgery (heck I don't even like to see me naked now) and as for the searches, as my husband says, if it stops another 9/11 they can "touch my junk all they want." (Remember we lived through that day on a very personal level that most people in the country never faced. Trust me, as bad as the pictures were, it was nothing close to being there or knowing your loved ones were in the middle of that horror.)

Yes, there have been issues and some overstepping of decorum on the part of some security personnel. But in truth with the millions of people that travel daily the incidents are minuscule. OK, yes unless it was happening to you-fine. Buck up and deal with the reality of the world in which we live.

Truth be told, whenever we had traveled with the boys, especially right after 9/11, we seemed to be continually picked out of the line for searches. I have no idea if it had to do with the amount of baggage we carried, or whether the just had that “look” of troublemakers. But we consistently were asked to empty everything out of our bags and they wanded each item individually.

One time we were pulled out of line, with the security notation on the boys’ boarding passes that they were to be searched, aka patted down. The young women doing the search seemed a little uneasy about the entire procedure. Either they had never patted down a child or they had been yelled at quite often by some irate parents. But we are also talking over ten years ago and the world was a different place. They mentioned it to us and we told them OK. Simply shrugged our shoulders and said go ahead. (For anyone who thinks that searching children and the elderly is ridiculous, remember that terrorists use children, pregnant women and the elderly as bomb-part mules and homicide bombers.)

Listen its not as if they take the kid away. They stay right there in the security line.  The young women asked the boys to hold out their arms. They wanded them and patted down their backs. The boys thought it was terrific. They had the best time.

In fact when we were on the return leg of this trip, noone searched the boys or their bags. They were truly not happy. In fact they went right over to the security table and asked why they didn’t get searched. The ladies did think it was cute and then had them open their backpacks. The boys now felt safe and sound on the ride home.

I think parents forget that children are quite well aware of the world we live in. They see and hear everything. As far as the boys were concerned this precaution just made sure that their plane would not be turned into a bomb. It gave them a sense of peace.

Meanwhile, since we had not been on an airplane in quite some time, we prepared a lesson for the boys and even had thought to have them practice going through security. Hubby sat everyone down and told us how to organize our backpacks and our belongings. He even went on the TSA website to make sure that we packed the boys’ meds properly. Everything, and I mean everything, has to be in the original prescription bottle, whether it is a controlled substance or not.

Could you imagine if we got searched and they found the weekly pill cases? Under law they would be not only obligated to confiscate all the meds, but we could be arrested as well. FYI, especially with controlled substances, you cannot just carry them in a pill case at anytime. They must always be in a container with the prescription label attached. That is why when CM1 has to take a pill during the day at school, he carries the one pill in a prescription bottle. The druggist who prepares the script for you should provide you with an empty labeled bottle.

Also organize your electronics so they are easy to remove from the bag. They must be scanned separately. Every electronic item: phone, laptop, handheld game, iPads, tablet. Wear easily removable shoes. You have to take them off. Your coats are scanned. Your handbags are scanned. Silver medical alert necklaces or bracelets may need to be removed, as might a belt if it has a large buckle. And of course the usual suspects, keys, must be put on the conveyor belt.

We actually had all these items in a large plastic bag so it was easy for the scanner to read them. We had the boys carry it in their backpacks and take the bag out when we got to the security line. The boys did not want to wear their sandals but their sneakers. Now that was fun, getting CM1 to take his shoes off. He ties them so tight he needs a crowbar to help him unite the laces every night. CM2 doesn’t bother with that. In the way of teenage boys he leave his laces loose so he can slip his kicks off and on with out too much trouble. Luckily there is a bench nearby that you can use to redress yourself once you are through security.

One more very important note: CM1 is afraid to fly. Not for any other reason than he watches Air Emergency on television and he is terrified of plane crashes. He downloaded every bit of information that he could on how to survive an airplane crash and had copies of it in his backpack. Hubby made him remove it. He also instructed him not to say the worlds  “airplane” and “crash” in the same sentence when he was in the security line.

Yeah I know, thought police. Well you don’t want people to mistake what you are talking about either. Think of it this way. Recently, there was a 16 year old who while on a plane started yelling “Alluha Akbar” and rushed the cockpit. Well he got himself one heck of a beat down by the other passengers. The teen said it was just a joke. (Real funny…Yeah teenagers can be incredibly stupid.) People are just not going to take any chances whatsoever. And they have every right to not give someone the benefit of the doubt.

So we had a long talk and a practice session on how to talk to the security personnel and even the personnel on the plane. No handing out of safety information to strangers. No discussing it with strangers. No talking about it on any level what so as soon as you enter the airport.

Was he nervous? You bet, poor guy. He actually turned to me right after we went through security and had to tell me that even though we have had our disagreements over the years, he really does like me a lot. I told him that I loved him and liked him, and then I gave him a kiss on his forehead. He told me he just wanted me to know in case something happened on the flight.

You could also see the nervousness as he sat in his seat. Hubby sat CM1 near the window with him on the aisle. This way he felt he could play interference for CM1 with the stewardess (not sure what you call them anymore).  CM2 sat right across the aisle from hubby, next to me. This way hubby could also deal with CM2 if he got a little out of hand when it came to his attitude towards me. There are no airplane issues with CM2, however there are many mommy-issues. CM2 was oh so not happy to have to be my companion. But he did survive.

I have to admit that one of the more fun things we did, was to use all our airline miles saved over the years. I had had a credit card that I earned miles every time I used it. Well I would use that card for everything and then pay it off monthly. Since it had been so many years since we went on a trip of any kind, we had earned enough miles to fly first-class round-trip. Yeah, fun fun fun. Actually not certain how we are ever gong to go back to coach now that we are completely and utterly spoiled ..heheheh

Meanwhile I know that we have heard stories about the insensitivity of the TSA personnel, I found them to be gracious and understanding. Even after all our preparation CM1 had forgotten to remove a bottle of water from his backpack and did get stopped at the scanner. He also got stopped because he forgot to take off his belt. But after a little confusion, on his part, with hubby playing referee it was all settled and CM1 went on his merry way. TSA could think that you are trying to get away with something if a well-known restricted item is found on your carry on, so try to be fastidious. They don't have any patience for smartasses and honestly I don't think they should.

Truth be told, if you have concerns and issues with some of the items you need to bring with you, you need to let the security know up front. Toys are generally no problem as long as they are scannable, have no sharp edges and truly look like toys. Food is never really an issue but liquid will be. Make sure you find out the proper way to pack everything for the cabin.

I also recommend for little children, clear concise social stories about the day. 

1.     Getting ready to go. Tell you child about packing for the trip and why you bring some clothes. Also let them know that you will all be returning home too.
2.     Waking up the morning of the flight/trip. What will happen and how everyone will get ready.
3.     Packing for the cabin. What they can and cannot bring with them. (You don’t have to tell little ones why, but a tween and especially a teen will want to know.)
4.     Tell them what security is like. Make it fun and an adventure. Turn it into part of the “ride,” as if it were part of Disneyland. Oh and make sure you talk about that queue. You may be able to be whisked to the front of the line if you tell them your child has autism, but don’t bet on it. Better to count on it not happening and then be pleasantly surprised. But even if they are taken to the front, there can still be a glitch like there was with CM1, which caused a huge line back-up, and they need to be able to understand they have to wait their turn.
5.     Tell them what they can do on the airplane for fun.
6.     Explain to them take off and landing too. If their ear’s pop they might get scared. Personally when the boys were little we used to give them a little Benadryl to help with the ear pressure. Or if they want and can suck on a candy or chew a piece of gum that helps too. When the boys were babies we also saved their bottles for take off if we could. (Yes I know many of you breast feed, and I would check into the regs about breastfeeding during takeoff and landing.)

Something that might also help their anxiety is a countdown calendar. Once you tell them about the trip they might get anxious and a huge calendar where they can help cross off each day until the vacation/slash adventure may help the constant questions about “when are we going.”

Now something else too, you cannot predict every eventuality, and you need to remain flexible for that. Even a tantruming 2-year-old does not elicit much from most normal people because a thinking adult actually knows that it upsets the parents more than anyone else around you. OK there could be a jerk who becomes overwrought, but then he doesn’t represent the human species and we don’t have to give that individual credence.

Fun story: CM1 was about 3 years old and we were coming back from visiting my parents. We were taking the shuttle to New York from Washington DC. The flight was held up because the Vice President’s wife  (Tipper Gore) was coming on board and they brought her on last (whether it was because of security or her car was late, they never said). We actually were seated up front too just a few rows behind her and the secret service agents.

A problem arose because this delay enabled CM1 to really figure out just what was going on with the airplane. He noticed for the first time that the airplane actually left the ground. He had been flying for years, since he was 3-months-old but he never paid attention to what was actually happening, being a little guy and all. When he realized that we actually leave the ground,  he did not like that at all. He decided, at the moment that the plane became airborne to start to scream, and not a little gentle scream either. He totally and completely lost it. This wasn’t even a meltdown. This was true unadulterated abject terror. Now not only did he start to scream, he kept running over to the door to try to get out of the airplane, grabbing at the handle and trying to pull it down. Hubby would run and capture him, then quiet him down however, within seconds it would start all over again. When CM1 realized he couldn’t leave the plane, he in fact became so upset that he threw up, right in front of Mrs. Gore and the secret service agents. Of course the entire time he was trying to exit the flying airplane was right in front of them too.

Interestingly during this entire episode, the secret service stayed in their seats. Mrs. Gore gave us an “I am so sorry you’re having a hard time” look. The stewardesses tried to help us clean him and the area up (we felt bad, didn’t want to leave it for them during the flight and it was making an awful smell). No one threatened us. No one carried on. No one became abusive or demented. No one was a jerk. We all survived. Everyone were grown-ups and understood quiet well that sometimes unexpected things happen on an airplane, especially when small children are involved.

Of course it was quite a while before we got back on a plane with CM1. But when we did, we told him that if he was a big boy and behaved, he could have gum. He wasn't generally allowed, because we were afraid of a choking habit. But we felt if we watched him close then it would be  OK. He was about 4 at the time. He listened, sat, and was very very very good. Did well with the gum, too.

So when you go on your sojourn into the world of airport security and plane issues with your child, remember my story about CM1 and his meltdown. A small child absolutely lost it, tried to unlock the plane and then threw up in front of the Vice President’s wife and some of the most lethal bodyguards on the planet. Yet noone batted an eye. There is no reason for anyone to get their knickers in a twist at an airport ever. Just understand the situation. think. be intelligent. Of course, CM1 did understand that at 21 no one was going to cut him some slack if he had lost it today.

Until next time,