Flying to Park City: Surviving TSA Without Breaking a Sweat

Posted by Karin on March 13, 2012

sheets-family (sheets-family)

Getting through TSA with my family is a comedy worthy of a Sundance short film. I have a daughter with special needs meaning extra equipment and medications.  Last family vacation I had an aggressive travel plan which included each family member taking their own carry-on to avoid baggage fees.  As soon as we got to the airport and opened the back of our SUV it was apparent that my plan had some flaws.  How were we going to actually transport the entire back end of our Suburban through TSA and onto the plane?  Thankfully we were on time, but with no cart in sight and the uncertainty of TSA lines, our only choice was to pick up and go.  Loaded down like pack mules we made our way; my husband pushing my daughter’s wheelchair and pulling his and her carry-ons, me pulling my carry-on with the car seat teetering on top and my laptop bag and purse over my shoulder, my oldest daughter pulling her carry-on, her sister’s personal bag, and our camera bag.  

The fun was in full swing when we arrived at TSA, where we began taking off shoes, pulling out liquids, and having equipment checked by security.  My husband and I decided to divide and conquer.  I took care of our bags, medication, liquids, computer and car seat, while my husband carried our youngest through the metal detector as TSA scanned her wheelchair. Trying to fit her big car seat through the conveyer was like getting Winnie the Pooh out of Rabbit’s house after he ate too much honey; we pushed and pulled and it took a few tries, but it finally fit. We collected our things and made our way through the terminal with no hands free for a Starbucks stop. It was completely ridiculous, I wish I had a photo.  

At the terminal, Alaska Airlines made sure we were taken care of.  One thing that I did do right was arrange for early boarding, ahead of pre-boarding, so that we had the most time to get everyone situated. The Alaska Airlines' flight attendants were extremely accommodating and patient.

Learn from my experience, here are some tips:

  1. Allow plenty of time. I try to give our family at least an hour and a half from parking to boarding, more during the holidays.
  2. Consider checking bags.  It's worth the money when traveling for the first time with kids that are young or have special needs.  Remember to keep medications and valuables in your carry-on.
  3. Consider car seat alternatives.  My handicapped daughter is unable to sit unsupported and needs a bigger than average car seat, so we still need to lug the car seat with us, but for most people this isn’t necessary.  You can rent a car seat with your rental vehicle, or check your car seat as baggage.  For inflight safety, there are seat belt systems from CARES, providing a harness to help your little one stay safe in case of turbulence.  Find out more about FAA child seating regulations.
  4. Call the airline in advance.  After our flight is booked I call the airline and explain that I am traveling with a handicapped child.  The airline agent then finds the best seats for us and flags our tickets so that we are called to pre-preboard.  They can also arrange for a wheelchair if a family member can’t walk all the way to the gate.   
  5. Getting through TSA.  The obvious things are wearing shoes that are easy to take off and put on, not wearing a lot of jewelry or belts that can set off the metal detector, and having your bag of liquids easily accessible.  Less carry-ons can cut down on the stress factor.  There are lines specifically for special needs that typically accommodate families as well.  This line is usually shorter, and in my experience the agents seem to be more patient and helpful. Follow these links for TSA family and special needs details.
  6. Keep your sense of humor.  Your vacation is about spending time with your family and making memories.  Go with it and enjoy the adventure!

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