Due to the ever-changing airport regulations, many travelers find it difficult to know what to expect from the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and airport security checkpoints on any given day. Even more confusing is the fact that the checks vary from airport to airport, some done with body scanners while others still use the older metal detectors so parents should check the airport’s website for the most accurate information.
With that said, here are some basic general tips that never change and can help traveling families navigate most US airports and have a stress free experience.
Stage a mock airport security checkpoint at home in one of your rooms, including how you stand quietly in line, putting your hands up 180 degrees and emptying your pockets in plastic containers.
Print a social story with appropriate airport pictures from the internet or write your own and read it several times with your kid.
Check the guidelines
- Read the posted instructions or look at the TSA or airport’s website before you travel.
This is the most important thing you can do, and the signs are easy to find. When going overseas, if you don’t see any regulations posted about liquids and what can and cannot be taken on the flight, ask an agent.
- Call or check online to find out if your airport offers individual lines for families or travelers with disabilities.
- Call your airline and see the airline can provide assistance if you are traveling alone with children or with children having special needs.
- Give yourself a minimum of 30 minutes to get through any security check on a regular day and 60 minutes during the holiday season.
- Have your family members wear comfortable clothes and abstain from wearing lots of layers, baggy clothes, hats/caps, bandanas, jewelry or hairpieces.
These will make it more challenging and time-consuming to get through security because they will have to take it all off, or potentially get pulled aside for additional screening.
- Comfortable, slip-on shoes are easier to remove and put back on, but if your child does wear laces, try to find ones that are easier to lace, or get special shoe laces.
- If your child has sensory issues and won’t walk in bare feet, have them wear socks or carry shoe covers. Current regulations do not require children 12 years old and under to remove their shoes (http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/traveling-children).
- Remember the 3-1-1 rule: 3.4 oz. of liquids in 1 quart-sized, clear, plastic, zip-top bag, 1 per passenger.
Put your liquids and medicines at the top of your carry-on so you can easily take them in and out. Bring a couple of extra Ziploc bags just in case your luggage tear or don’t close well!
- Pack a roll of duct tape in case your suitcase breaks or any of your containers spill, and it will need to be taped shut.
- Put all of your electronic devices in one bag and designate a responsible family member to be in charge of it.
- Pack clothes, and small items like belts in 2.5 gallons see-through bags to keep everything clean easy to find.
- Get an ID/pass holder to wear around your neck for easy access to ID cards, passports, boarding passes, and any doctor notes explaining your child’s diagnosis. This will also keep your important documents safe and close to you.
You might also want to get a wallet with a zipper to keep your money in and mini-locks for these wallets for extra safety.
- Label your luggage and your electronics with your name and contact number or email (never your address!) in case you forget them or they get lost.
Before the airport security checkpoint
- Take jackets and belts off the minute you leave the airline ticket counter before you even get to the ID/passport control officer.
- If you wore jewelry, take it off after you leave the airline ticket counter and put it in your locked wallet or bag.
- You may want to photograph the bins that contain your electronics and jewelry, so you can remember what you need to watch for on the other side, or for proof if it gets lost/stolen.
At the airport security checkpoint
- Tell the agent politely of your child’s diagnosis immediately, and show the agent your TSA blue card (downloadable from the TSA website.).
- Ask to accompany your child if a pat-down is required.
- No matter what happens, stay calm and polite since your child will mirror your stress.
Once you make it through the security process, designate one parent to watch over kids while the other keep track of belongings, so that no one and nothing can get lost
What tips have you found helpful to get through airport security with autistic travelers?