Monday, March 12, 2012

Flying the Friendly Skies with Kids-and no apple sauce.

Many people think flying with kids is difficult.  I have found flying with kids is not all that bad.  In all honesty it is kind of nice.  There are a lot of perks to carting the pre-school set with you around the country.  The first one being that you get to pre-board the airplane.  You also get to bring a luggage cart (aka a stroller) with you all the way to the gate.  Mean grumpy people tend to avoid parents traveling with little kids.  When your seat mate falls asleep on your shoulder, you actually enjoy it.  You have an excuse to get up and move around the plane when most adults are sitting in their cramped seats looking for an excuse to get up.  When trying to fit everything in your luggage just remember, every traveler gets a personal item and a carryon. This means you get to bring more shoes on the trip (kids don’t need much luggage space).   Best of all, you don’t end up with a seat mate who stinks (well except when they need a diaper change).

Recently, I had the opportunity to take plane trip alone with my two perfect children.  By alone I mean without reinforcements in the form of a partner.  This is not the first time I have embarked on a solo mission.  In the past year our family has traveled by plane three or four times.   Most of those trips we have traveled as a complete family (Daddy was with us), but not every time.  Over the years I have developed many tricks for traveling with kids of varying ages.  I have made many solo trips and generally found it to be a good experience.  People are generally friendly and helpful.  My kids travel well and other passengers generally comment on how well my kids faired on the flight.  Sometimes, people even tell me they did not realize there were young such kids sitting behind them. 

This last trip was a bit different.  No, my kids did not scream and run up and down the aisle if the plane.  The flight went well; it was the security check--more specifically dealing with TSA that was a problem.  I found the screeners were put-out when I informed them my stroller would not fit in the x-ray machine.  The grunts, facial expressions and movements of the screener made it obvious.  Then, they refused to help me as I juggled two kids and a stroller.  I was requested assistance while consoling a crying one year old (who had to put her animal through the x-ray machine) and attempting to open the stroller which I had folded and placed on the x-ray belt (and now needed to unfold for the screener).  I was doing all this while watching over my other child and our belongings on the other side of security.  The TSA policy states “Ask a security officer for help gathering bags and child-related equipment, if needed.”  I guess the agents I dealt with were not aware of the policy.  In fact the agents were rather rude and snotty, guess every traveler should be sure to purchase a stroller that goes through the x-ray machine at any airport they may encounter.

Following the stroller debacle I had even more problems with the TSA screeners.  I pointed out the lunch packed for my kids and sent it through the screening process (x-ray machine) separately as they tell travelers to do.  Once we were through the metal detector and our belongings through the x-ray, I was told our two cups of apple sauce would need to be opened and tested. This apple sauce was packaged in single serving factory sealed containers no larger than 4oz.  I would think this food would be considered under the TSA rules as “necessary food” described in the TSA Traveling with Kids section of their website. The website also states “You are allowed to bring gel or liquid-filled teethers, canned, jarred, or processed baby food in your carry-on baggage and aboard your plane.” I would assume a factory sealed container should not need to be opened for screeners (since it was sealed in the factory) and opening it could compromise the safety of the food item (spoilage). Additionally, the apple sauce in question had a foil seal and therefore was not re-sealable. Many baby foods (and adult foods) now come in plastic containers with a foil seal and therefore cannot be resealed. I am sure TSA agents know this.  I know screeners have found peanut buttered pot, but they have also made it clear that is not what they are looking for when doing screenings (safety is the priority).

When I questioned the TSA agent about the need to open a factory sealed container I was told that many people have the equipment to recreate such a seal in their homes. Seriously, show me some data on this. I would like to know where I can purchase a foil sealing machine for small plastic containers of food (that also stamps code and logos). I was also told that if I wanted to keep my food in its sealed container then my children and I would need to undergo additional screening that would include a pat-down. I of course told them that there was no way they would be subjecting my children to a pat-down. At this point a supervisor interjected and told me that it would be just me subject to the pat down and all of our carry-on and personal items subject to a search. Needless to say I decided to let the agents keep my apple sauce (I hope they had a good snack). As a result my unhappy children did not have a major component of their lunch.

The TSA agents told me they do this with all baby food and all juice drinks even those in factory sealed containers. When I asked how they deal with Juice boxes (common toddler food for flights) I was told they require they be opened also. I then asked how long this policy had been effect. The TSA agent told me at least a year. Interesting, since I have made at least four trips with my children in the past twelve months (eight flights) and have never encountered this at screening. On past trips I have carried several jars of baby food, apple sauce, and juice boxes. TSA agents have never asked to open anything in a factory sealed container. They have also never given a second glance to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pudding, or dried fruit.

I find it difficult to believe that the TSA agents conducting the screenings on all my other trips through SeaTac and other airports (including but not limited to DIA and LAX) were negligent in their duties of properly screening travelers. There needs to be some consistency and commonsense when it comes to screening travelers. It is obvious to me that the agents I dealt with were in need of some training on policy and use of commonsense.

 Don’t get me wrong, not all was bad about this flying experience.  As we were heading down the ramp to board the plane an older gentleman offered to help us out.  I decided to take his offer since I was about to fold and gate check my luggage cart (stroller)  and was unsure how I was going to carry the suitcase, diaper bag, personal item and two kids on the plane.  Turns out this gentleman was also our row-mate.  He was great and happily put up with me and my two kids for two and a half hours.  People like our row-mate make flying the “friendly skies” with kids a pleasure.  Thank you to all the strangers who offer parents help at the airport.  You are appreciated more than you will ever know. 

A little update
I made a formal complaint to TSA and received a response from the TSA Customer Service Manager at the airport in question.  Unfortunately, she only addressed the problem of the lack of customer service (rudeness) of the agents and did not mention the food policy.  I have once again written to the Customer Service Manager asking her to also address the policy on baby/children’s food.  I will keep you posted.

1 comment:

  1. Did you ever receive an answer from the TSA Customer Service Manager regarding the food policies? I will soon be traveling with my 2 year old, and I want to bring 4oz Applesauce pouches on the plane with us. At least if they decide to test them, they are resealable.