Monday, October 24, 2011

The Ultimate Field Trip-- Washington DC Version, Part Two: How NOT to Get Through Airport Security

We begin our trip not at the airport as shown here, but the day before, wherein I frantically packed our gear and cleaned out our garage so we could stow the cars there while we were gone for two weeks.  I did the same thing I do every time we are about to embark on a long vacation; I pulled an all-nighter getting everything ready.  So I started our vacation feeling like a zombie and with a serious lack of patience.
Those who know us, know we travel light—carry-on only—but with five kids and two adults, this translated to 11 carry-ons, two car seats, a stroller, and a partridge in a pear tree.
This is a lot of stuff, but I was determined to make getting through security at the airport as easy and painless as possible. I made sure the kids left their box cutters, automatic weapons, and crayons at home. We looked up the “restricted items” list on the TSA website and I made sure the kids weren’t even wearing belts or carrying pocket change. We coached the kids to remove their coats and shoes and put them on the conveyor belt and how to walk through the security portal.  We advised them not to tell jokes or mention guns, knives, or bombs as we were going through.  Fortunately, when we got to the airport, it was so early in the morning the kids weren’t up to potentially damning wisecracks.  I figured we had this security thing down.
My plan was to have Julio go through security first so he could corral the kids as they went through and I’d bring up the rear. This was a very efficient plan.  Unfortunately, the security personnel do not define efficiency the same way I do.  First, after the kids had taken their shoes off and were waiting patiently for their turn to walk through the metal detector, they got yelled at for removing their shoes.  Yes, yelled at.  They were told to put their shoes back on and then my husband and I were yelled at for having had the kids remove their shoes in the first place.
The kids were flustered and stressed, scrambling to do what they were told.  The security dudes then barked at the kids to get moving through the metal detector.  Blythe, our four year old, was so confused by what they wanted him to do and where they wanted him to go, he had a complete meltdown. I couldn’t even get to him because they made the kids go through first before Julio (my husband) and me. (Why do they always do it that way?)  Blythe was scared and the other kids were bewildered and didn’t know what to do, so then the security guards barked at them to get out of the way and move over to somewhere else, but they weren’t shown WHERE.
Next, it was Julio’s turn to go through, and, as always, he set off the metal detector even after having removed his shoes, belt, and pocket change.  He was pulled aside to be wanded and possibly patted down.  I have no idea because at that point, it was my turn and I had a security guard snarling at ME.
I was told I had to take the (sleeping) baby out of her car seat and put it on the X ray conveyor.  I was also told I had to fold up the stroller and put it on as well.  I asked why I couldn’t just take the stroller through the metal detector, and was given a withering look and again commanded to fold the stroller and put it on the conveyor. 
The security people are either really stupid or really sadistic, because it was next to impossible for me to do this while holding the baby in my arms. I struggled with it, trying not to drop the baby, and trying to stay upright enough that Blythe could still see me from the other side of the metal detectors and machinery. The guards just stood there barking orders at me, and the people behind me in line were instructed to stay where they were, as if they’d be aiding and abetting a criminal if they helped me. I don’t understand why I couldn’t just take the stupid stroller through the metal detector!  I tried to warn them that it was too big to go through the machine and would get stuck, but did they listen?  It got stuck.  They tried to back the conveyor up to get it unstuck.  It took them probably five minutes to wrestle the stroller through the machine.
THEN, they wouldn’t let me carry the baby through the metal detector portal—I had to pass her through to Julio. I wonder, what would they have had me do with her if there was no one on the other side to pass her over to? Put her on the conveyor belt and have her go through the X-ray? I was so mad I was ready to scream. No wonder they won’t allow guns and knives in carry on luggage. I was ready to use both!
We finally got through, and it took us a good fifteen minutes to gather all our things and put our shoes and belts back on, re-pack our bags (toiletries, lap top, cell phones) and put the stroller and the baby carrier back together. Blythe was still crying and the baby joined him.  Ellen, our eleven year old, was freaking out about missing the plane (we had plenty of time, so that wasn’t an issue, but she was stressed out even so.) In an effort to grab all our bags off the conveyor after inspection, I stepped over some invisible barrier and was ordered by two or three guards to “back away from the restricted area.” One guard came at me like he was going to physically remove me.
I lost it. I had already gotten the bags, so I just yelled at them “Okay, okay! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” in a tone that made it abundantly clear I was NOT sorry. I will not repeat to you the words I uttered after that. You’d make me go soap my mouth. Honestly, I tried to keep in mind that the security guards are people just trying to do their job and it was early in the morning, but sheesh.
One guard at the far end of the security check area, a portly, aging black man, had been watching the whole thing and it was clear he was a decent man, but apparently couldn’t move more than five feet in any direction from the stool he was stationed on. As we were finally putting our stuff together and trying to soothe Blythe, the man called to him to catch his attention and then told him to look down at the floor. I saw the man flip a coin to the ground, just outside of his patrol range. He told Blythe there was some treasure for him. We walked over and Blythe picked up the shiny new nickel. He clutched that nickel for dear life. I thanked the man and he smiled a knowing smile. I could imagine him rolling his eyes at the mean guards and saying “Jackasses.” Blythe was a little happier after that, but not much.
On the plane, the boys sat on one side of the row and the girls on the other. I thought they all behaved beautifully, but the woman who sat in front of Blythe chewed Julio out when we landed.  Apparently, despite Julio’s best efforts to keep the boys from disturbing the other passengers, Blythe once pushed his feet into the back of the seat in front of him. When we landed in Chicago, the woman popped up, turned around and demanded “Are you going to Virginia?” Julio replied we were going to Washington DC. Then she said “If we’re on the next flight together I am NOT sitting in front of YOU. I refuse.” I hadn’t even noticed the woman talking until she raised her voice. She huffed out of her seat and off the plane. I’m glad Julio was the one sitting on that side, because with the mood I was in, I might have punched her in the face.
I really need to learn to go to sleep before traveling.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Ultimate Field Trip: Washington DC Version, Part One, or An Introduction to the Way We Travel

Fair warning, this series of posts will be part travelogue, part diary, and part rant—with a few pictures thrown in for dramatic effect.

We travel.  A lot. Comparatively speaking.  It’s my husband’s fault, he likes to see the world, and I succumb to peer pressure (gladly!) and tag along.  And what an example I’m setting for the kids---because they do, too!

When we travel by plane, we take only carry-on luggage.  No matter how long we intend to be gone. TSA will only allow one carry on bag and one personal item (like a purse or a back pack) per person—but we find this is sufficient for three full changes of clothes, extra undies and socks, and whatever books or games it takes to keep the troops happy on the flights.

We want our kids to know how to navigate through airports, so we coach them how to check in, get through security, read the arrivals/departures boards, and find gates.  Surprisingly, we do better in larger airports like Chicago O’Hare than in, say, Boise, Idaho---where on this trip, we met the Security Checkpoint from Hell.