It's 7 a.m. at the Kimball's Washington, D.C., home. Peter and Leslie Kimball are running up and down the stairs, changing diapers and trying to feed their kids breakfast.
They're packing for a work conference in Orlando, Fla., but they've also planned a surprise for their daughter Lane's birthday: a visit to Disney World.
This summer, more than 200 million people are expected to fly out of U.S. airports. The Kimballs are one of many families flying with their kids.
In the car, the Kimballs go over Mom's rules for the airplane. No. 1: Don't kick the seat in front of you. No. 2: Don't hop in your seat (or the seat in front of you). No. 3: Speak quietly. And the last rule: Have fun.
They made their flight with time to spare and Leslie says they enjoyed the flight. But for many families, flying is anything but fun.
Stress At Security Checkpoints
"It is stressful when you have three kids, you've got carry-ons, you're trying to comply with all the rules, you're being yelled at by a TSA agent, that all raises your blood pressure," says Christopher Elliott, a father of three young children and a consumer advocate based in Orlando. He writes about the TSA for publications like National Geographic Traveler and The Washington Post.
Elliott says he understands why kids have to go through security checkpoints — but still.
"When I see my daughter go through the checkpoint, I'm always thinking, 'What if she's singled out for a more thorough check, and how am I going to react?' " he says. "As a parent, that kind of freaks me out. I would not want anyone touching my kids like that."
TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein says last fall, the agency began to reduce — though not eliminate — the number of pat-downs for kids.
If they set off an alarm, kids can now go through the metal detectors more than once. If they continue to set off alarms, instead of getting a pat-down, they'll be swabbed — usually on their hands. The swab then goes into a machine to check for explosive residue.
Pat-downs are among the top five complaints the TSA received last year.
"One of the things that is going to be met with much happiness, from the parents anyway, is that passengers who are 12 and under no longer need to take off their shoes," Farbstein says.
She says there's a reason agents screen kids and their belongings. Last month, in Providence, R.I., a parent had sown gun parts into a child's stuffed animal. Once on the plane, the parent could have reassembled the handgun if TSA officers did not screen the child's toy.
Keep The Shoes On, And Have Some Patience
Amy Selco is a mother of two boys in Silver Spring, Md. She says the new rule allowing her sons to keep their shoes on has been very popular with her family.
"The first time my son had to take off his shoes, he flipped out," Selco says. "I mean, that's kind of a violation. He was in this new environment anyway. And he screamed and he cried."
Monika Sakala, a mother of two young girls, writes about her experiences for her blog, Wired Momma. She says for her, the most difficult part of traveling with kids is often dealing with the adult passengers.
"People see little kids coming on an airplane and they immediately recoil," Sakala says. "Parents do not want their kid crying or acting out at all. It's their nightmare."
She says she's surprised when people don't offer to help a parent traveling alone with their kids. Families have to think about a lot of things other passengers don't: packing strollers, car seats, baby formula, diapers, snacks and entertainment for their unpredictable kids.
William Clark, a relatively recent parent, says becoming a father has changed his perspective.
"I'm always just worried about other passengers. Sometimes they're in a bad mood," Clark says. "I remember when I didn't have kids, being disturbed by a kid kicking the back of my seat. Now I'm much more understanding."
As for other parents flying with their kids this summer, Selco has a word of advice: patience. Lots of it.
Copyright NPR. View this article on npr.org.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
This summer, kids who are going through airport security are being treated just a little bit more like kids. NPR's Tasnim Shamma tells us about the Transportation Security Administration's new policies and the challenges that remain for families.
TASNIM SHAMMA, BYLINE: Flying with young children means the difficulties begin long before you board an airplane. In fact, even before you leave the house.
JOHN KIMBALL: Mommy.
SHAMMA: That's John Kimball. He's 2. And his sister's name is Lane.
LANE KIMBALL: And I'm 5.
SHAMMA: It's seven o'clock in the morning in the Kimball's Washington, D.C. home. Parents, Peter and Leslie are running up and down the stairs. Dad changes diapers. Mom serves breakfast.
LESLIE KIMBALL: Airplane.
SHAMMA: In the car, they review mom's rules for the airplane. Number one:
KIMBALL: Don't kick the seat in front of you.
SHAMMA: They made their flight and mom says they enjoyed the airplane ride. But for many families, flying is anything but fun.
CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT: It is stressful when you have three kids, you've got carry-ons, and you're trying to comply with all the rules, you're being yelled at by a TSA agent - that all raises your blood pressure.
SHAMMA: That's Christopher Elliott, a father and a consumer advocate. He writes about the TSA and understands why kids have to go through security checkpoints - but still...
ELLIOTT: When I see my daughter go through the checkpoint, I'm always thinking, well, what if she's singled out for a more thorough check and how am I going to react? And as a parent, that kind of freaks me out.
(SOUNDBITE OF AIRPORT PA ANNOUNCEMENT)
SHAMMA: TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein says last fall the agency began an effort to reduce - but not eliminate - the number of pat-downs of kids. If they set off an alarm, kids can now go through the metal detectors more than once. And if they continue to set off alarms - instead of getting a pat-down, they'll be swabbed, usually on their hands. The swab then goes into a machine to check for explosive residue.
LISA FARBSTEIN: One of the things that is going to be met with much happiness - from the parents anyway - is that passengers who are 12 and under no longer need to take off their shoes.
SHAMMA: Amy Selco is a mother of two boys in Silver Spring, Maryland. And she's happy about the new rule. Noah is her oldest child.
AMY SELCO: Noah, the first time he had to take off his shoes, he flipped out.
SHAMMA: Amy Selco remembers one difficult flight.
SELCO: We were delayed and delayed and delayed. He was screaming and screaming and we're sweating, and...
SHAMMA: Their son wouldn't go to sleep.
SELCO: Finally, Noah was quiet and we looked over to see what he was doing and he was eating Cheerios. And my husband and I looked at each other and thought did you bring Cheerios? I didn't bring Cheerios. And it turned out that Noah had found Cheerios on the floor of the Newark Airport. We don't know whose Cheerios they were but they made us very happy that he was occupied.
SHAMMA: Amy Selco has one word of advice for other parents flying with kids this summer: patience, lots of patience. For NPR News, I'm Tasnim Shamma.
GREENE: And you can find more advice for navigating airport security with children at our website, npr.org. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.