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TSA at PDX: good or bad?

The urbanMamas are a traveling bunch, as we have seen time and time again.  Emails abound with talk of your latest travel.  We're jealous!  Our most recent email comes from an urbanMama who wants to know if you have had experiences, one way or another, with the TSA folk at PDX, with respect to dangerous baby liquids and gels:

My seven month old and I will be travelling to the East Coast this spring and internationally this summer.  We have read TSA's guidelines on the amount of breastmilk/formula/baby food allowed onboard, and then we read the many complaints on the TSA blog about how TSA agents have complete discretion to decide what is a reasonable amount.  Has anyone had good/bad experiences flying with a baby out of PDX? 

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So far, I've had good experiences.

During the recent spring break period, they even had a separate line for families with an attendant that helped families navigate the system. I'm pretty good stripping down and then putting the world back together quickly after going through security but it was great not having the pressure of those without children staring me down and those families in front of me, that were slower, getting some assistance so things moved along.

I've experienced stickler attendants who had a conniption because I forgot to put rash cream into a Ziploc and I've had attendants who carried my bags, escorting me through the system faster than I would have gone sans child.

Tips:
- Have everything liquid / gel in a quick / easy grab area already to go (Ziplocs where necessary, etc) so you can whip them out and throw them in a bin the minute you have a chance. You might even bring a shopping bag filled with the liquid / gel items and then after you're through security, put them in their proper places in your luggage. Fold up the shopping bag and tuck it into one of your bags for the trip home.

- Wear slip on shoes. The last thing you want to be doing while juggling baby/toddler, diaper bag, carry on, Ziplocs of goodies, etc is trying to tie your shoes.

- Skip shoes on baby. You can put them on after you get through the line if necessary. I've gone through where they didn't care if baby was wearing shoes but more often than not, they want them in the bin so start with them off and put them on when you're safely through the line.

- Don't forget to take off your jacket. I do this as I'm waiting in line.

- If you have jewelry, glasses, etc that might trip security, consider keeping it all in a Ziploc until you get through security. That way you can put it in a bin, all together and not have to deal with taking it off as the line backs up behind you. I try to avoid wearing any amount of metal that will set the alarm off so that I don't have to deal with this part at all. Remember, though, don't check any valuables. If you aren't wearing them, keep them in your carry on.

- After you're through the security gate, move out of the way of traffic, away from the security gate to put yourself, your luggage and baby all in the right place. This way you won't impede traffic. I wish everyone (not just those of us with kids) would do this.

- You can buy water once you're through security.

- Since we have a toddler, I bring milk for her with those ice pack things but, I also bring a couple of those individual serving formula packets along. I was told on our last flight that they usually have milk for the morning flights but by afternoon or evening flights, they've often run out. This happened to us and it was not pleasant (we don't give juice so that wasn't an option).

- If you use pacifiers, bring extras tucked in a Ziploc. Airplanes are no place for the 5-second rule.

- If you have a toddler who has recently given up bottles, consider bringing one along anyway. It's painful to think about going back but sometimes it's the only way to encourage them to drink which leads to...

- Encourage drinking, sucking or bf'ing on both take off and descent. Especially descent, which is harder on their ears.

- Unless baby / toddler is hungry and it's unavoidable, try to avoid feeding the second you get seated and comfortable. It's tempting because there's not a lot to do and it's easy entertainment but the likelihood that you'll run out of milk or whatever or they'll lose interest in drinking by the time you actually take off is pretty high. It's too easy to get stuck on the tarmac for any length of time and when it's time for takeoff, you're trapped in your seat with an unhappy child.

Diapers - Someone once suggested using overnight diapers on plane trips. It probably works terrificly but I've got a child that poops every time she eats. Like clockwork, unless we've given her bananas, which I sometimes do just to slow her down before flights.

So far, I've had good experiences.

During the recent spring break period, they even had a separate line for families with an attendant that helped families navigate the system. I'm pretty good stripping down and then putting the world back together quickly after going through security but it was great not having the pressure of those without children staring me down and those families in front of me, that were slower, getting some assistance so things moved along.

I've experienced stickler attendants who had a conniption because I forgot to put rash cream into a Ziploc and I've had attendants who carried my bags, escorting me through the system faster than I would have gone sans child.

Tips:
- Have everything liquid / gel in a quick / easy grab area already to go (Ziplocs where necessary, etc) so you can whip them out and throw them in a bin the minute you have a chance. You might even bring a shopping bag filled with the liquid / gel items and then after you're through security, put them in their proper places in your luggage. Fold up the shopping bag and tuck it into one of your bags for the trip home.

- Wear slip on shoes. The last thing you want to be doing while juggling baby/toddler, diaper bag, carry on, Ziplocs of goodies, etc is trying to tie your shoes.

- Skip shoes on baby. You can put them on after you get through the line if necessary. I've gone through where they didn't care if baby was wearing shoes but more often than not, they want them in the bin so start with them off and put them on when you're safely through the line.

- Don't forget to take off your jacket. I do this as I'm waiting in line.

- If you have jewelry, glasses, etc that might trip security, consider keeping it all in a Ziploc until you get through security. That way you can put it in a bin, all together and not have to deal with taking it off as the line backs up behind you. I try to avoid wearing any amount of metal that will set the alarm off so that I don't have to deal with this part at all. Remember, though, don't check any valuables. If you aren't wearing them, keep them in your carry on.

- After you're through the security gate, move out of the way of traffic, away from the security gate to put yourself, your luggage and baby all in the right place. This way you won't impede traffic. I wish everyone (not just those of us with kids) would do this.

- You can buy water once you're through security.

- Since we have a toddler, I bring milk for her with those ice pack things but, I also bring a couple of those individual serving formula packets along. I was told on our last flight that they usually have milk for the morning flights but by afternoon or evening flights, they've often run out. This happened to us and it was not pleasant (we don't give juice so that wasn't an option).

- If you use pacifiers, bring extras tucked in a Ziploc. Airplanes are no place for the 5-second rule.

- If you have a toddler who has recently given up bottles, consider bringing one along anyway. It's painful to think about going back but sometimes it's the only way to encourage them to drink which leads to...

- Encourage drinking, sucking or bf'ing on both take off and descent. Especially descent, which is harder on their ears.

- Unless baby / toddler is hungry and it's unavoidable, try to avoid feeding the second you get seated and comfortable. It's tempting because there's not a lot to do and it's easy entertainment but the likelihood that you'll run out of milk or whatever or they'll lose interest in drinking by the time you actually take off is pretty high. It's too easy to get stuck on the tarmac for any length of time and when it's time for takeoff, you're trapped in your seat with an unhappy child.

Diapers - Someone once suggested using overnight diapers on plane trips. It probably works terrificly but I've got a child that poops every time she eats. Like clockwork, unless we've given her bananas, which I sometimes do just to slow her down before flights.

Our son is 9 1/2 months old and we have flown out of PDX with him 4 times now, both domestically and internationally. The TSA at PDX have been the nicest so far, no hassles or problems whatsoever. To be quite honest, we were treated great in every airport with our son and were escorted to the front of the line when he was crying on one occasion--total bonus!

I am very stubborn and refuse to bag up liquids/gel/etc. for inspection (because it is a waste of time and completely stupid) and so far have never been stopped once at any airport, with or without a baby. I just left my pumped milk in the small Medela cooler that came with the pump and ran it through the x-ray machine in the diaper bag. I figured if they were going to complain about it I'd just play dumb and say I forgot all about it.

We flew just a few weeks ago. TSA has gone to ski-slope signs: Black diamonds for experienced business travelers, blue for most, and green for handicapped/families.

It was a BREEZE. We stood in line with other families with young babies & toddlers, so no one was griping that you had to fold up the stroller. The people working the line were obviously used to it. They didn't even make me take her shoes off (LAX did).

I typically pack the qt size ziploc of my stuff, but put the baby's bottles/sippys/teethers etc into a gallon size ziploc so I can pull it out & put it separately in the bin. We typically bring our own milk (with a frozen brick) but purchase water after going through security. Never had TSA question any foods I brought for baby, including tupperware containers of cheese, crackers, etc.

When traveling with a young child, bring extra clothes for YOU AND FOR THE CHILD. My daughter vomited all over herself while we were waiting at the gate & I had a handy change of clothes. I keep some of the plastic bags I get from the Oregonian in my diaper bag (they squish up very small empty & hold a lot before knotting). Thankfully that trip she didn't vomit on me while we were on the plane because I had forgotten to bring a change of clothes for me in the diaper bag.

I try to remember to change her near the gate just before boarding. You can't rely on all airplane bathrooms to have the changing table -- my husband managed to change a 17 mo old with a very poopy diaper with no changing table -- on the closed seat. Better him than me!

Forgot to add: traveling with her was sooo much easier when she was nursing because I didn't have to worry about bottles. Friends who were on formula brought the powder & relied on bottled water, making the bottle on the go rather than making them ahead of time. there are no limits on powdered formula so you could have lots & lots with you on the plane.

Ditto bringing the duplicate set of clothes for *you* & kids. I always bring the kids spares but not for me until that one time when my toddler threw up all over me early into a flight. It was one long cross country trip in those puke-y smelly clothes. I did learn the trick of coffee grounds covering the smell of vomit on the carpet from the kind flight attendants.

BTW, one expense saver is to just take empty water bottles through security and fill them up at the rather prevalent water fountains. Water at the airport is pretty darned expensive.

My one TSA experience was traveling with a breast pump and no baby for a one day flight. An older, distinguished looking gentleman TSA agent asked me what this was - when I said breast pump I don't think he could have dropped that thing quicker than if I had said nuclear waste. He was still very respectful, but he wanted nothing to do with it.

Good luck and have a good trip.

Just wanted to add that I've had the ice packs taken away before. You can get ice at a concession stand once you pass through security. Definitely a downer when we're all packing our own airplane meals these days.

Here is some specific info on traveling with breastmilk, formula, and the like from the TSA website:

http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/children/formula.shtm

For the most part, I have only seen professional, helpful, and respectful TSA agents at every airport I have been to. Of course, as with any profession, there are a few jerks around.

So just in case you draw the bad apple, it's a good idea to bring a copy of the regulations linked above so you can refer to them in the heat of the moment if necessary.

Have fun!

We have flown quite a bit with our two kids and have never had a problem. I have taken formula (powdered and mix on the other side), a bottle of formula mixed and ready, a sippy with milk, liquid medicines for the kids, and individually packaged applesauce, fruit cocktail,etc. I make sure they are all in original packaging and in the ziplock bags.

Another person stated that the bags are stupid but I find them to be helpful for my organization. We usually travel two adults/two kids so one adult works on getting the kids through. The other works on getting all of the stuff through. We pack most of our carry on items (what I listed plus the camera and other valuables) in a suitcase designed to be a carry on. Then we unzip it at security, lay out the items that need to be reviewed and then we can quickly put it back together. On the plane it is nice to just reach for the fruit snack bag, medicine bag, etc. We often have that one bag, the carseat in a bag with their special blankets and the girls each have a backpack with their fun stuff.

We also bring some extra spill proof/resistant cups to use for other beverages on the plane. Although expensive we usually buy milk on the other side since our 2 year old must have it and we need to make sure we have enough. Especially these days I assume the airline will provide me with nothing.

I also highly recommend bring on extra diapers and clothes. We actually take on the plane everything we must have for the first night. This is because we have had lost luggage and bad weather that has forced us to spend a night in our layover city without our luggage.

I have flown back and forth between Portland and Sacramento three times with my daughter (between ages 8 weeks and 12 mos)...just me, no hubby. The TSA staff at PDX have always been VERY friendly and helpful, unfortunately I can't say the same for Sacramento.
In fact, wasn't PDX just named best or one of the best airlines in the country? If not, they should have been. I've been through several other airports, and by far it's my favorite.

I agree with Sara C that the bags are very helpful for organization, but I find it very stupid and a waste of time to pull out liquids and gels for TSA employees. No one is "safer" by doing this and it is all just for show, in my opinion. And yes, double ditto on the extra clothes and bringing more diapers than you think you may need--especially for long international flights, since who knows what can happen with delays!

I want to add that we had a very positive experience when our son was 5 months old. I think I packed frozen breast milk in our checked luggage so I didn't have to deal with TSA.

There was one thing we did discover the hard way. Our son had a huge diaper blow out every time at take off (this was a three-leg trip both ways). Turns out this can be fairly normal due to the pressure change...so come prepared. Its the only time in the last year we used disposables without regret.

I've always had really good experiences at PDX. I've gotten through with sippy cups full of water (sometimes), milk, formula, etc. Once they even watched me pour water out of a sippy and put my newly purchased orange juice in. The comment was "now that was smart." I appreciated that they understood how expensive liquids at the airport are and how dumb the rules are.

The only comment I can make is that I had my only pair of very nice expensive earrings stolen out of my checked baggage. Definitely wear or carry on anything valuable. What a crummy way to learn that lesson!

Nothing but good experiences here! We have a 12 month old and I absolutley filled bottles and sippies with whole organic milk and claimed it as breast milk. I didn't want to have to purchase gross RBST 2% once we were through security. You could probably get through with almost anything once you say "breast milk"!
Don't forget to seperate any jars of baby food. They want to see wierd containers like that and you don't want to go ransacking your carry ons like I had to!

PDX TSA agents are great. I printed out the official guidelines from TSA's site http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/children/formula.shtm about traveling with children, formula, breast milk, etc. I kept it in my bag just in case. I never had to pull it out, but it made me feel better to know I had their official word as backup.

PDX is great! There's a family friendly line (not at any other airport I've been at) and I found that to be a huge help, since everything takes longer with kids in the security line. Everyone was super friendly, too. I would say follow all the TSA guidelines, because you never know what's going to happen (personally they just took my word for everything and didnt' check, but I've heard stories about having to throw out sippy cups filled with water, etc)

I traveled with formula and recommend, if you're doing that, to buy the pre-mixed bottles...it's just easier to deal with then trying to get clean water somewhere. And make good friends with the airline attendants...they're usually super helpful! (Just an FYI, when I asked about rinsing out a bottle on the airplane, the flight attendent gave me bottled water and said, "Use this, the airplane water isn't recommended." Yikes!

Anyway, good luck and happy travels!

We have flown quite a bit with my daughter in the last two years, and over all have found TSA to be pretty reasonable. A memorable moment, though, was when they discovered water in the sippy cup. I said, "I thought you could bring beverages for the baby", and the agent said, "Juice and milk are fine, but no water. You have to draw the line somewhere." I thought they chose an interesting place for the line, but chugged the water down and refilled at the water fountain on the other side.

Poopy diaper change, another story for another day....

The PDX TSA agents have been super helpful when we've flown with our now 10-month old. We were waved into the express security line. I wore our baby in the Ergo through security. Everyone couldn't have been more helpful. It was an interesting contrast to when I flew alone recently, was late for my flight, and nobody wanted to help me. I wished that I'd had the baby with me to drum up a little more sympathy for my plight!

I know you asked about PDX, but wanted to make a comment for anyone changing planes in Kansas City, given the earlier comment about water fountains being plentiful (to refill empty water bottles). That's generally my strategy too but apparently Kansas City, an airport which clearly hasn't been remodeled since the post 9/11 changes, has NO PLACE TO GET FREE WATER once you go through security. I learned this the hard way. I'd exited security to get some food (no restaurants in the secure area) and came back through security, having forgotten to empty my water bottle first. I was escorted out (literally) of security and watched as I emptied it into a fountain. Then I came back through security with no further problem, but when I asked where the nearest water fountain was, was told there were NONE once you passed through the secure gates. WTF??? I didn't want to pay $3 for bottled water, and was just infuriated that there was no other option. (I was traveling at 7 months pregnant, and dependent on my water. Thank god I wasn't traveling with my baby at the time!)

we've flown several times and PDX agents have always been great. they seem to actually use their brains when herding the masses, making educated choices like not requiring Robeez to come off, babe to come out of the carrier, or breast milk ice pack to pass through the gauntlet.
that being said, i have had NOTHING but trouble with the agents in denver, and even got in shouting match with an agent last time. (dh tells a charming story about flashes of me being shipped to gitmo with our 2 year old in the ergo.) other airports across the country have been hit or miss, but my point is that you have to be prepared for them to treat you and your baby like terrorists and for there to be WILD inconsistencies from city to city. this last point was what tipped me over in denver last time. don't get me started. anyway, good luck, and remember that shouting "I'm an American Goddamn Citizen!" does not expedite your getting through security any faster. knowledge is power.

I agree with the comment about Denver .. . almost lost my freezer gel pack that keeps my breastmilk cold until I put up a little stink. How are you supposed to keep the breastmilk cold without a gel pack? I think they were a bit concerned as I didn't have my baby on the flight. PDX on the other hand is always good. I am wondering if anyone can comment on international flights. My family including a 11 month old are going to Italy soon.

We have traveled a lot with our son, and for the most part haven't had too much trouble with security (Atlanta was pretty bad--they made me pull my son's blankie from him while he was screaming so they could run it through the scanner).

Our last trip out of PDX was different. The TSA agent told us she had to confiscate our gel freezer pack b/c it was gel. She almost took our milk, too, until I informed her that we have yet to fly on a domestic airline that has milk on the planes. We had even bought milk that was in a sealed, single use carton. No sippy cup or anything! But she said juice was okay! I wrote TSA to find out why, b/c they don't specify this on their website, so I'm waiting to hear what they say. We're not sure what we'll do next time, but it does just seem to be up to which agent you get.

The TSA at PDX are really good with babies and toddlers (ours are now 3 and 1) liquids, food, pump, etc -- but I had to grin at Kim's comment on the TSA in Sacramento. They are the *WORST* (with respect to babies and toddlers) that I have encountered since the first flight with our first born. I could write an essay on my poor infant/toddler experiences at SMF (Sacramento). My 2nd worst TSA rating goes to Orange County (SNA).

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