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What to expect at airport and other security screening points

BJ and AJ admiring a Qantas plane (not the A380)
After clearing security everyone can relax and just wait for the flight

Although we travel regularly we find security screening one of the tiresome elements of travelling these days.   On our most recent trip we faced more security screening points than ever before due to the high level of security in New York.  I certainly wish this was not necessary but unfortunately it is so I think it is important to co-operate fully in the hope that those doing the wrong thing will get caught.

It did occur to me that for anyone new to travelling or for some children with special needs this process could prove overwhelming and it may be helpful to know what to expect.

If you are travelling with a wheelchair or any additional equipment allow extra time to clear security.  It does take longer as a thorough search of the wheelchair needs to be conducted.

When we approach security we are usually stopped, taken to a different lane and an appropriate person is called over to do the screening on BJ and his chair.  For BJ a male is called to do the pat down and search.  If the person in the wheelchair is a female then a female officer is called.  One adult is taken with BJ to assist and supervise the search.  Usually I go with BJ and AJ and Hubby stay behind to put all our hand luggage through the x-ray.

Airport security screening (domestic)


A security staff member pushes BJ in his wheelchair through a separate gate and he is taken to one side.  Usually the security staff member turns him so I am still in his view.  I am then asked to walk through the metal detector.  Assuming no alarm bells go off I am then taken over to assist the staff.  The security staff (TSA in the US) ask if BJ can understand their instructions and he is given a pat down.  I feel it is important to assist in any way possible so I offer to stand BJ up, I show them the compartments in BJ’s wheelchair and help lean him forward so they can check behind him.  Whatever checks they do are for everyone’s safety and I like to give them the feeling that it is okay to check someone in a wheelchair just as thoroughly as everyone else.  Swabs of BJ’s shoes, wheelchair and sometimes my hands are taken.  We have only ever encountered very pleasant security staff who are friendly with BJ and ensure his comfort at all times. I think he rather likes all the attention.

BJ isn’t worried by this process but for a child that may find this overwhelming I would suggest making up a social story in preparation for your trip.  A social story is a book which you can make with a combination of photos, pictures and words which explain what to expect in a situation.   Reading this daily to your child and adding other preparation for the trip including a countdown calendar will help avoid some anxiety at the airport. If you think your child may find the pat down intrusive I would suggest play acting airports at home and through this explaining what will happen.  Hopefully this will help prepare them.

social story
A social story can help to prepare some children for what to expect.

Tips to make security easier/faster

Take off any jewellery, belts and empty small change from pockets to avoid the metal detector going off and you having to go back through.

BJ is often holding a photo album or wallet.  All items must go through x-ray so remove these earlier in preparation for the x-ray screening.

Allocate who is doing what before arriving at security ie. I go with BJ, Hubby and AJ look after the luggage.

Count up your bags to ensure you have everything after the check.  It is always busy and a bit of a whirlwind so it would be easy to leave something behind.

It’s a whirlwind going through security so count up your bags when you’ve finished

Ensure you have any liquids in a clear snap lock plastic bag and show it before being asked.  I carry liquid paracetamol with us on every trip and have it out ready to show staff.  Check airline regulations regarding liquid limits.

Have any liquids in a clear snap lock bag for quick presentation at security

We travel with dry ice which we have labelled by the company providing it and we alert the airline’s special handling department prior to travel that it will be part of our luggage.  Security do have to open and check this.  We also travel with a letter for all medication.

Please note items like yoghurt are considered a liquid.

Have your shoes off prior to getting to the conveyor belt.  There is nothing worse than someone holding up the line while they undo shoelaces etc.

Around New York we had security screenings at places like the Statue of Liberty, 9/11 Memorial, Empire State Building etc so allow additional time for this.   Be aware that you will need to remove backpacks, coats, scarves, jewellery and change at these screenings also.  These attractions have the same level of screening as an airport.

Security is now part of visiting many major attractions

At places like Disneyland and Universal Studios have your bags off your back or wheelchair ready to be searched.  It streamlines the process for you and the staff.

Lastly, keep in mind that although tiresome these measures are to keep you safe.  The staff is not there to make your life more difficult so being pleasant and compliant definitely results in a good experience.  And it all is part of the travel experience.


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