On our recent flight out of Oakland International Airport, I was delighted to enter the green lane at security dedicated to “families and special assistance”–primarily because some of my most unpleasant security screenings with babies and children have taken place at OAK (the Moby Wrap debacle included). I’ve actually favored SFO in recent years for flying with my small children.
Now it seems Oakland is finally ready for us.
The much-debated 3-lane system that lets passengers decide for themselves if they are “expert travelers,” “casual travelers,” or those more obviously in our camp, debuted earlier this year at Denver and Salt Lake City. It has been in place at Oakland since late spring, and can now be found at more than 20 airports nationwide.
Happily, the times appear to be changing for oft-scorned travelers with bottles and strollers. Even at Oakland. The 3-lane system, which includes the green “family and special assistance lane,” is appearing at an increasing number of airports. If you haven’t passed through one already, you may get the option of using one traveling soon with your family, and if you have a baby or small children in tow, I hope that you will.
While many frequent fliers have remained skeptical and even critical of airports letting people decide for themselves if they should fall into the black diamond “expert traveler” or blue square “casual traveler” lanes, even “expert family travelers” will likely prefer going for the green circle lane. During peak travel times, the line may actually be shorter, and it’s refreshing to deal with security officers who are familiar and efficient with fitting car seats through the X-ray scanner, not to mention encouraging small children to walk solo through the metal detector.
Best of all, you won’t have to endure the grumbles of a laptop-toting business contingent breathing down your neck as you collapse your stroller or present your baby’s bottles to security. Anyone who opts for the green lane knows exactly what she’s getting into, and chances are whoever waits behind you in line will be sympathetic to your plight.
The “family and special assistance” lane may get its real test, however, during the upcoming peak holiday travel days. Nevertheless, I think it comes as a relief to most everyone that travelers with babies and small children are finally finding a welcome place at airport security.
If you’re gearing up to fly with a baby or toddler in particular, you may want to revisit these tips for getting through security as smoothly as possible:
On that final point (the topic of some debate recently as you’ll see in the comments to the post), I have to add that it was also this trip through security where I watched a mother wear her infant right through the walk-through metal detector in a good old-fashioned Baby Bjorn. She didn’t beep and thankfully no one stopped her to insist she take off the carrier and run it through the X-ray.
So I asked a different officer before I left, “Is it okay to wear baby carriers or slings through the X-ray now?” and for good measure, I also asked the Homeland Security representative stationed near the screening lines. They both assured me it is okay, and to just be sure I’ve emptied any pockets on the carrier before I walk through. “Great!” I thanked them and said nothing of the TSA policy. Even I would have to say Oakland airport is feeling family-friendlier than ever.
If you haven’t already, check out Part V of Travels with Baby for more help on clearing security with babies and young children, planning your flights, packing carry-on bags, choosing flights for your family, using car seats and bassinets on aircraft, dealing with diapers, gate-checking gear, and more.
Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning guide Travels with Baby
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