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airport A worried mom recently e-mailed me about her son navigating an airport for the first time. Her 25-year-old had never flown, and the mom hit me with a flurry of questions: Does my son need to put his inhaler in a quart-size bag? Will his eyebrow piercings or steel-toed boots set off the metal detector? Is any special assistance available for first-time fliers at airports?

First, let’s get the answers to these questions out of the way. Because they are a medical necessity, inhalers are not required to be inside quart-size bags and may be larger than three ounces. Security will ask passengers to remove all jewelry and metal objects, including piercings, before stepping through the metal detector. Steel-toed boots are fine, as they’ll have to be taken off and put through the X-ray scanner anyway. And there is no special assistance available in airports for first-time fliers over the age of 18.

Get More Information About Airport Security Rules

I solved this worried mom’s simple queries. Nevertheless, I could detect an even bigger, hairier issue lurking beneath her questions that needed to be addressed. The mother closed her e-mail by saying, “I’m a little insecure and concerned since I’ve heard so many horror stories about good people having problems [in the airport].”

Aha! Here’s the real issue. Considering all the crazy stories that have been in the news this past year regarding airport security, from disturbingly up-close-and-personal pat-downs to pilots protesting new TSA changes, it’s no surprise that a doting mother is concerned about her son braving an airport for the first time. I added a final note of advice to the anxious parent:

“The horror stories you hear in the news about airport security are unusual — that’s partly why those stories make the news. If your son needs help or is confused in the security line, he should explain to a security officer that this is his first time flying and ask for help. Most airport security agents are nice, friendly people. There’s no reason to be alarmed.”

Every traveler has had to face his or her first flight at some point, navigating complex airport terminals, and bumbling through confusing and ever-changing TSA procedures while intimidating security guards keep watch. So help Mom out. Share your knowledge and tell us: What’s the one thing you wish someone had told you before you ventured into an airport for the first time?

— written by Caroline Costello

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4 Responses to “Help a Fledgling Traveler”

  1. soliteyah says:

    I was told this before my first flight, and it’s good advice so I’m passing it on: Relax! Remember that airports are designed for people who don’t know where they’re going or what they’re doing. Just arrive early, read the signs, and ask questions if you need to. Most people will be happy to help.

  2. Scott says:

    There are a couple things that I have learned over the years. First, always be earlier than you need to be. When you get there early, the lines are always shorter and things go smoother. I only have problems when I am running late or tight on time. Second, I always try to take advantage of checking in early over the internet. It always seems to save time when I get there. Third, I always take a good book and a snack, just in case it takes longer than anticipated. Fourth, I always keep a small bottle of advil and any prescription medications with me in my carryon, just in case.

  3. Emily says:

    25 years old and Mommy is writing you? Good heavens; the helicopter parenting is right on task. The one tip that will take care of all others is getting to the airport early.

  4. Lissa says:

    I actually didn’t fly until I was older, as well. My family always took vacations by car, even if it took a couple of days to get to our destination. First, mom shouldn’t worry. As you say, the horror stories you hear are blown out of proportion. Although there isn’t special assistance for adults who haven’t flown before, the airports are actually filled with very helpful staff to help guide a person through the airport. At security, the instructions are clear, and staff will let him know what to do to move through security. It’s all very simple, and my young children have quickly learned how to maneuver the various steps.

    The one thing I did wrong at that age and during my first flights was not give myself enough time. I was a 20-something who liked to sleep late and arrive as close to my departure time as I could. No matter how many times someone told me to provide at least an hour to get through security, I would play it to close and will admit at that age I missed at least three flights! Also, I never knew that checked baggage had to be checked 45 minutes before a flight. I once arrived with 40 minutes to get through a small airport (thinking I needn’t worry about long security lines). Me and my baggage were bumped to the next flight.

    Now I give myself plenty of time (typically two hours) and just plan to have a meal at an airport restaurant with a good book. No more missed or bumped flights for me!

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